Because America Needs Us – Elias Hakim

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci

This may sound dramatic, but my time as a Victory Congressional Intern was one of the best periods of my life. From my placement in Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney’s office, to the weekly leadership development programming, to the eleven beautiful people who became my family – the Victory Institute has created a truly magnificent program. The experiences I’ve had and the lives that have touched mine will stay with me everywhere that I go. I frankly cannot believe these eight weeks flew by so fast, but I’m proud to say that the version of me returning to Richmond is a better person than the one who left. This summer affirmed for me that my goals are achievable and that I can function in the spaces that I aspire to be in. More importantly, I’ve learned lessons in honesty, advocacy, and standing for the right thing even when it’s difficult to do so.

From the first time that I met my cohort I could already see how accomplished, capable, and driven each and every person was. Every single day after work we would hang out and talk about our experiences in our different offices, sharing our highlights and our lowpoints. We would talk about how our lived experiences have shaped us and every action that we take. It reached the point that I now know some of my cohort better than I know my own friends back home. The most amazing thing was seeing my new friends grow by putting themselves in new and difficult situations. We were each-other’s biggest supporters and biggest challengers – pushing us to make the most out of every moment while cheering each other along at every step. I genuinely believe that the time I’ve spent with my cohort has made me a better person, and this experience could not have been the same with any other group of people. Eight weeks may not be a long time, but I’m happy to say that many of these relationships will last a lifetime.

The Victory Institute went above and beyond with their weekly leadership programming. We were able to learn about a multitude of different institutions, career paths, and political actors by speaking directly with those who fill these positions. Every single thing that we did had an LGBTQ+ bend to it – we spoke with predominantly queer leaders and learned how to exist in these spaces while living our truths. The mentors that Victory assigned us with were all uniquely connected to our identities and objectives. My time with my mentors has helped me figure out the next steps in my professional life, and has begun to clear the haze surrounding my longer term goals. My mention of the Victory programming would not be complete without a shout-out to our program coordinator, Mario. Thank you for putting up with us with patience and kindness, and giving us direction in the hectic arena that is Washington D.C.

My time in the office of Congressman Maloney was so incredibly valuable to me. I had seen the amount of personal and professional development that I had undergone working in the Virginia Senate last winter, and I came into this position with the expectation of growing exponentially more. I was not let down. The staffers in my office rewarded my hard work and initiative with bigger and better projects, which helped me to learn the ins-and-outs of so many different policy areas. Easy access to congressional briefings with experts from varying backgrounds is something that I will miss immensely. Learning from experts on breaking technological advancements, immigration policy, and Middle East policy has taught me so much about these issues that are deeply important to me. The staff in Congressman Maloney’s office were friendly, funny, and welcoming; I look forward to connecting with them when I return to D.C. after graduation.

It’s easy to view things through rose-colored glasses when they’re over, but this internship wasn’t all fun and games. It was hard, really hard. Working full-time in a congressional office is tiring, and boring at times. Answering dozens of phone calls is stressful, especially when the callers are racist and xenophobic, like the ones who support the separation of children from their parents. Right now our government is committing atrocities, domestically and abroad. The Trump administration’s assault on immigrants and minorities is genuinely terrifying, and working on these issues all day long takes a mental toll on you. The reason I took this internship is that I want to learn how to navigate our political institutions to fight for what I think is right, and seeing these institutions eroding before my eyes fills me with hopelessness.

But it’s not all hopelessness. I saw the backlash to the zero-tolerance policy. I saw Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez win a difficult primary running on a platform of fairness and equality. I saw the beauty and the passion and the capabilities of my cohort. These things all give me hope for America. Though we were only here for eight weeks, the Capitol changed us, and on a much much smaller scale, we changed the Capitol. Through the conversations we started, the work that we did, and living our truths, the Victory Congressional Interns made waves. I couldn’t be more proud to have been part of this group, and I will hold this experience close to my heart for the rest of my life.

Thank you Victory Institute, America needs you.