OUT on the Hill 2021

Summer 2021 Victory Congressional Interns Blog

Of Houses and “Hillterns”

By: Natalie Adams-Menendez

Forty-eight hours into the beginning of my summer internship, I am standing in the Capitol, warmly greeting Members of Congress as they walk through the doors of the House Ways and Means Committee conference room for a lunch event hosted by my office. Masked, but beaming, I invite each Member inside and chat with them briefly as they peruse food selections. Calm and collected on the outside, nervously overanalyzing my actions on the inside, I make my rounds welcoming Members and their staff to our first in-person event since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two hours later, the lunch has ended; however, the adrenaline from our first in-person event carries through the following weeks, becoming a whirlwind of action. Four hours later, I am assisting the Operations Team with its office reopening preparations. Three days later, I am assigned to projects spanning from research, to public relations, to Member office management. A week later, I am building connections between my office and critical advocacy groups. Finally, tonight I prepare for the adventures tomorrow brings: the third week of my internship with the House Democratic Caucus, the launch of a new congressional outreach project, and the official beginning of 2021’s hybrid summer “Hillternship” season.

Going into this experience, I was unsure what opportunities I could create for myself and my communities. As someone who grew up in Kansas as both a Latina and a member of the LGBTQ community, I had repeatedly been advised that I needed to hide at least one aspect of my intersectional identity to be successful in my career. In particular, one high school mentor told me that I could not be my authentic self and pursue my passions for human rights and political work. While I have deconstructed this mentality within my own self-perception (shoutout to Representative Sharice Davids for proving to my younger self that it is possible to simultaneously be a woman of color, a member of the LGBTQ community, and a successful politician), I entered my summer internship aware that much of the United States remains prejudiced against and hateful towards my identities. Less than three weeks ago, including the moment before I walked through the front door of my congressional office, I was uncertain what opportunities I would be afforded as someone who holds intersecting identities as well as what work, if any, I could pursue to represent and advocate for my communities.

Now that I am three weeks into my internship, I am relieved and excited to say that I have not only been accepted and welcomed within my congressional office but I have been encouraged to propose and pursue projects that are important for my communities. From developing connections with civil rights organizations to attending congressional hearings about issues that disproportionately affect people from my backgrounds, I have been provided the opportunity to thrive as my authentic self and create space at the congressional table for the needs of my communities. I am therefore thrilled to wholeheartedly and passionately embrace my internship, my office, and the Victory Institute’s work. 

Reflecting on my own apprehension at the commencement of my internship and adding to the outpouring of support I have received so far, I want to emphasize a truth that we as VCI interns must always hold to be self-evident: our identities, our voices, and our perspectives are essential. We hold knowledge that is central to the liberation of LGBTQ folks, of Latinx folks, of individuals with intersectional identities. Although the “system” and foundations of Congress were quite literally never meant to house or represent us, we belong in both this physical and metaphorical space. This is our House, and we will not only rebound through our resilience but thrive.



Learning the System

by: Izzie Karohl

The first time I arrived in DC, one of just three Victory Congressional Interns to be completing a hybrid internship placement this summer, I stared up at the 102ft tall escalator and felt as though I was entering the Hunger Games. Downtown DC intimidated me too. Tall, uniformly limestone buildings lined every street in the federal triangle, bearing weighty inscriptions.

When I was walking to work one morning, a series of quotes on the Justice Department’s enormous facade caught my eye: “No free government can survive that is not based on the supremacy of the law,” “Where law ends, tyranny begins,” and “Law alone can give us freedom.”

I stopped walking. Did I read that right? “Law alone can give us freedom.” The idea that the law alone can give us freedom felt too simple to be true. I typed the quote into my phone, glancing up and down to make sure I didn’t collide with other pedestrians. Google delivered its origins: T. Hartley Alexander, American philosopher, 1934.

Yes, the law can make people more free, but it never does so alone. Our freedom depends on the integrity of those creating legislation and those enforcing it. Freedom depends on whom our society deems worthy of freedom: the United States has never inclusively defined the “us” in practice.

Flashing my badge at security and sending my backpack through the scanner, I continued to think of all the ways our laws have restricted or abridged the rights of its people. How racist and homophobic laws denied Black Americans the right to vote, same-sex couples the right to marry, and Native peoples’ the right to their land, culture, and customs.

The law can be an instrument of freedom but also one of oppression. The law is what we — its creators, its abiders, its disobeyers, its enforcers — make of it. The Victory Congressional Internship is an incredible opportunity to witness that first potential for others’ freedom.

Passing legislation has been such a mystery to me. This is likely because the entirety of what I know comes from School House Rock’s “I’m just a Bill” (great song by the way). My supervisors in Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s office have been so kind in explaining tactics I didn’t know existed, such as how voting to recommit a bill to its respective committee is a common stalling tactic.

