Welcome to the blog for the 2018 Victory Congressional Interns
For all of the trans people that don’t get a chance. The trans women that don’t get a chance.
By: Michaé Pulido
This is my third week as a Victory Congressional Intern, but I am no foreigner to the city of DC. Since January, I have had the privilege to live and work in DC thanks to paid internships. Ya girl would not have been able to take on any of these opportunities if it weren’t for the financial help of organizations like the LGBTQ Victory Institute. So, huge shout out!
Although I have been in DC for a little now, I knew that this program would be an entirely new experience for me. I would be seeing a part of DC that I still was unfamiliar with, and would have immediate access. I would be in the place where systemic power begins and ends. I would be submerged be in a space that has historically excluded my communities. Capitol Hill. I, alongside 11 other brilliant LGBTQ+ undergraduates and leaders, would be placed in a congressional office and taking up space on Capitol Hill because #representationmatters. But really, though. We were all ready to be the change we wanted to see.
In my own personal opinion, the #VCI18 cohort is one of the most diverse of its kind. I know people throw around the word ‘diverse’ as a buzzword when trying to sound intersectional, or whatever. But our class is genuinely diverse, filled with knowledge, and most importantly, humble.
Being a queer, trans, Latinx femme from East LA who has grown up in a low-income household and was raised by immigrants, my perspective on life, culture, and politics is one that is extremely necessary on the Hill. There is clear lack of representation in political leaders with actual lived experiences of marginalization, which contributes to a power imbalance. This is what has made this experience so surreal—watching the 12 of us enter this space, soak in all of the new information, and bring it back to our communities in hopes of improving societal issues is empowering.
I have been placed in the Office of Senator Catherine Cortez Masto from the state of Nevada, the first Latina senator. I am really pleased with how involved the office is in the growth of their interns, they truly see our experience as an investment. I am excited to gather all this new knowledge and see what doors this may open up for me. Just how Cortez Masto was a woman of firsts, I hope to continue on with a similar narrative and break boundaries throughout the rest of my career.
I am doing this for all of the trans people that don’t get a chance. The trans women that don’t get a chance. All that are disenfranchised by a corrupt political system, this is what I am here for.
All of my Identities
By: Elias Hakim
Though the program only started three weeks ago, I am already acutely aware that there is nothing else like the Victory Congressional Internship. The Victory Institute brought together 12 exceptional young queer people from diverse backgrounds to establish ourselves in a space that is not built for us. In this short time I have witnessed the importance of representation in our government, and that representation starts with us. Never before have I been surrounded with such passionate and capable young people, and our hard work is outmatched by the sense of community that has flourished within our cohort. Beyond the opportunity to stay in D.C. and intern in congressional offices, Victory has proven to be invested in our success through providing a support structure, leadership trainings, and connections with established professionals that greatly supplement our Capitol Hill experience.
I’m very happy with my placement in the office of Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18). The office is a very friendly and accepting environment with multiple queer staffers, which isn’t surprising given Rep. Maloney’s position as the first openly gay congressman from New York. Last week the congressman took the office interns out for lunch, where I was able to speak with him about his position as an out politician, and how he deals with homophobia in the public arena with dignity and grace. Not only did he share his experiences with me, but he also lightened the mood with some gay jokes in the same vein as the jokes that I’d make with my queer friends. Beyond the accepting and inclusive office environment, the work I’ve been doing has become increasingly substantive and policy based. The projects assigned to me and the connections that I’ve made have already helped me focus my future goals and given me clarity looking forward.
Being a Hill intern, and probably having any job in politics, comes with a unique moral dilemma that arises from the often-conflicting forces of personal values, career incentives, and compromise. Navigating these intersections can be especially difficult when your identity is on the line, and as a queer Arab-American in a space that has historically perpetuated homophobia and anti-Arab sentiments and policies, my identity is on the line. I hope to deal with this struggle in a way that optimizes my experience to grow as a professional, and more importantly as a person. It has been hard having to learn to sometimes stay silent on the issues that are most important to me. Despite this, I have worn my identity on my sleeve, and am actively trying to find and meet with other Arab-Americans on the Hill, while growing my network of LGBTQ+ politicos through Victory. Balancing my advocacy and my role as an intern is difficult, but I understand that advancing my career will give me more influence on the policies that matter most to me.
I am more certain now than ever before that I am doing what I need to be doing with my life. I’m excited for the next five weeks of this amazing experience, and even more excited to walk through the doors that being a Victory Congressional Intern has opened for me.
From West to East
By: Jose “Che Che” Turrubiartez
My name is José Turrubiartez, I am a gay Latino man and currently study at the University of San Diego in California with a major in politics. Originally from Chicago, I was recently looking for an internship and found the Victory Institute Congressional Internship which had a broad appeal to me. For starters I was instantly draw in by the advances the Victory Institute which is part of the Victory Fund, an organization that has focused on getting LGBTQ candidates into office, furthermore their summer program that placed interns on capitol hill was very exciting. After being interviewed I earned a spot as one of the twelve 2018 Victory Congressional Interns (VCI). My experience so far has been amazing and extremely rewarding.
The first week of interning at the Capitol has been very exciting. My placement is with the office of Senator Bob Menéndez from the state of New Jersey in the Hart Senate Office building. My assignments are with the Foreign Policy staffer, Rosanna Hernandez, and the Veterans Affairs staffer, John Butchko. The amount of information that was handed out was immense and addressed the way to dress while the Senate was in session to how to properly staple documents. The first week consisted of transcribing a discussion on North Korea’s Smile Diplomacy, followed by a presentation on Guatemala and the violence in the country, I ended the week by creating a report on the Veterans Affairs Intimate Partner Violence program.
During the second week The Capital Visitor’s Center conducted a tour training for new interns, in which they walked us through the halls of the capitol building and gave us a in depth lecture of the history and the architecture of the Capital. In addition to the tour training, we also got information on how to properly evacuate and respond in the case of an emergency. As part of the internship one of the jobs is to provide tours for constituents and guest of the Senator.
One of the biggest takeaways from the week was being able to research and talk in depth about subjects I know little to nothing about. Most people my age like to focus on issues that are popular, however it is extremely important to diversify and explore issues which aren’t so popular such as foreign policy.
It really is incredible to be here, individuals such as myself often are not given the opportunity to intern for the U.S. Senate. The Victory Institute has taken on the task of creating a path, so that individuals such as myself who are gay, Mexican-American, and brown have the chance to engage in our government and be the change we want to see in our community and country’s future.
By: Donna Gary
I came to DC to learn more about legislation and to bring that transparency in government processes back to the communities I move through. This internship has been so much more than that. I have already learned so much about myself and my own story. Before this experience, I had never been to D.C. let alone thought about living in Foggy Bottom for two months.
Upon landing, I quickly realized how small D.C. actually is. Someone recently told me no building could be taller than the capital. This created the spacious yet crisp feeling of being a SIM in a new world. Everything was clean, even the trains and you always felt as small as you were big. The sidewalks never got too packed, unless it was 8:00a.m. and you were amongst the sea of interns on the blue silver or orange lines. The dome honeycomb-like structure and the way every train station looked exactly the same also made me feel like an avatar. My authorized intern ID, that looked very Congressional and official to my surprise, seemed to hover above my head like a beacon that said “Intern Donna.” I could feel it’s presence every time I saw someone else with a visible ID, which was everywhere from the trains to the Capitol Hill Campus. I’ll say this right now, the tunnels are real! That is all.
The airport was the size of a spacious gas station. I remember finding my roommate, with a phone on 1% no less, in the airport immediately. She had waited three extra hours after her flight for me to land to take an Uber together. I was terrified of having roommates I didn’t get along with. As an RA back at my university, I was worried about living with people for the first time in a year and a half. I promised myself that I would reach out, get to know my suite-mates and actually put in the work to make our space cozy. My roommate waiting for three extra hours at the airport for me was the first sign that I was going to be living with people who actually cared about me. I had been waiting for the warm summer weather of DC for a long time. New York and Chicago had been raining and weather moody. When we stepped out of the airport I welcomed the heat, and the sprawling empty sky you think only airports can demand.
We quickly realized we would be stuck on our phones to navigate our first week in D.C. We had three days to unpack, grocery shop, and explore before our nine to five started. As an entirely LGBTQ cohort, we went everywhere together. I wanted to go to CVS and it was assumed someone would come with me. One of the first places we went together was Target. About four of the twelve of us decided we needed hangers or we would be doomed. We ended up going all the way to Maryland. When I say all the way to Maryland, I mean a couple stops on the Metro. I was weary of nesting because I was recovering from a week and half of being so sick I probably should have been on bed rest. The high pollen count in New York had triggered my asthma and one day I woke up with no voice. My last few days in New York in school and the following eight days in Chicago had been eerily quiet. I played charades and thought twice about everything I tried to express. For the first time, I realized I was scared to meet my new roommates and cohort without a voice that could project or laugh too loud. I was glad I got better in time but was still pretty weak when I landed. That’s why my roommate waiting and coming with me to our apartment space in GW housing felt like a little miracle. She wasn’t doing everything for me but it was nice to have someone on the ground, in the program who had my back from the beginning.
Leaving My Small Town
By: Jack Hoda
2018 has been a whirlwind of change and adventure for this small-town Mississippian. After studying abroad in England for the past five months, I made my way back across the pond to begin my congressional internship through the LGBTQ Victory Institute. It’s difficult for me to find words to encompass what this experience has meant to me in the three weeks since I arrived in D.C. I had no idea what to expect, immersing myself in the high-pressure atmosphere of Capitol Hill and the overwhelmingly impressive cohort of 11 other outstanding and diverse humans.
Coming from south Mississippi, I have never been surrounded by so many out, queer activists of such difference in experience and agency. Living and learning with these amazing people has allowed me to explore my own ideas and identity in ways that I have felt restricted from my entire life.
