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.
“We’ve never had someone bring their guitar with them to DC” -Itay Balely
Intern life in a 9-to-5 office job felt just as draining and monotonous as Dolly Parton had described.
Interning on the hill initially made me feel pretty helpless. I was answering phone calls from non-constituents, hearing concerns and real issues that I could do nothing about other than refer them to their actual representative. I was working next door to the Supreme Court of the United States as my rights were stripped away from me with absolutely no say. My “inside job” felt a lot less glamorous when I was outside the Supreme Court holding a sign that read “ABORTION IS HEALTH CARE” shouting out whatever fight I had left in me with my Congressional ID hidden away in my bag. My 5:30-to-10:30 studio sessions recording and producing my original songs felt more productive, more helpful. I felt like I was making more meaningful connections networking at concerts and gigs than at conferences and dinners.
A week ago, I was honestly reassured that I would most likely never end up working in Congress.
Today, I really think I could.
The office of Representative Ritchie Torres (NY-15) has a relatively new end-of-internship project in which each intern is given the opportunity to workshop a bill proposal with the rest of the office staff before presenting the idea to the Congressman himself. People work their whole lives to be given this opportunity and it was being handed to me on a silver platter. I was overwhelmed with possibilities but it took very little time to land on my bill idea.
Christina Grimmie performed at The Plaza Live in Orlando, Florida on June 10, 2016. A man was able to get into the music venue with two guns and a knife due to a lack of security measures and equipment present at the venue. At her post-show meet and greet, as she opened her arms for a hug, she was met with two gunshots to the chest and one to the head. Her brother then tackled the man who then shot himself. She was only 22.
I was devastated. I couldn’t get out of bed or turn off the news. It certainly didn’t help my mental health that the Pulse Nightclub Shooting happened just two days after and only a few miles away. I was grieving both my community and my idol in one weekend and in the weeks following where the thought couldn’t enter my mind without me breaking down in tears. She is the reason I started writing my own music and one of the main reasons I ever felt comfortable being myself. Her voice was powerful enough to leave your jaw on the floor and delicate enough to send chills down your spine when she wanted it to. So much life and potential were stripped away because the small music venue she played at didn’t have proper security measures in place like metal detectors to stop a man with two guns and a knife from stepping foot near her.
Concerts and music festivals are often victims of gun violence. Artists and performers are public figures and a publicized time and location they will be at makes them an easy target. The Christina Grimmie Legacy Bill for Music Venue Safety would call for higher security standards in small music venues, either through its own legislation making it a requirement or incentivizing implementation through extending the SAFETY Act to include small venues in its eligibility for decreased liability protections, in an effort to prevent Christina’s story from becoming anyone else’s. In honor of her legacy.
This bill has lit a fire in me through just the pure possibility of something I initiated enacting potentially life-saving change across the country. It was within the process of workshopping this bill that I finally felt like the work I was doing was worthwhile, rewarding, and could actually make a difference. I know that the odds it actually gets passed are low and that it could easily take upwards of a year to happen, but it genuinely makes me excited for a potential future in Congress. It gives me hope that change can be made if the right people are in positions of power (please go vote so they are). I just wish I had felt that fire a few weeks ago rather than a few days away from flying back home to LA.
That being said, to the future Victory Congressional Interns:
Savor your time here. Eight weeks will fly by and be over before you know it. Treat your first week with the care and urgency you would in the last but do not force it either. Rest assured that the feeling of helplessness is not a permanent one. There will be days where the work you do will feel like a never-ending phone call yelling at you without realizing they’re in the Bronx (and not the South Bronx) district and you can’t even help them. That will definitely happen, don’t get me wrong, but not forever. Be proactive in your office, speak up about your policy interests, and ask for what you want. This group of queer joy and love has an energy that is so infectious. Lean on your peers, you will find that you have more in common than you’d expect if you just take the time to get to know them. The imposter syndrome workshop at the beginning of the internship won’t fully take that feeling away but recognize that there is power in what makes you different, not weakness. Before me, apparently, no one had ever brought a guitar with them to DC for this internship yet I’ve made some of my best music in these eight weeks and connected with people more because of it. This city and these people will inspire you.
Washington, D.C. feels like home and there is no question that I will be back, whether that be for a concert or a job. I truly look forward to it. Thank you so much to the LGBTQ Victory Institute for having me and my 15 incredible peers. This experience is unlike any other in my life and I hope to carry the lessons I’ve learned with me as I figure out what my future holds.