All the jargon and formalities seem to complicate the legislative process; it feels counterintuitive to use archaic systems to give birth to new freedoms. On the other hand, it’s comforting to know that there are laws that have been created and passed which, on the whole, improved the lives of my neighbors, my friends, and my fellow citizens. In my role as a Congressional Intern, I can hopefully contribute in some small way to this cause. By doing thorough research about a policy’s potential impact or encouraging co-sponsorship on effective bills, I hope to ensure that policy really translates into economic and social freedom for those who have long been denied equal rights.

I can do this work because others have fought for LGBTQ+ young people like me to be in these spaces. I owe it to them, to Victory Institute, and to my amazing cohort of fellow interns to keep up the trend. By being here, we can come together in solidarity and fight for laws that free, rather than oppress, us all.

Reaching the Hill

by: Katerina Marroquin

“Breathe.” I kept telling myself that over and over as I sat down in front of my work computer waiting for the first intern meeting to start. Despite the physical absence of the office space, the intimidation of starting a new position and meeting a new team was very much present. Especially when the new team was working for a Senator in the U.S. Senate.

In my head, I understood this anxious feeling was nothing new for me. As the first person in my Latinx immigrant family to graduate from college, I am no stranger to the feelings of imposter syndrome, being the only Latina and/or queer person in the room, and the overwhelming sentiment that I must work twice as hard to keep up. Living in Washington, D.C. as a Georgetown University student for the past four years has prepared me tremendously for these moments of stress and the political awareness and rigor that would be expected of me at my office placement. I basically lived in the backyard of Capitol Hill, as my university sat only about 2 miles west from the National Mall, and I would often venture to the surrounding neighborhoods and always find myself passing by the monuments most weekends. It became a familiar place for me. However, life working in politics was an unfamiliar world to me. Many of my peers, professors, and mentors worked in governmental affairs, and yet, I devoted my undergraduate career to uplifting the narratives and movements that people of disenfranchised communities created to make a better society for all. I believed my place was working with communities that felt like the government was not on their side, through nonprofits organizations or research. I never knew that one day I would be working in a Congressional office, a space that seemed so unreachable at one point in time.

My reflection time was up when the intern coordinator for the Office of Senator Tammy Baldwin appeared on the screen with my two fellow interns. After quick introductions and a run-through of our orientation and training, we were off with our assignments for the week.  I was surprised and content with how much I was learning through hands-on experience in a virtual internship in just a few days, ranging from how to sort and code IQ messages, networking on the Hill, to constituent outreach. Working for a Senator who strongly believes in community outreach is a blessing, as I know first-hand how important it is to work with community members and listen to their stories and works of activism.

My experiences in organizing and grassroots movements have granted me a dual perspective in my work as a Victory Congressional Intern, primarily when reading and coding the hundreds of messages from constituents across Wisconsin. During the times I called my home state Senators and Representatives to address the needs of immigrant rights, health equity, and educational equity nationwide, I always wondered about the process on the other side of the phone or computer screen. Would anyone read my message? Would anyone care what one single person said about a certain bill? Does anyone even understand what my fellow community members and I go through on a daily basis as a person of color, a child of immigrants, a queer person, a young adult living through times of social strife and protest?

It brings me some peace of mind that there are passionate people on both sides of the process, as I, along with my fellow Victory Institute interns, are taking up necessary space in these Congressional offices to continue the work and legacy of LGBTQ+ activists and leaders before us. After one week of working in the virtual office, I feel much more confident and ready to take on new assignments given to me thanks to the assistance and kindness shown to me by the staff and other interns in the office and the incredible team at Victory Institute. With their endless support, I know I can continue my mission of breaking down the obstacles to “unreachable” goals for future leaders and build the resilience and strength necessary to fight for justice and equity on the Hill and beyond.

 



The Virtual Black Sheep

by: Janise Waites

Happy Pride! The best thing about being bisexual is the fact that my favorite color is on the flag. The worst thing is, well, the bigotry. It’s been two weeks since starting my summer internship with VCI. I was a part of the Spring 2021 cohort and have enjoyed being with Victory and meeting new people for the past six months. My new mantra the last few weeks has been “I am overwhelming grateful for the life I have created for myself.”

As a rising senior, virtual internships are my forte. The past two weeks reminded me how skilled I am in setting up my equipment, creating a work-from-home routine, and asking the right questions on how to get started. I am grateful to be interning in such an organized office this summer, one where I know everyone’s schedules, and which staffers I am expected to work with throughout the internship.

Unfortunately, virtual internships are not the norm. A secret fear I have is not being qualified when I apply to opportunities in person. And if I am selected, then I’ll be a black sheep because I am sure everyone else had an in-person internship. This fear, however, is invalidated by two things. One, as long as I did a good job and learned something new, it doesn’t matter how I did my internship. And two, as I am Black, female, and bisexual, I am the epitome of the “black sheep.” My experiences have made me resilient, and as long as I believe I am resilient, I have nothing to fear.