Despite our incredibly different backgrounds, our group quickly created family-like bonds on and off the Hill. We have spent the past three weeks together staying up late sharing vulnerable experiences and political discourses or simply exploring the opportunities of this incredible city. The Victory Institute through this congressional program is inserting powerful and deserving queer leaders into spaces that our community has historically been barred from. We have already seen the benefits of our presence on the Hill through the input we have contributed in congressional offices and the educational conversations we have had with other interns and staff. Our country needs the voices of excluded peoples in order to truly function for us all, and Victory is making so much progress for not only the LGBTQ Community but also communities of color.
Alongside the truly impactful relationships I have developed so far, my experience interning in the House of Representatives has been equally fruitful. Congressman Takano’s office has welcomed me into their space with open arms and lots of knowledge. All of the staff is so willing to answer questions, engage in discussion, offer more work to those willing to dig deeper, and listen to lived experience in order to make more informed decisions. Going into week four of this internship, I will be engaging in more work and connecting with so many more individuals making positive change for our communities, and I am beyond grateful to Victory for making an experience like this possible for me and others.
By: Lena Dreves
There is always those few days of adjustment for any new job or internship that is started. Going into this summer’s internship, I was expecting this adjustment and the challenges that came with it. I came to Washington D.C. for the first time aware of my naivety, yet also aware of the kind of opportunity this was.
This internship, and the opportunity to be a Victory Congressional Intern, is a dream come true. Every morning I walk into Representative Crowley’s office I feel as though nothing could dampen my spirits. So far this summer, nothing really has. I love my work of answering phone calls, scanning documents, running errands, or writing memos. The peers around me, whether they are VCI interns or the interns in my office have been incredibly supportive and inspirational for me. Sometimes when the day gets long I remind myself how many students never had this kind of opportunity; this makes me work harder on the small things.
My biggest take-away from the past few weeks, is my realization of some of the inside workings of Capitol Hill, and how they match up or rather don’t match up with my original perception of them. Since I read a lot, books have become a reliable source of information for me. I have read about legislation and how bills are passed for the past 4 years. Still, I did not fully understand how it all works in the everyday grind. Of course, I still do not understand it all, but now I have an idea of how the smallest responsibilities are the building blocks for the large ones, and how the largest of bills are only possible with the dedicated support of thousands of staffers and members working together to make it happen.
In my daily schedule at the office, I usually start off by checking the office for anything to be tidied up, checking my email, and updating my work calendar with briefings. Recently, I have started a new habit in the morning: making a schedule and list of objectives for the day. This helps me to prioritize, execute and finish each task well and work more efficiently. I have seen personal improvement when I use this method. I have learned to be my own competitor. I do my best to compete with the person I was the day before, rather than with the person next to me. This mindset has always helped me stay positive and enjoy the success of my peers!
Although this blog post so far does tell the truth, there are also certain challenges I face each day. These, more often than not, are related to my personal life yet affect my professional work sometimes. The solution in facing these challenges are not always clear to me. One thing I have learned is that the first step in overcoming personal challenges is acknowledgement of them, and the willingness to take the next step to defeat them.
I’m here. Our Nation’s Capital
By: John Priddy
My name is John Priddy and I am a rising senior at Emory University. Throughout my life, I have visited or lived in several cities across the United States. Denver. Salt Lake City. Atlanta. Chicago. All of those cities offer unique opportunities and experiences. They all bring something special to the table. However, Washington D.C. may be the most special city of all. Now, I’ve only been in D.C. for about three weeks, but I’m already amazed by this city and everything it has to offer. Maybe it has something to do with my political interests. As a Victory Congressional Intern, we are provided with the unique opportunity to work in a Congressional Office while engaging in different programing events for an eight-week internship. There is nothing quite like working on the Hill. As an intern in Senator Doug Jones’s Office, I do everything from answering calls, giving tours of the Capitol (my favorite spot is Statutory Hall), writing decision and legislative memos, and meeting the movers and shakers of Washington D.C.
When I walk through the halls of the Russell Senate building and casually see Senators from across the country, people I’ve only ever seen on T.V., I am still shocked at the opportunity I have been granted. I’ve always loved the political arena, and now, I’m living in it. However, it isn’t just the political aspect of the city that I enjoy, it’s the history. Walking around and seeing everything from the Washington Monument to the African American History Museum, every nook and cranny of the city is loaded with history. It gives the city a unique edge, where a story can be found around every corner. Although my time in Washington D.C. has been short, my experiences have been enough to fill a normal summer. From meeting Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Doug Jones to answering constituent phone calls and batching mail, I have appreciated every moment and cannot wait for more to come in Washington D.C.
By: Vanessa Alva
We’re wrapping up our third week interning with the Victory Institute program and it still feels surreal. The Victory Institute has allowed 12 queer and/or trans undergraduates to intern with different Congressional offices. Prior to this experience, I never would have imagined someone like me would have the ability to meet, network and work with the people that I have met this summer. Although it’s only been three weeks, the idea of running for office one day seems more plausible now.
I was placed in Congressman Jimmy Gomez’s office, who represents California’s 34th District. I was nervous about working in an office of a district, I have never visited. However, the demographics of this community resembled that of my hometown a lot. I’ve been able to use my journalism skills in a political office. I was not sure how I would be using my journalism background in a political office, but I have learned a lot by working on journalism from a different perspective. This experience has allowed me to grow as a journalist by recognizing which parts of an article are the most meaningful. I have also been reminded of the large role journalists play in our communities. My office has also allowed me to gain more experience in the political field by having me attend briefings and write memos on them. I have become interested in topics such as the impact of technology on domestic violence, the family separating policy and the opioid crisis.
The relationships I have formed with the other interns are the most meaningful part of this experience. At home, I do not have a group of queer and/or trans people that I can relate to and learn from so it is fulfilling to be surrounded by all these brilliant and passionate individuals. I was pleased to find that the other members of the cohort are an accurate representation of our community. Our cohort has a wide variety of people from different racial backgrounds, areas of study, states, experiences, etc. Often times, queer and/or trans people of color are not represented in the LGBTQ+ community, however, the members of our cohort embody the true intersectionality of our community. We have formed a beautiful bond within these last few weeks where I feel comfortable being who I am. After each day, we get together and recap our experience which is a nice reminder of why we are here. This kind of support system is necessary for us while working on the Hill.
Overall, these last few weeks have better equipped me to navigate the political world. We have attended several receptions where I met people that I hope I can learn a lot from. Everyone is so willing to help us throughout this process. It is reassuring to have people in our field be willing to mentor us and look out for us. It is especially reassuring to meet Victory’s alumni network who are constantly willing to tell us about their experience and see how the program has grown over the years.
The “Hilltern” Life
By: Kevin Wei
Power is not a mere abstract capability, a compeller of action, a hierarchy of (un)equals. It is rather a disposition that can be thrown over your shoulders like a warm shawl against the bitter cold, a way of life that cascades from the shadows of the powerful to nestle in the troughs carved deep into the Capitol’s steps by innumerable footsteps. It descends when an elevator in the Rayburn building sounds ding-ding and notifies its freight that “this elevator has been chosen for Member Only service,” and at the next stop the contours of a congressmember’s dark gray suit peek through the doors as they open. It echoes in the sound of your heels ringing across a Hart corridor’s marble interior. Power is the deafening, silent atmosphere of Capitol Hill in action.
Of actually having power I am tempted to say that I have little experience, but any “Hilltern” should realize that the opposite is true on their first day at work. Not only do we interns serve as the faces of the Congress when we lead visitor tours, answer correspondent mail, and respond to concerned citizens’ phone calls, an intern on the Hill does have a role to play in shaping policy decisions, albeit an indirect one. Since it seems that every office is always short-staffed relative to the number of motions, events, and trends occurring at any time, it’s often the interns who support legislative aides in staying informed on all their issues. If no staffers can attend a briefing, it’s the interns who take notes and author policy memos on the topic. If an upcoming hearing needs to be reported on, it’s the interns who can give office staff the quick-and-dirty summary of events. And if any administrative tasks in the office require completion, it’s the interns who will finish the job. As one senior staffer in my office, the Office of Leader Pelosi, mentioned in passing: interns are the “backbone” of the office.
Power doesn’t manifest only on the House floor or in the course of policy work; it permeates all the supporting functions that we interns conduct for our offices. Not every day is hectic and not every assignment is glamorous, especially when the House or Senate is out of session. In my first two weeks as an intern, I’ve run numerous errands between various House, Senate, and Capitol building offices, catalogued a storage container full of office records, and organized hundreds of constituent comments (PSA: constituents, please don’t yell at the interns. We’re doing our best). While sometimes these duties seem tedious, they’re necessary components of helping an office represent its constituents, so I’ve been excited to support my office in a number of different ways.
On top of policy research and reporting, all Hillterns have a unique chance to hear experts of all stripes speak on a variety of different topics, from AI safety to affordable housing to STD research. Just recently, I spoke to an industry expert from Intel, a researcher from the Brookings Institute, and a Presidential Innovation Fellow from the National Institutes of Health. My experience on the Hill has included a number of interactions with top experts in their fields and running into these luminaries makes work in government all the more exciting. These interactions are also an exercise of power.
Finally, power can be found through many different networks of staffers and through institutions off the Hill. Being a member of the Victory Institute intern cohort has been instrumental in assisting my fellow interns and I in finding a strong support network of LGBTQIA+ friendly folks in Washington, D.C. My office in particular is extremely diverse and has a very queer-friendly work culture, though I’m certain that not every office can say the same. To have the opportunity to work within the halls of power is a humbling experience that I am grateful to have found through Victory by way of my teachers and guides, my friends and colleagues, my upbringing, and many others besides.
So to all my fellow Hillterns: remember that you have power. Together we make a difference.
