History in the Making – Brett Ries

Full disclosure: I am a history fanatic. I love studying the history of our government, country, and society in general. In my opinion studying history is critical to change our world for the better. If we do not know nor understand our history, it is difficult for us to effectively change our present and future. Inherent to living in our nation’s capital, I am constantly surrounded by history, and I am loving every moment of it.

A young man looks up at the Lincoln Memorial

I’ve wasted no time in exploring the history surrounding me. On just the second day of this internship experience, my cohort and I visited the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, MLK Jr. Memorial, and many more. At each place I took a moment to reflect on the history each memorial or monument represented. At first glance, it may seem as though these monuments represent a mere person or event, but they encompass so much more. The Lincoln Memorial is a testament to one of our nation’s greatest presidents, but it also represents the story of a nation that withstood deep division. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial does not only commemorate one of our nation’s greatest civil rights activists; it also embodies that “out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope” can emerge in our pursuit of racial justice and equality. This is the quintessence of history: it teaches us about the past while also providing a lesson for the future.

There is no shortage of history on Capitol Hill either. When I underwent tour training in my first week, I took over five pages of notes about the expansive history of just one building in this city. As a history nerd, I thoroughly enjoy sharing this history with visitors, but not all of this history is positive. Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson were both decided in the U.S. Capitol Building, and these decisions severely limited civil rights for black Americans. Detrimental laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act were also passed in this building. However, what I love about our Capitol Building is its reminders of positive, progressive history as well. The statues of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks will remain in the Capitol Building permanently as a constant reminder of the fight and struggle for racial equality. The statue depicting the pioneers of the Suffrage Movement not only commemorates leaders of the past, but also leaves a space open to represent the progress yet to be made.

Victory Congressional Intern Brett Ries stands in front of Senator Tammy Baldwin's Office

I am also witnessing history in the making. As an intern in a congressional office, I read and listen to the concerns of those who are worried about the humanitarian crisis occurring at the border. I watched Senator Tammy Baldwin—my boss—introduce the first bipartisan LGBTQ resolution commemorating the Stonewall uprising, and the resolution even passed both houses with unanimous consent. I am still struggling to believe that I received an opportunity to both learn history and witness history at the same time.

But as I think about this history in the making, I do not just think about Congress and how it is handling the current issues in our country. I also think about myself and the eleven other young, talented individuals who are here with me on this journey. We are learning the ropes and preparing to step into the political ring. We are learning from our history and applying the lessons to our presents and futures. We are becoming the change we want to see in the world, and THAT is the “history in the making” I am most excited to be witnessing.