What comforts me is knowing that there are 15 other people feeling the same way I do despite being equally amazing because we all were selected for the Victory Congressional Internship together. Yet, we all experience imposter syndrome, feeling as though we are not good enough for the offices, we are currently working in or for the VCI program we were handpicked to be a part of. It’s ironic to work so hard to achieve something and then believe you’re not good enough once you get it.

But when a fair amount of society tells you that you’re not good enough for anything because you’re Black, female, and bi, it is very hard to celebrate your wins. My goal for this internship is to celebrate my wins, while being in love with every one of my identities.

 

From Dream to Reality

by: Matthew Zheng

Having started my internship with Representative Adam Schiff a few weeks later than most due to my university being on the quarter system, I was incredibly excited to hit the ground running with my remote work as one of Rep. Schiff’s Legislative Interns. Unfortunately, as I immediately learned upon opening my House-issued computer this past week, I would be caught in the throes of countless technical difficulties. The computer, the internet, and the software used in Rep. Schiff’s all glitched and lagged for me, each requiring their own unique solutions. It was a certain test of patience, one I found myself chuckling at throughout the week. As I learned last year when I campaigned for the Nevada Democrats, politics is not always very glamorous. Sometimes, as it was my first week in this internship, it just means troubleshooting.

Nonetheless, I found many opportunities to be inspired and re-motivated for the work in my internship and with Victory Institute more broadly. For example, we met with the LGBTQ+ Congressional Staff Association, an affinity organization. My heart was so moved by the stories of high-ranking congressional staffers who were LGBTQ+, which they shared at a virtual meeting for an LGBTQ-affinity organization based on the Hill. As silly as I might seem, I was moved almost to tears by how much we stand on the shoulders of our queer predecessors, and how far the Hill has come (at least in some places) in accepting people like us. I am also supremely inspired by the individuals in my own Congressional office. The staffers who work for Representative Schiff are powerhouses.  Each has such a dizzying array of specialties and skillsets that I found myself to be overwhelmingly lacking. Yet I did not feel a sense of despair, but rather a profound recommitment within myself to achieve the level of excellence which they each exemplified.

Some elements of my work have been challenging already. One is the strong emphasis on networking, which every single mentor and advisor has described as one of the most important aspects of working on The Hill. I am a somewhat quieter person when it comes to meeting new people, particularly in professional environments. It will be a meaningful challenge for me to overcome my nervousness in this arena and learn to dive confidently into the relationship-building which is essential to success here. Another challenge has been a feeling of estrangement from many of the people around me. Of course, at Victory Institute programming with my fellow Victory Congressional Interns, I am at home around my fellow LGBTQ+ people and feel affirmed in seeing my own embodiments reflected by my peers and superiors. But I noted immediately upon entering my internship that I am one of the only visibly non-white people on staff, as well as the only person who publicly uses they/them pronouns.

All in all, this first week has upended any fantasies or delusions I had about what work on the Hill will be like. I’m excited for what is to come, with all my fingers crossed that the technical difficulties have been permanently resolved. And I’m hopeful for the rest of this wonderful summer experience.

 



We Are All In This Together

by: Leilani Fletcher

These past three weeks have been a whirlwind of an experience. Since the first day of my internship with Representative Ritchie Torres’ office, I have been immersed within the legislative field. I have drafted resolutions and “dear colleague” letters and researched constituents’ legislative priorities. Yet, the most gratifying aspect has been taking a moment to reflect on the work. Who knew I would be engaging in this legislative work supporting marginalized communities, particularly LGBTQ+ people, as a 20-year-old. Not me! It is truly the best feeling. However, although this internship has been incredible, my self-doubt still creeps in.

I have always struggled with imposter syndrome. I frequently find myself becoming overwhelmed by the irrational thoughts circulating in my brain. They tell me, “You’re not good enough,” “Why are you here,” “You do not deserve to be here.” These phrases appear in my head as I write emails, sit in meetings and engage in other tasks. Despite this difficult reality, my Victory mentors have reminded me that I am here to learn. I should not be an expert on these issues when my co-workers and supervisors have been in these spaces for years. Instead, this is an opportunity for me to grow as I enhance my interpersonal skills and expand my legislative knowledge. Reminding myself of these thoughts has been easier said than done. Nonetheless, each day I am challenging myself to be confident in my work and not question my judgment. I deserve to be here. 

The other Victory Congressional Interns have helped me feel supported when these intrusive thoughts arise. Being in community with others who share my experience and are navigating this unusual virtual situation reminds me that these thoughts are more common than I realize. We all struggle with imposter syndrome and self-doubt in different ways. As a result, it is even more essential to talk with my fellow Victory interns instead of remaining in the echo chamber of my thoughts. They help me feel grounded and secure and remind me that, as the cast of High School Musical sings, we truly are “all in this together.” 

With five weeks left of my internship, I am excited to build my self-confidence and deepen my relationships with the Victory interns. I am also looking forward to more Victory programming, where I can build relationships and hear about the work of influential leaders in D.C. Additionally, in Congressman Torres’ office, I plan to further understand the complexities of the legislative process and enhance my interpersonal and persuasive writing skills.

 

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