Learning and Growing
By: Sydney Mudd
My name is Sydney Mudd. Last semester, Spring 2018, I graduated with an Associate’s Degree from the College of Lake County located in Grayslake, IL. This upcoming school year, I will be attending Lake Forest College located in Lake Forest, IL; I will be entering as a junior. During my time there, I will be studying Philosophy. I also plan to study Politics and Social Justice.
I have been placed in the office of Congresswoman Linda T. Sánchez. She is the Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. She is the fifth-highest ranking position in the House Democratic Leadership. Moreover, she is the first Latina elected to a leadership position in the United States Congress and is currently the highest-ranking Latino in the House of Representatives. I am extremely privileged to be working in the office of a powerful individual who has made strides for her Latino community.
Quite frankly, the first week of this program has been turbulent to say the least. That is not to say that I have not been enjoying myself, mind you; rather, it has taken me a lot of mental energy to adapt to this environment with the hopes of not only surviving but also thriving here.
As a white person, there are a lot of people who look like me, and who represent people who look like me, on the hill. With that being said, it has been hard adapting to an environment with little visible representation of my queer community – more specifically my transgender community. Very few people like myself have the opportunity to come to Washington D.C. and participate in our government in the way that I, and the other interns, have. Therefore, I feel the heavy burden of responsibility to always be on-point in order to represent my community in the best way possible.
As time passes, I am learning to adapt but still feel like I am lacking fulfillment. The environment of the Hill is very different from any other work environment I have ever existed in. I feel as though I am not living authentically during my time there. Interactions seem forced and transactional. Regardless, I am attempting to make the most out of this program by working hard to foster genuine connections with people. Moreover, I am using this time to learn from the incredibly talented and intelligent people around me.
Outside of the internship on the Hill, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time. The Victory Institute, and the people who work there that I have had direct contact with are inspiring me to do more… to be more. Without this program, I don’t think that I would have been able to make it through these past two weeks. I am so privileged and honored to have this opportunity. It has already provided me with knowledge that I will carry with me for a long while to come; I can only imagine the extent of my knowledge once my time here is over.
By: Juan Martinez Guevara
Although we are only two weeks into the program, the Victory Congressional Internship has already been an extremely formative experience. The program brought together 12 amazing individuals for an 8-week internship on Capitol Hill with Congressional members who either identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community or as an ally to the community. As Victory Congressional Interns we come from all over the country and have extremely different lived experiences. However, it is our common goal of advocating for our community that brings us together and, despite our many differences, has allowed us to grow close together in just a few short weeks. Indeed, I never anticipated growing this close to my cohort but looking back, it is hard to imagine not doing so. The individuals that were picked for this program are driven, intelligent, and inspiring. I aspire to be like them and in truth, simply being around them has already helped me become a much more confident person myself.
Apart from the individuals in my cohort, the program has also been amazing due to my placement in the office of Senator Tammy Baldwin. Working in a Senator’s office has allowed me to see how U.S. politics work, from constituent outreach to maintaining a Senator’s image to crafting and dealing with legislation. Getting this inside look at how Washington works has been empowering because it has allowed me to see myself as someone who can belong, and should belong, on the Hill.
The professional development sessions we have with the Victory Institute on Fridays are extremely helpful. They provide invaluable insight into how to make the most out of our internships by teaching us how to stand out, take on our own projects, and connect with people on the Hill.
Were it not for the support of the Victory Institute, this internship would certainly not be as rewarding as it has been so far. Although we are only two weeks into the program, I know VCI is an experience that will have a lasting and positive impact on my life. It is already giving me access to opportunities I never before anticipated obtaining. Moreover, it is transforming me into someone who can fight to attain these opportunities for myself. As someone who comes from a low-income community and identifies as queer, I am extremely grateful and appreciative of the resources and help Victory Institute is providing me with during my time on Capitol Hill.
Finding My Community in D.C.
By: Genevieve Onyiuke-Kennedy
The beginning of my trip at DC began similarly to other beginnings in my life. I did not come in with a lot of expectations, because I wanted to be as open-minded as possible. I ended my last semester at Tech with a fair amount of mental health coping skills, so I was able to have a positive outlook on my future in DC, which is likely one of the reasons why this internship and ultimately this summer experience is proving to be one of the most unique and interesting times of my life.
My introduction to my colleagues have been an unexpected learning experience. The staffers in Congresswoman Moore’s office are very casual, though I try not to be as casual so they can feel more secure in giving me projects. They have yet to give me anything big; my typical day consists of answering calls, running errands, and attending briefings. I know that assisting my staffers in specialized ways is the way to get the most out of my experience on the Hill, but I still feel that my staffers do not trust me with something important yet. My fellow interns are all very different from each other. Ultimately, this is preferable because of the different spheres of influence that they come from. The first intern I met, whom I will title First, was a very sweet and well-mannered personal. She has been a comforting presence in the office and is helpful to turn to if I am unsure about something within the office but do not have the courage to ask a staffer. The second intern, Second, unfortunately has not given me the same positive energy. This mostly stems from the fact that she has said culturally insensitive things about Africa, which have made me come to terms with how I address conversations cultural appropriation conversations in real life. She is polite, but has often times shared opinions that were unneeded and resulted in me avoiding confrontation. I think I have much to learn from Second, as her brash displays of ignorance may give me more courage to speak about my truth. The third intern, Third, is a more subdued character than the others, but is talkative on her own clock. She is a bit more pessimistic than I am about the humanity of her oppressors, which in turn allows me an easy outlet to question my rationale around certain beliefs. Third is quick to write off the ignorance of the rich, white elite and any other thought that emulates this group of people as lacking in logic or compassion, but I am a bit hesitant to jump to this bold conclusion. She too has offered me a learning experience, whether I wanted to learn. Finally, the fourth intern, or Fourth. He is a part of the LGBTQIA community like my peers in this cohort, which initially made me excited to meet him. He is a light-hearted man with bitter jokes about the current administration, which is appreciated on a slow day in the office. The staffers, including my intern coordinator, act like good friends and engage each other conversation often. Occasionally, they will engage us interns in the same conversation, but often times my colleagues and I are left to chuckle in the background. It is a bit early to cast judgement, but as of today, I am hopeful to make notable progress in Congresswoman Gwen Moore’s office.
My cohort and I have become good friends faster than I ever could have hoped. We have already shared countless meals together, had endless conversations about politics, and discussed our relationships with our specific areas of leadership in detail. I feel that I have already made a meaningful connection with everyone in the cohort, not least of all my roommates. It has been a special experience to be surrounded by queer leaders in my age group for this summer, and the bonds I’ve made already feel strong and durable. My only complaint lies within the truth that the summer will end, and I will have to say goodbye to my new friends. Of course, it is impossible to discuss my cohort without mentioning our advisor, Mario. He has already taken a loving parental role in our lives on the Hill, and has given us nothing less than our best. The support I receive from him and my peers give me perseverance during the most discouraging parts of working in politics. And with that, I would say that my Hill experience has been a positively unique time in my life.
Balance: Exploring Life Off the Hill
By: Sydney Mudd
On June 4th, the day that marked the beginning of our second week as Victory Congressional Interns, a prominent Supreme Court case decision was made. In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the justices voted 7-2 in favor of the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips; this came as a huge setback for the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized communities as a whole. Although I understand that within the court of law there must exist complete neutrality in regards to religion – as much neutrality as possible for subjective human beings – I feel that the justices failed to address the heart of the issue: discrimination against a particular social group in the public sphere.
Learning of this decision left a knot in my stomach. Time and time again the current government, and its institutions, has proven itself to align with discriminatory ideals. Yes, we must not discriminate against people who hold sincerely held religious beliefs (so long as those beliefs are Christian). What about the rest of us? What about those people who have sincerely held Islamic religious beliefs? What about those of us who are simply trying to live our lives in the most authentic way possible (i.e. LGBTQ+ folx)? During my time on the Hill it has been really difficult to reconcile the fact that this administration does not recognize the lived experiences of people like myself and other people who exist within marginalized communities.
On a more positive note, I would like to highlight some events that I attended during my second and third week in DC that gave me mental, emotional, and spiritual joy and fulfillment:
June 5th – GLBT Latinx History Project: La Platica
The reason that I attended this event was to volunteer. Due to attending, I was afforded the opportunity to listen to a panel of intelligent individuals speak about the struggles faced by the elderly LGBTQ+ community with a more specific focus on Latinx LGBTQ+ elderly people. This was a topic that I have not thought much about as it has not directly affected my day-to-day life. I left the event with the understanding that that particular sector of our community goes forgotten and unnoticed; as a young person, back in my home community, I need to work to be more inclusive of this population.
June 7th – GLBT Latinx History Project: La Fiesta
I also volunteered at this event. I helped work the front desk – taking money and giving hand stamps. This event was very relaxed and fun. It was a reminder to have fun and enjoy my time with the people around me.
June 14th – LGBTQ Latinx Arts Activism Event at the Hirschorn
Although we showed up a little late, upon sitting down I was immersed in a conversation that was engaging and inspiring. The individual speaking at the moment discussed the experience of entering into a space that you did not know you needed prior to entering it, and how empowering that is. This statement really hit home with me; I connected to it personally.
Another thing that was mentioned continuously throughout the event was the fact of art being survival, not simply entertainment. For marginalized people, and I think people as a whole, art is a form of personal expression that we use to release ourselves from the confines of our existence. Art is survival insofar as it allows one to transcend their selves, to advocate for their community, and to shed light on the lived experience of social injustices.
June 15th – District of Pride Event
This was a performance celebration that showcased LBGTQ talent in the DC community. I love entering into lively queer spaces such as this one. Every single time I get to be a part of spaces like the District of Pride Event, whether that be as an observer or a participant, I feel fully entrenched in my existence as a queer and trans person. I simultaneously feel myself transcend my existence and deepen into it.
Realizing the Power of Civic Action
By: Jack Hoda
These past couple of weeks have been understandably heavy for us, here on the Hill. There’s an interesting juxtaposition of despair with hopefulness and camaraderie taking place among our cohort and offices. Daily, government officials’ unwillingness to act against the inhumane treatment of children and families at our border strikes us. We have watched as the Supreme Court failed to protect the rights of LGBTQ people and to enforce protections for the rights of voters. However, in the face of harmful policy decisions, the flood of constituent callers, some in tears of conviction, demanding justice for families mistreated by our immigration system uplift us. These are people not only begging for Congress to do something but also begging for the opportunity to do more themselves. We witnessed and participated in regular demonstrations of opposition in front of the Supreme Court building, joining voices with constituents, activists, and Congress members alike.
Sometimes it is incredibly difficult to make it through a day of work, especially for those in this cohort personally affected by these cruel policies, but that is exactly why this program is so important. These cohort members are some of the strongest people I have met in my life. Some of us face social and professional hardship at work due to the intersections of our identities, yet we are here every day – forcing those holding power, conducting research, and making decisions to consider the populations we represent. Never in my life has it been so clear that Representation Matters, and never has it been clearer that the people truly hold power over their representatives. Congress and the White House fell into a clear scramble thanks to the public outcry over the Administration’s border policy, and it was so empowering to see that steps were taken as a result. Although the cruelty still has not ended, the foundation of a solution has been formed because of the righteous anger of Americans.
If you are one of those outraged constituent callers, thank you so much for your passion and willingness to speak out. If you are an outraged constituent, call your representatives and demand change. And if you really want to see our government do the most good, get out and vote in these midterm elections. We have the power to create a Congress that better represents our communities and advocates for compassionate policy.
“Justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public.” – Michael Eric Dyson
Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic.
By: Juan Martinez Guevara
I am a Dreamer. I live my life, working, studying, and growing in the United States without holding a secure or valid immigration status. However, while I have lived my life this way for the past 18 years, I do not anticipate being undocumented for the entirety of my life. My dreams are more expansive than the U.S.-Mexico border, and whether I end up on this or that side of the border is irrelevant to their realization. In truth, though, I hope to realize them on this side of the border, because it is truly the place I call home. So I continue to wait, hoping for something to happen in spite of the current political climate. I am truly a dreamer.
Working on Capitol Hill has no doubt had both its ups and downs. During these past two weeks, I have been exhausted at times and energized at others. Sometimes at the same time and sometimes at radically different ones. However, a constant throughout has been the extreme gratitude I feel toward the Victory Institute for the opportunity to experience and learn from it all.
Although it has been hard sometimes, I have grown a lot from the challenges. It was during my second week on the Hill that the phones began ringing a bit louder and the mail began filling the inbox a lot faster. It was mid-June and the Zero Tolerance Policy of the current presidential administration began receiving the attention it rightfully deserved. As the intern assigned to immigration policy, it became my daily job to sort all of the incoming mail into its appropriate issue folder. During the span of two weeks I read thousands upon thousands of letters written in fear, sorrow, and anger. These letters desperately inquired into the well-being of immigrant children, mothers, and fathers fleeing raw economic, political, and personal violence being separated at the border. In the end, though, it was my job to reduce them all to the same label: “IM. Separating Families.”
It is easy to feel powerless in the face of governmental bureaucracy, especially when laws are stacked against you and you have little political authority to resist. However, it was on those days, that I focused on reminding myself of a few things in order to get back on track. I reminded myself that if this many people were contacting the office of Tammy Baldwin, a Senator from Wisconsin, thousands of miles from the border, then I could be optimistic about the power of solidarity and collective resistance in guiding our country forward. I also reminded myself about the value of my work. While sorting through a mountain of mail was in truth a task of minor impact, it was nonetheless the way I did my part to facilitate national action against a human rights crisis. Finally, I reminded myself of the work that Tammy Baldwin and the rest of her office are doing – through advocacy, legislation, and whatever other available means – in order to address a problem 1,500 miles across the country.
The work of the Hill can be challenging at times, but it is what you take away from the experience that is significant in the long run. I recognize and value the power of legislation to protect those most in need, but legislation must be fought for and this only makes sense. It is a communal effort and I will continue doing my part as best I can. While I am a dreamer now, I know that my dreams are what will carry me forward, through thick and thin, until I am able to fight the big fight myself.
How Can We Forget?
By: Kevin Wei
The fact that really drove a knife into your heart was how much they didn’t seem to care.
It was the one fact that was true about any issue – from the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, to the FCC’s net neutrality repeal, to the Trump administration’s systematic and catastrophically-executed family separation policy. Any given crisis at hand generates a flurry of calls and letters, briefings and protests, before public interest peters out and consigns Peter Strzok’s text messages or Scott Pruitt’s hand lotion to the dustbin of yesterday’s messes. The American public’s, and any office’s constituency’s, passion for the current hot-button issues rarely manifests in sustained public fury; rather, much of the constituent work on the Hill seems to me only to betray the unwavering vacillations of mass opinion.
It was the one fact that was truly discomfiting to be forced to confront after my first couple weeks on the Hill. It occurs partially because we occupy a world with an ever-shifting news landscape, a world in which issues under the lens of public scrutiny change daily. Do voters even remember what happened and is happening in post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico? And if we can forget Puerto Rico, what other indignities have been lost to memory?
Political apathy has always been a real problem, no matter how much we hoped that the perceived-disasters of the status quo will spur the politically inactive from their slumber. To fight apathy, we built civic engagement programs. We built non-governmental advocacy and policy organizations. We built citizen groups and industry councils. We built any number of tools designed specifically to mobilize voters based on support or opposition to certain policies. Yet at the end of the day, how quickly the public forgets still shocks me.
The fact that the people don’t seem to care still hurts.
Labor and Disability: Legislation & History
By: Donna Gary
My internship cohort, coordinator team and the various connections I’ve had the honor of making so far on Capitol Hill have been extremely receptive to my concentration at NYU, my unorthodox business cards and most importantly my interest in disability justice, sex worker protections and criminal justice reform.
I was terribly nervous my first few days on the Hill. Before I came there was this underlying fear I saw proliferate on the faces of people I told I was moving to DC to work in the House of Representatives. Surely the Hill would crush this gullible poet soul of mine they said. I was fearful I would return home more discouraged than ever about the changemaking power of grassroots and community organizing and the transparency in legislative process would be futile in the end. Four weeks in and have to say that I genuinely do feel more equipped to help my community, I have a better understanding of the power I have as someone who can currently vote, and have proof that grassroots organizers make the Hill shake in it’s boots.
I can’t say much about the internal workings of my office but I will say interns are the front-lines of the Hill. In the day to day time running around the different buildings, most legislative interns pick up calls, give tours, attend briefings, read legislation and reports and take classes on the Hill. On top of that there are receptions, dinners, parties, seminars, and gatherings just for interns to sweat their weight in anxiety and shoot their shot. As someone who enjoys research and writing, I have also found that my office appreciates credibility especially when I offer it to back up any claim that I have.
Of course sometimes there is no numbers or statistics on the issues that matter most, but there is always someone calling for more of what you need, and those calls to action, funding and research are just as important. One personal project I have particularly enjoyed working on is learning about the history of labor and workers rights with a disability lense. Unsurprisingly with the arise of rights and non-discrimination legislation, people with disabilities are often the last to be included let alone consulted in legislation that supposedly makes the United States more equitable. One great example is the fight for workers rights and minimum wage. That timeline of protection of workers rights is much more belated for people with mental, physical, mental and emotional disabilities in the workplace.
People with disabilities have been campaigning to be employed since at least 1947. This was the year the first National Employ the Handicapped Week in DC capture public attention. Thirty years later, 1975 the U.S. Supreme Court decision in O’Connor v. Donaldson ruled “people could not be institutionalized against their will in a psychiatric hospital unless they were determined to be a threat to themselves or to others.” People who had been formerly confined to their homes, or confined without their consent could now seek jobs to provide for themselves. In 1983, Section 14 of the Fair Labor Act became a pivotal opportunity for employers to capitalize on the labor of formerly institutionalized individuals looking for work.
In one report the CRS describes the Fair Labor Act, the 1983 Section 14 (c) as an amendment aiming to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to work and has protections in place to prevent exploitation of disabled people.
Intention is all fine and good but a closer look at the section and it becomes clear it incentivizes the employment of people with disabilities by giving employers the opportunity to pay disabled employees less for the same labor as their able-bodied counterpart. The section allows “special wage certificates,” to be requested by employers who hire people with disabilities. By “special wage,” they mean anywhere below the minimum wage, and in some cases with no wage floor. The possibility of people with disabilities joining the workforce on their own terms was diminished by the arrival of this section. That was 1983.
The repeal of this section is long overdue.
A “special certificate,” with no wage floor in certain circumstances, reflects a stigmatized view of the value individuals with a wide range of disabilities bring to our workforce. Those that want to contribute to the world through the labor workforce, or need to do so to survive are paid below the minimum wage while doing the same labor as their counterparts not because they lack the capacity but because employers have the option. This is not the first time this section has been challenged.
The use of “subminimum wage rates,” in the same Act is used to allow tipped employees to be paid less than the minimum wage but assumes the remainder will be made up in tips. No such “tip credit,” exists for the individuals with disabilities who are deemed incapable by their employer to be paid a minimum wage.
Congress has seen several amendments and repeals to this section to accommodate hearings about the value and productivity of blind and deaf persons who are interested in working, and the Department of Justice’s lack of enforcement of protections to employees. The Murphy oversight hearings of 1994 found that the “right to an expedited hearing on any complaint of inadequate wages,” was rarely filed by the DOL (CRS-27).
In 2005 CRS shared a report specifically on the treatment of workers with disabilities under Section 14 (c) that notably includes an independent statement from former Assistant Secretary of Labor, Donald Elisburg;
… Congress has created a law that is not speedy, is extremely technical, permits below minimum wages to be paid to people whose only disability is that they are blind, insists that individuals pursue a claim on their own behalf, and then must pay legal fees even if the employer is at fault.
Eliminating these “special wage certificates,” also gives Americans who are in danger of being exploited for their identity a chance to receive minimum wage and seek recourse.
SCOTUS: Where Are We Now?
By: Elias Hakim
Masterpiece Cake shop. Pregnancy Centers. Muslim Ban. Anthony Kennedy stepping down from the Court. This past week was taxing, emotionally and also physically. Being an American citizen is hard enough in these trying times; being a Capitol Hill intern, with a constant slew of constituents calling, people crying about the separation of families, or bigots spilling out their racist vitriol, is a whole new level of difficult. Seeing our country descend into moments reminiscent of our worst points in history and sinking to new lows seems unreal in 2018. But it is real. And it’s devastating. And it’s why I’m here.
There is a culture on Capitol Hill where individuals seem to survive by separating themselves from the issues. I personally don’t know if I can react like that. The reason why I’m on the Hill is because I do care about the issues, because the issues are about real people. I think that a governing culture that separates itself from feeling is toxic, but then again I’ve already felt the brunt of letting issues affect me though I’ve only been here for weeks. After years, detachment might be the only way to produce change without burning out.
When I heard the Muslim ban decision, my mind fixated on a close friend of mine who is from Syria. Her mom was in Syria only a few months ago, what would happen to her if she were there now? What obstacles would get in her way coming home? What confusion and heartbreak would stem from this decision? Even though my friend’s mom was home, this pain existed and exists for so many people. From Americans who don’t know if they will see their family again to refugees who had believed in an American dream that no longer exists, there is real harm in our government’s actions. And this was with Anthony Kennedy on the Court.
“What comes next?” is the question that everybody wants an answer to, but I can’t fathom one. So much is at risk; women’s bodily freedom, affirmative action, gay marriage, and for all we know Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick could make a final decision about the investigations into the president. All of these outcomes paint a future for America that terrifies me, and most likely anybody reading this. It’s important to realize that Donald Trump alone did not get us into this situation. It was Senate Republicans who blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland, Democratic Senators who did not try hard enough to rally around him, and Democratic voters who didn’t turn out in the 2014 midterms. Things are not likely to get better soon, and I don’t think that the Democrats will be able to pull off a miracle to prevent another Trump Supreme Court Justice. All I can offer is a call to action- Democrats need to take back the Senate in 2018 to prevent any more extremist federal judges. Voters need to take the fight for civil liberties to Congress and to their State Legislatures and Governor’s Mansions, because the courts won’t care about us for at least another generation.
Immigration in 2018
By: Vanessa Alva
It’s impossible to not take the current political events personally when they directly impact you and people close to you. Immigration was an issue I was made aware of at a very young age before I fully understood the concept of it – even before Trump. Before Trump’s administration ICE had a track record of abusive behavior. I was personally aware of people close to my family that had been denied asylum months ago, however, it was only now that people were consistently discussing it. I was surrounded by people who were deported without a criminal history; this was my lived experience but it was an issue that was hidden strategically. Immigration has always been a grave issue, however, it’s not until the situation has been extremely severe that people are reacting to it. Interning on the Hill during this time made me realize how disconnected people are from the immigrant communities because people express shock upon hearing what is going on. Although the family separation policy was introduced under the Trump administration, I could not help but not feel shocked about it because we have a history of doing this.
As much as I was surrounded by immigration issues growing up, hearing about the latest developments regarding immigration while interning on the Hill leaves a different bitter taste. While working here, I have felt a mixture of powerlessness and disconnect from the communities impacted by the latest attacks on immigrants. I attended briefings regarding immigration hoping to better understand the family separation at the border. I heard from different advocacy groups working against the zero-tolerance policy and help families that have been separated. I heard from different organizations such as KIND, Kids in Need of Defense, discuss how children who do not speak English are placed before an immigration judge after being separated from their family and have to defend the reason why they immigrated to this country. They provided statistics on how the majority of children do not have any legal representation. It was really hard to hear about this because I could not imagine how intimidated those children felt being separated from their family and still have to speak to a judge. It was relieving to hear of organizations like KIND try to provide legal representation for these children, however, there is a higher demand than they can provide.
There are a lot of different advocacy groups focusing on immigration although it might not necessarily be their focus. It’s so important for different organizations, not just those specifically focused on immigration, to fight these policies because the immigrant community is so diverse, and with that comes many intersectionalities. During one of our training days at Victory, we attended the National Coalition for Trans Equality and we heard from VCI alum, Kory Masen, about the work NCTE has done to aid trans people who are detained or undocumented. It’s is so important that does this kind of work with immigrations because the LGBTQ+ can forget about the immigrant community while the immigrant community can also potentially forget about the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve realized that intersectionality has allowed for different advocacy groups to work together without internal discrimination. This experience has allowed me to see the true value of advocacy groups. As a result, I would be interested in also being involved with advocacy groups.
Despite the urge to want to have a more direct impact, I am constantly reminded of the need to have people from immigrant backgrounds on the Hill. I attended a Congressional Hispanic Staff Association panel and the speakers all agreed that this administration’s hateful rhetoric towards immigrants is what pushed them to seek a job on the Hill. They acknowledged how draining it can be working on the Hill during a time like this, but they also used it as a motivation to continue working there. This was a nice conclusion of my two weeks here because I was reassured that it’s necessary to have immigrants working both at a local and national level.
Foreign Affairs and LGBTQ Lobbying
By: Genevieve Onyiuke-Kennedy
The fourth week of my congressional internship on the Hill included a multitude of networking opportunities. I had the privilege of attending was titled “Q Street Pride Reception”, a networking event for LGBT lobbyists, public policy advocates, and those working for LGBT equality. I was able to meet with a colleague and my intern coordinator, both in my office, which gave me the unique opportunity of meeting people that they were involved with. Jordan, my colleague, and I had the pleasure of meeting David C. Stacy from the Human Rights Campaign. I learned a lot of information about his journey from his college career and his various places of employment leading up to his eventual title of Government Affairs Director at HRC, and was offered advice on possible career paths I could take as an International Affairs major. The following day, my cohort and I visited the National Center for Transgender Equality for a panel discussion led by Kory Masen. The members of NCTE were very personable and honest with all of the questions presented from my cohort, including questions about the difficulties surrounding lobbying under an organization that is very needed, but is also susceptible to outside threats to their identities. It is a common concern for me as to how I can navigate the political sphere without being accused of relying solely on “identity politics”, but Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, another member of the NCTE, had many insightful comments on how important it is to occupy spaces that were not designed for people who exist in several intersections of marginalization.
This week was certainly a great time to make meaningful connections and to learn about strategies to tackle policy work, as well as other career paths that my interests may lead me to.
The following week consisted of a particularly intriguing briefing titled “Human Trafficking within our Nonimmigrant Visa Program”. The first briefing was particularly different from the rest in regards to the panelists and speakers involved in the presentation of this briefing. The attendance of Senators Ted Cruz and Richard Blumenthal implicitly displayed the bipartisan nature of the issue at hand. Both senators spoke about the horror of human trafficking and the lack of protection for individuals for foreign countries had against U.S. corporations who could exploit these potential employees in ways that evade the current laws surrounding work visas. The bill, titled the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act, therefore seeks to address the holes in the legislation that regulates work visas as well as declassifying data surrounding those fall victim to human trafficking. The other attendees and I bore witness to story of Shandra Woworuntu, who is a human trafficking survivor and the found of Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program Inc. This was an eye-opening briefing that involved a lot of critical thinking on my part not only to comprehend what the bill wanted to accomplish, but the potential issues that could arise from the specific wording of the bill. My personal concern lied within the lack of input the victim may have in the situation that the government learns of the crimes of the corporation that recruited them; there were seemingly no reparations for the party that would need it the most. Despite this, it was interesting to feel as if I was directly interacting with a bill and provide feedback on a memo if necessary.
One of the most exciting site visits during this internship was when my cohort and I visited the Center for American Congress, led by Sharita Gruberg, who is the Associate Director and leads the LGBT Research & Communications Project. The majority of the employees who spoke to my cohort had worked on various campaigns and had expansive skills in regards to lobbying. Speaking to those who worked at CAP was delightful because of how much passion each employee had about the work they were involved in, whether it was on LGBT issues, health care, the environment, and other important policy issues. Because my interests lie within foreign policy, I asked about the efforts CAP had made in addressing the humanitarian crises in Flint, Michigan and Puerto Rico. They gave me a detailed response in the work they’ve done in the past, including lobbying the members in Congress that had specific ties to those events as well as on-sight storytelling efforts done in Puerto Rico. Their emphasis on collecting the stories of those impacted in various events within and outside the country struck me as a very genuine, yet effective way to lobby offices at the Capitol and gain the support of their constituents and other organizations who might have otherwise been inactive in pressing issues. The enthusiasm of the employees at CAP and their unique approaches towards lobbying allowed for a meaningful discussion and I am extremely grateful to their staff for the welcoming nature towards us at VCI.
Meeting American Heroes: The Tuskegee Airmen
By: John Priddy
Many Americans, across the political spectrum, are unaware of several significant people and groups who changed the Civil Rights landscape in our country. The average citizen is aware of the more salient names, such as: Martin Luther King Junior, Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall. However, names such as Bayard Rustin, Charles Hamilton Houston, and Claudette Colvin remain unknown despite their remarkable contributions to American History and the Civil Rights Movement. These names remain unfamiliar because Black History has often been distinguished from American History, where instead, Black History IS American History. Slavery, the Jim Crow South, and the Civil Rights Movement are not just necessary for Black people to learn and understand, they are arguably more important for all Americans to learn.
As an intern in Senator Doug Jones’s office, I am consistently reminded of the significance of the Civil Rights Movement into the present day. Civil Rights advocacy is deeply important to Senator Jones, as he was the United States Attorney who prosecuted two Ku Klux Klan members who were directly involved in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The explosion resulted in the deaths of four young, African American girls. Additionally, the bombing stood as a cold case until Senator Jones found and prosecuted those responsible in 1997. With this background, it is truly an honor to work in Senator Jones’s office, as I meet a variety of unique and diverse people. People all across the country are excited to meet the new Democratic Senator from the State of Alabama. One group, who were invited to the Capitol by Senator Jones, greatly stood out due to the impression they left on me. It was a group of distinguished Civil Rights heroes, called the Tuskegee Airmen, who I had the once in a lifetime opportunity of meeting due to my internship in Senator Doug Jones’s Office.
The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African American fighter pilots who fought in World War II before the desegregation of the military by President Truman in 1948. The all black group received their name from the training and education they underwent at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Although the Tuskegee Airmen, also known as the red tails, contributed heavily to the United States war effort overseas, they were still subject to discrimination, racism, and segregation. In fact, the airmen were known as some of the best pilots in the U.S armed forces, yet when they returned home from war, they were not treated as heroes due to the color of their skin. As a result, they fought and died for a country where they remained segregated and disenfranchised from the rest of the population. Despite the fact that I was not educated in Alabama, I knew of the Tuskegee Airmen due to the extensive research I had done on the history of Civil Rights. As a Black man, I felt it was my responsibility to learn about these important individuals who had a profound impact on my life. Thus, having the opportunity to meet and engage with the Tuskegee Airmen and thank them for their service was an experience I will cherish. However, many people do not know the history of the Tuskegee Airmen. Whether this is from ignorance, a lack of education, or a lack of interest, it represents a major flaw in the American education system; the separation of Black History from American History.
Students across the country, not just black students or students interested in Civil Rights, should learn the brave story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Their story represents the suffering many Black Americans faced and continue to face, whether they are rich or poor, well-educated or not, or even veterans. Many important civil rights figures have sadly passed away over time, but many still live on and remind us of our country’s difficulty engaging with race in both the past and present. However, people such as Senator Jones and his continued fight for Civil Rights remind me that while America has a long way to go to reach equity and equality, we have some fantastic people leading the way. I thank the Victory Institute and Fund and Senator Doug Jones for a life changing summer.
Leadership Development: An Insight to Friday Programming
By: Lena Dreves
A large part of the Victory Congressional Internship and its goals, is Friday programing. Each Friday of the 8 weeks interning Capitol Hill, interns gather at the Victory Office around 8 am to start a day of varied site visits to organizations and meetings with policy leaders throughout D.C. Over the past 7 Fridays, the cohort has visited and met with leaders from the Center for American Progress, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Planned Parenthood, Georgetown Law School, and The National Center for Transgender Equality – to name a few. In addition to site visits, we have been taught valuable workshops on professional development, tools for self-care, and accountability between each other and our program director.
Reflecting on the past 7 weeks, it is easy to recognize the importance of these Fridays to our overall experience in Washington D.C. Speaking to experts at non-profit organizations, seeing the work of advocacy outside of the hill, and forming better relationships with one is other – was a part of the result. Leadership development came as a result of observing leaders roles in organizations, learning how teams work together to maximize the capabilities of others, and how to grow personally in the professional setting. Visiting the Center for American Progress, we learned about the power of storytelling to advocate for policies that affect individual lives. A look into the tech world at the Internet & Television Association (NCTA), gave us a new perspective to how the world of politics overlaps almost every career field.
At the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), we spoke former Chief of Staff to the 22nd Secretary of the Army, Alex Wagner. Currently AIA’s Vice President, Wagner’s experience has ranged from nuclear proliferation tactics and strategy, drones, landmines and autonomous technologies, political negotiations, and Arms Control. We learned details about institutional change, inside look at the Department of Defense during the Obama administration, and career trajectory advice. “If I could leave you with one tidbit of advice…”, Wagner said, “…do not be afraid to take risks in order to do the thing you love”. As only one example of a typical Friday, the advice we received was not short in quantity, nor was the quality of each professional site visit diminished.
A few highlights that emphasized personal and professional growth, was the self-care session held at the Victory Office, the constructive feedback from mentors, and volunteer work. Through these conversations and sessions, we learned that self-care often means choosing your battles and remembering to be self-aware in the process. As LGBTQ students working inside the halls where legislation is written, there are multiple personal challenges to overcome in the professional environment of the office. Often, it takes discernment and maturity to understand when to not let personal emotions or experience affect your judgement or attitude in the office. This occurs often when the Congressional member we work for makes decisions that directly contradict with our personal beliefs, or even with our personal identity as a minority. From feedback from mentors and guidance on self-care, we began to understand that just as it is important to keep personal views private at times, it is equally important to know when there is an opportunity to communicate our thoughts, or when to find an ally to help our make our statements known.
Our cohort has a unique perspective, and its importance should not be minimized; even as interns, we should believe strongly in the power of our own voices.Our experiences in the bodies or lives of marginalized identities gives us partiality to defend human suffering and leaves us with a conviction for the rights of others that is often stronger than others.
Just as our disposition as minorities gives us these insights and convictions, it also makes us vulnerable to discrimination or insensitivity. The self-care session provided us with tools of how to revitalize ourselves and realize our humanity as we immerse ourselves in the center of the U.S. Congress.
Overall, I cannot overemphasize the importance of each Friday Programming that we as Victory Congressional Interns participated in. It gave us a sense of community, provided us with connections, taught us about spheres of policy work, and most importantly gave us the tools we needed as we worked on Capitol Hill.
Where are the Trans Spaces on the Hill?
By: Michaé Pulido
Where are the spaces I feel that I can breathe in confidence? Where are the spaces I feel I don’t have to put up a facade? Where are the spaces where I get to let my guard down? SPOILER ALERT. There are none. Navigating the Hill as a gender non-conforming trans person really has made me appreciate the queer and trans spaces, and family, I’ve found here in DC. On the other hand, it’s also made me hyper aware of my own gender expression.
Prior to starting on the Hill, I could care less about the hairs on my chin, the tone of my voice, or whether I choose to wear pants or a skirt—now I’ve felt inclined to think about all of the above constantly. Once I received the news of being chosen as a Victory Congressional Intern, I was ecstatic but immediately began to wonder how I would have to shift my gender expression to be safe and respected. I questioned whether or not I would have to shave every morning, whether or not I would have to wear a suit, whether or not my Senate badge would have my legal name—it did.
As I complete week 7 of my internship, I’ve reached a point where I‘ve realized that I won’t let this space define my gender. I won’t let the deeply rooted, and colonized notions of gender force me into binary expression because it is what makes other people more comfortable. I won’t default to using ‘she’ because it is what people are used to. But I will make you use ‘she’ if it’s what I choose to use. Regardless of the space I’m in, that being an entirely queer space or a space such as Capitol Hill—I deserve to be respected. All trans people deserve to be respected. But sadly, that’s not the reality.
A couple weeks ago, I had a discussion with a colleague regarding efforts to make the Hill more inclusive and accessible to various communities such as those with disabilities, aging populations, and even animals. (You’re more likely to see dogs walking down the halls of Congress than you are to see a trans person). When expressing discontent with the lack of trans-inclusive spaces, specifically gender-neutral restrooms, I was met with an “Oh well… that’s not going to happen anytime soon; that’s a really huge issue.”
My safety and comfort is a debatable issue? I am met with demeaning stares every time I go pee, many times waiting in the stall to avoid them. I force myself to even to sit sometimes, because most people don’t understand that some girls pee standing up. And don’t even get me started if I were to choose to go into the men’s restroom.
So no, asking for more trans inclusive spaces on the Hill isn’t too much. It’s barely enough.
The lack of trans inclusive spaces on the Hill only reflects the social and political climate for trans people across the world. I begged the question of where the trans spaces are on the Hill, but also I find myself asking where are the trans spaces period. In a society where trans people are pushed to the margins and discriminated against in every aspect of society—the workplace, education, by the police, within the LGBTQ community, it comes as no surprise that it would be ANY better on the Hill.
This coupled with my identity as a femme Latinx person, intensifies these feelings. The experiences of transmasculine people, white trans people, and even those that are cis-passing or stealth are very different than a non-binary trans femme of color. These intersections are often forgotten and ignored.
I make it necessary to bring up trans people into political dialogue any chance I get. I ask questions about how trans people are impacted in briefings, I include trans people in my memos, and I put my pronouns in my Senate email signature. Although I know these won’t change the entirety of the Hill culture, I hope to spark conversations about trans inclusion in hopes of making the space easier to navigate for future gender non-conforming trans people of color.
Inside the Halls of Power
By: José “Che Che” Turrubiartez
Walking through the Capitol building can be a very intimidating experience, and I was really nervous at first. I had been to Washington D.C. before, but I had never set foot in the Capitol building. As a Mexican-American, gay man of color, I did not know what to make about the building where decisions to take away my rights, and grant me some of them back, had been made. It felt a lot like dating a guy who is the most amazing person in the world one day, and then the next day is the biggest jerk. You know, a complicated and unhealthy relationship, but with government. Oftentimes, when I stepped foot inside the Capitol building I heard one of the tour guides tell visitors: “This is yours, remember that, this building stands as a symbol of our democracy, a democracy that belongs to you and it is your job to make sure that it lasts.” His comments resonate with me for several reasons: The first one being that he did not ask people if they were citizens of this country. Maybe it’s because he assumes everyone is, but I like to think otherwise. The United States continues to be a beacon of hope to many around the world, and I believe the tour guide understands that, so he is intentional about this specific comment. The second comment that resonates with me is about making it last. I am a firm believer, now more than ever, that it is up to a younger group of individuals, such as myself, to keep our democracy alive. I very apparent that many of our elected officials are over the age of sixty, and these officials do not seem as invested in the future as they should be. This concerns me because I feel that they govern and create policies that will never affect them.
In the Capitol building, I am constantly reminded of how out-of-touch our elected officials are with the real world. I am also made aware of how much power has been handed to them, and quite honestly, it is bothersome that they take advantage of that power and use it to only advance their own selfish agenda. I understand that most elected officials mean well, however meaning well is not enough for most people like me. People who worry about rent, student debt, health care and having a livable wage to pay for all of that. You know, passing legislation that helps with these worries would be nice. Most of these thoughts regularly come to me as I make my way to the office building where I spend most of my time. There are a number of buildings were most of the actual work and writing of legislation gets done. I happen to work in one of the Senate buildings called the Hart Office Building. This is where I spend my time writing memos, talking to staffers, and engaging with constituents over the phone. As an intern for Senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey, the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, I am able to attend a lot of briefings and events. I have always had an interest in foreign policy, so this truly is exciting. What I learned from this though is that foreign relations is very dense and complicated – there is never one solution to just “fix it all.”
With each passing day, I am made more aware of just how big government is, and how we all play an important role in it. Our country, our democracy, is bigger than all of us and we need to remember that. We are the United States of America for a reason, and we are united in a common goal – to secure our fundamental human rights and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.
Graduation: Coming Full Circle
By: The 2018 Cohort
Goodbye: It’s Hard, but It’s Necessary
By: Jack Hoda
At any given moment of my childhood, you could find me with my face stuck in a Winnie the Pooh book or eyes glued to the television as one of the movies played. These stories taught me about adventure, friendship, kindness, and vulnerability. They also gave me a quote that I can’t stop thinking about this week – “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
It may be a surprise that I was not looking forward to my Victory internship this summer. I was homesick after a semester abroad, anxious about living and working with some outstanding peers, and terrified of what awaited me on the Hill. As this experience approaches its end, I look back on my original expectations for this program with amusement. I have been challenged in so many ways by this program and the people in it to grow, explore, and reevaluate. I learned about communities I have never had the opportunity to interact with. I learned the importance and the burden of grassroots organizing, and I learned more of the extent and implications of the privilege that I hold.
Each of my fellow cohort members has affirmed, uplifted, and challenged me in ways that have pushed me to be better and work harder. They have supported me when I had no one else and celebrated with me in my victories. The Victory staff has moved mountains to support, connect, and amplify us, and my congressional office has given me opportunity after opportunity to get my hands on real work.
In mere days, I will be back in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a completely different world than D.C. It’s a running joke in our cohort that my tagline has become something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m Jack from Mississippi. I go to The University of Southern Mississippi, and I am passionate about Mississippi.” I tell anyone who asks that as terrible as our state can be, there’s so much beauty that the world doesn’t get to see. We have some of the country’s most discriminatory policies, but we also have some of the most compassionate people in the country fighting against it. We have some of the country’s worst economic and educational policies, but we also have teachers, students, and small business owners all over the state fighting for success and growth. And we have one of the most dangerous environments for LGBTQ+ people, but we also have brave individuals choosing to stay because Mississippi is their home. Going back for me is hard and sad because I will miss these people and this space. I will miss the safety and comfort that has existed this summer to explore gender identity and expression, queerness, and political ideology, but I am going home with a mission.
Mississippi is my home, and I will work even harder to see it be a better place. The citizens of Mississippi deserve a government that values them regardless of their identity, and the students at my university deserve a community that uplifts and supports them in the same way. These are the ideals I will fight for when I return, and thanks to Victory, I have the tools, skills, resources, and connections to fight harder than ever before. Saying goodbye is hard, but it’s also necessary.
Call your representatives. Volunteer on a campaign. Get Out the Vote. Join the movement.
I would never have applied to an internship program on Capitol Hill had I not been encouraged by Victory Institute & Fund to apply as someone who was not studying political science. This program surrounded me with people who understood the value I bring to every space when I bring my entire self. As a poet, researcher, and an outspoken individual of multiple marginalized identities I often worried my lived experiences would be tokenized, exploited and misunderstood in our nations’ capital. My time on the Hill has taught me just how powerful I truly am, and just how much more people like me are need in policy, and legislation. I still have little interest in running for office (I know bummer), but I do feel much more comfortable asserting the views that I have always had as an organizer, advocate and co-conspirator.
I know just how difficult it is for the teams of folks working on legislation to see every nuanced angle of a situation or to know how legislation will pan out for the most marginalized populations.This is why representation, genuine diversity, racial equity and accessibility is so important. I also know the care and intention I bring to every word is deeply appreciated at every briefing I disrupt with tough thoughtful questions. I bring the people who cannot be here with me everywhere I go. I make this place better when I am honest and unapologetic, while also recognizing the knowledge others can offer me. Below is a list of first time experiences that I never would have enjoyed without the full monetary, emotional and mental support of this program;
Lived in D.C.
Went to the National Portrait Museum immediately!
Dressed up every single day to sweat in a suit.
Walked up a broken escalator at least three times a week.
Completed co-sponsorship appeals on legislation, and impact.
Attended briefings and asked vulnerable hard hitting questions about the impact on sex workers, people with disabilities, LGBTQ folks and homeless youth.
Wrote, researched and fact checked memorandums and reports.
Listened to hearing live and actually knew what was happening.
Attended a baseball game with front row seats (Congressional Baseball Game of 2018).
Slept in a hammock.
Cold emailed librarians, editors, encyclopedia contributors, one Deputy Chairman and so many people I had met once for “follow up and thank you,” coffees.
Slept like a baby almost every night.
Wore green lipstick.
Wore teal lipstick.
Volunteered at a club (DC Latinx Pride).
Worked with about fifteen people on editing writing samples, applications, and resumes and improving my grammar (it takes a village y’all!).
Introduced myself to a stranger on average once a day.
Spent my lunch at a library.
Started my first research project.
Planned my first event in a public space.
Applied to two grants and got both!?
Ate cake a midnight three weeks in a row (happy belated birthday cohort members Vanessa, Sydney and Elias!).
I have taken more risks this summer than I ever have before.
Thank you to the community of people based in DC who do not live or work on the Hill, but welcomed me nonetheless. You are the heart of this city and I hope you will have me back sometime soon.
A Bittersweet Feeling
By: Sydney Mudd
As I sit here, staring blankly at my computer screen, I ponder how it is that I can write a blog post that will do this experience justice. A plethora of memories flood my head – both the good and the bad. My heart feels heavy. Two months came and swiftly went like the rain showers in this swamp of a city.
This experience has made me question how I can change the socioeconomic political systems and institutions in which I exist. Unfortunately, I don’t have a direct answer to said question; I only have another question – like whether or not I can actually change those aforementioned things. Ultimately I have come to the stark realization that even if I can’t create the much needed change, the intelligent and capable individuals around me can. The people in this cohort are the movers, the shakers, the disrupters, the fighters, the takers of space… they are the individuals with the ability to enact change.
Although my time here has simultaneously inspired and disheartened me it has reaffirmed that young people are bound to change the systems in which we live. They are bound to empower their own communities so that true, widespread social and political change will occur. I genuinely look forward to watching where the people in this cohort go in the future, constantly cheering them on from afar.
For this singular experience to have occurred in the course of my life, I will forever be grateful. But, it is time to move forward. And so, like the rising and the setting of the sun, our lives will cyclically continue on as we head back home to begin the next phase of our existence.
By: José “Che Che” Turrubiartez
This summer was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I have learned more about government in the past two months than I have in the past four years. From visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture, to sharing space with wonderful people that are making a difference in their own home communities, every single one of my experiences proved to be a learning opportunity. I enjoyed talking to some of the senators and engaging with constituents – in case you did not know, the struggle is real for a lot of Americans. Many of us are affected by the same issues and have similar grievances about the state of our country. I routinely attended foreign policy briefings, and networking events. I must admit that at times I found myself a little overwhelmed, but I did not mind, I loved every minute of it. This internship has solidified my desire to work in public service; there is a need for a younger perspective all across government, a diverse perspective that is inclusive of every single American regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, or sexual orientation. I cannot begin to thank the Victory Institute for this amazing opportunity they have given me. It is because of their generosity and commitment to investing in young leaders that I was able to engage in such a powerful learning experience.
Empowered and Ready to Go!
By: Kevin Wei
With 8 weeks on Capitol Hill at an end, I’m thinking about lessons learned and ways I could have performed better as an intern in my office. Here’s a couple helpful tips for future #VictoryInterns, especially for those coming from a non-government background like me:
Don’t be afraid to take initiative: if you see a problem, don’t just complain – propose a solution! Work processes everywhere have inefficiencies, so don’t be afraid to speak up and correct them. The worst that can happen is being told no, and at the very least you’ll develop a reputation as a thinker who tries their best to improve the functioning of the office.
Always be doing something or find yourself something to do: work days on Capitol Hill can be slow, especially if the Congress is in recess. But that doesn’t mean you have a carte blanche to twiddle your thumbs behind your desk. You could always write an extra memo (even if it’s unasked for), help with constituent services, or attend a hearing. This brings us to 3…
Watch the committee hearing schedule, and plan on arriving at the popular events early: working on Capitol Hill, you’ll be around plenty of luminaries in just about any field you could ask for. A number of world-class experts come to Congress to testify or hold events for staffers – and popular events are always crowded, so show up early! I learned this the hard way after arriving late to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s semi-annual House Financial Services Committee hearing…the room had only a few seats for the public (that weren’t reserved for press), and I had to move to the overflow room to watch a livestream even though I arrived on time.
Learn to effectively express gratitude: if you’re having plenty of coffee chants and making those hilltern connections, you’ll want to have a way to say thank you to everyone who’s spending time with you. Handwritten notes are best, especially for Hill staffers whose office numbers are easily available. If you don’t have an address, at least send a thank you email.
So that’s a wrap: one amazing Victory Institute Internship complete, 11 new friends made! I’m looking forward to the Conference in December and meeting Victory Interns in future years.
Answering the Phones
By: John Priddy
As an intern in Senator Doug Jones’s Office, I was granted a variety of unique and substantive opportunities during my internship. These opportunities ranged from writing decisions memos, gathering data on healthcare and education policies, and attending briefs and hearings on the Hill. However, one of my main tasks was answering the phones on the front desk. Answering phones is seemingly the most mundane duty for interns on Capitol Hill. Most interns dread spending time on the front desk, relegated to answering phone calls from a variety of constituents. However, it was my time on the phones, answering calls for the people of Alabama, that taught me the most during my internship.
The phones in Senator Jones’s Office were a direct line to the entire state of Alabama. People who called were happy, upset, angry, and everything in between. It was answering the phones, where I heard firsthand the direct impact of the policies and actions of the United States Senators and Representatives. Often times in this day and age – with the seemingly endless distractions provided by the internet – it can be easy to drone out the news. It can seem never-ending, the constant alterations and policy discussions flooding the major news networks on a 24-hour cycle. Suddenly the news becomes overwhelming to keep up with. A deep sense of apathy and a longing to tune out all the chaos sets in. However, the ability to ignore the news also comes from a place of privilege. Certain policy changes and actions will never affect those with options. Cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security only hurt those who deeply depend on those programs. Legislation looking to ban gay couples from adopting doesn’t change the ability of a heterosexual couple to adopt a child in need. Policies separating families at the border don’t change the citizenship status of current United States citizens. But these policies, these actions, just because they may not affect a person, does not mean we should disengage and allow them to become law. This is a lesson I learned from the people of the great state of Alabama.
Every single day, people from Alabama would call Senator Jones’s Office and tell me their stories. It was the person who had been fired from their job for being gay and feared the nomination of a conservative Supreme Court Justice. It was the person who themselves was an immigrant and cried and begged for action to keep the families together. It was the older couple who explained their fear of being unable to survive without proper healthcare. As I sat and listened to these stories, I often found myself deeply moved. These people refused to sit back and allow their voices to go unheard. Instead, they called their Senators, they marched on Washington, and they voted. Sitting on the phones, I heard from constituents from Huntsville to Mobile, Florence to Dothan, and everywhere in between. Despite stereotypes about the people of Alabama, I heard their honest worries and concerns. I learned that even though I am from a small town in Colorado and I have the opportunity to go to a prestigious private University and I’ve only been to Alabama a few times in my life, there is more that we share in common than what makes us different. And I think that is the simple formula to creating effective change. Finding what unites us, rather than what divides us. This is certainly a unique time in American politics, but I have hope that we will move mountains. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” My time in Senator Doug Jones’s Office has taught me that change can originate from all places, places as diverse as a group of 12 Victory Congressional Interns or the people of the State of Alabama.
In the Blink of an Eye
By: Genevieve Onyiuke-Kennedy
As my time on the Hill comes to a close, I feel the need to recall my memories, both positive and negative, that I would have never had the opportunity to know without being a part of such a unique program. The briefings on the Hill were something I had never heard of prior to joining my cohort this summer, so they take a special place in my heart as some of the most unique opportunities I had to learn about politics. The structure of briefings were reminiscent of classrooms in college (time span, necessity of note-taking, lecture-style explanations from speakers), so it was easy to be comfortable in these spaces. At the same time, it challenged me because my notes ceased to be something for my own personal gain; they were necessary for my staffers to get information they would otherwise have a difficult time receiving. This, in my opinion, is an underrated skill. I really appreciated having the time to hone this skill because it capitalizes on grasping the objectives of each point made, mince the words of the speaker without losing impact, and communicating such information in an engaging but informative fashion. As a writer myself, I was reluctant to believe there would be much to gain from something I have done for most of my academic life. However, the scope of politics changes the pressure that is placed on the content of personal notes, and I have learned so much in such a small amount of time. It would not be right if I were to speak about my time on the Hill without mentioning how my relationship with writing has changed with the privilege of attending as many briefings as I possibly could.
It would inaccurate of me to discuss my time on my Hill without mentioning the wave of emotions I felt while working in my office. Though this was not my first internship, the environment of a congressional office was unlike any other place of work I have ever entered. There is an undeniable hierarchy in a congressional office, as well as on Capitol Hill, and quite frankly in all of D.C. The sense of competition and the lack of solidarity between interns and staffers was a hard pill to swallow at first. Of course, everyone I encountered was polite and answered the questions I had, but the never-ending rhythm of the Hill left little room for compassion amongst my superiors. As someone who thrives off from relationship-building, this was a hard transition for me. Nevertheless, I persisted. I was not alone in these feelings, and confiding in my cohort and my colleagues helped me to navigate these thoughts and how to move away from discouragement. It took a couple of weeks to become comfortable in my office, allowing me to not take any coldness from my staffers personally. The staffers in Congresswoman Gwen Moore’s office were all there for the right reasons, as I learned from their interactions between each other. They were there to help the country in their own ways and understanding that they had their own tasks to tackle before offering me a helping hand was a necessary lesson. For future Victory interns who may be reading this; do not misunderstand me. Most people on the Hill are happy to help you in your endeavors. However, it is about meeting people where they are, and making your requests as easy to understand and deliver as possible. The pace of the Hill as a workplace can be taxing, but your staffers are there to help. What I gained from being in such an environment is how to adapt for the better, and this lesson is just as priceless as any of the other lessons I learned this summer. There are fun parts of the Hill, and friends to be made within the staffers and interns alike, so ultimately, it is a healthy mix of work and play.
However difficult working on the Hill may have been, I always knew my cohort would be there to provide the reassurance I needed to move forward to the next day. One of the most wonderful things about the small community we made in our cohort was the knowledge that all of us were compassionate people who had empathy and kinds at the source of their passion for politics. There were various issue areas that each of us were commonly associated with, but we were all fully supportive of each person’s views and how they intended to put their ideas into tangible policy. I am truly in awe of the people I can now proudly call my friends, and I’ll be there to support each and every one of their campaigns if and when they all run for office. Because the Victory Institute has passionate people working behind their cause to put LGBTQ+ people in office, I am sure there will be other accomplished cohorts, but I know my cohort is one of the best out there. These wonderful people give me hope for the future of America, though it can look unbelievably bleak at times, because in each of us, there is a fire that will not die. Making a change in this world is each of our callings, and I cannot express my excitement to see what each of my friends do with their intellect and potential. Though this summer went by in the blink of an eye, our impact as leaders in the LGBTQ+ community will last for an immeasurable amount of time, for those before and after us.
By: Vanessa Alva
This experience went by a lot faster than I anticipated, but I am certain that I am leaving the Victory Institute a better leader – and person, in general. This experience allowed me to picture myself in spaces I never thought I belonged in because they weren’t created for people like me. Although the underrepresentation of both LGBTQ and people of color (poc) is a constant reminder while working on the Hill, the support system we built in our cohort made it bearable. We found ourselves asking for advice on how to advocate for issues in our office, suggested briefings we would be interested in and vented about experiences of micro/macro-aggressions. It was especially necessary to have this group of exceptional people as a support system under Trump’s administration where we constantly were exposed to news of legislation that threatened our existence.
Programs like the Victory Institute have allowed marginalized people to imagine ourselves being in these spaces and see how desperately needed we are #AmericaNeedsUs. Prior to Victory, I saw politics somewhere in my future but I did not necessarily see myself running for office. An openly queer Latina immigrant running for office and winning in Georgia did not seem like a tangible goal, however, I am leaving Victory inspired and more hopeful than ever to go back to Georgia to do just that.
Georgia will always be home despite the times where I was made to feel like I was not welcome. This summer taught me to appreciate the value of local and state politics through the work Victory does. Victory introduced me to leaders back home like Rep. Sam Park who is working to make Georgia feel like home for everyone. It is so necessary to have this kind of representation in states like Georgia where there is no law that protects people from workplace discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Especially now, the work that needs to be done can happen at the local and state level which makes It even more important to have us working both at federal and state-level politics. It was really inspiring seeing how passionate the other VCI interns are about their home states and it made me hopeful for the future.
This experience could not have come at a better point. I was close to losing hope in politics and distancing myself from a system of oppression that targets vulnerable communities. I needed this summer to show me how much we can contribute to our society by just being present in these spaces. I would not have wanted to experience this with anyone other than the VCI interns in this cohort because they taught me the importance of a support system/hype crew. They have inspired me and taught me different ways of thinking about issues based on their experience. I know the future is in good hands if we have people like them in leadership.
By: Lena Dreves
Interning on Capitol Hill has been one of the most exhilarating opportunities of my professional life. The six weeks flew by, and before I knew it I had completed the Victory Congressional Internship. I grew my professional network, learned valuable skills, and grew to appreciate Democracy like never before. The Victory Institute gave me the chance to experience what had previously been impossible for me, and this inspires me to do the same for others.
Washington D.C. has always been an idealized place for me in my mind. I used to watch the theme of the House of Cards TV show, simply to see the beautiful lights of Washington D.C. at night. The TV show, The West Wing – gave me close up views of D.C. like I hadn’t seen before, and I always imagined myself in the scene. This summer was my first experience in Washington D.C., and in many ways, it was just as I had imagined. It was full of political rumors and secrets, cocktail parties and strategic campaign moves – however, it also was a place where the privileged and the wealthy were most likely to advance.
Headlines from The Hill such as, “Interning on Capitol Hill: Great opportunity for America’s wealthiest undergrads” or “Unpaid internships unfairly favor the wealthy” – are not surprising for the millions of students who hoped to get an Congressional Internship in D.C., only to realize that they could not afford it. Unless you already live in D.C., or come from a wealthy family, many students cannot afford to pay the costs of living in D.C. while simultaneously saving enough for tuition in the fall.
This was my experience. I applied to the Victory Congressional Internship in hopes that I could intern on Capitol Hill despite any financial situation I faced. Now at the end of the internship – I have reflected not only on the value of my experience, but also on those who didn’t get the same chances to have that experience. As I go out into the world, back to school, on to my first entry job, or perhaps onto a professional degree – I want to have the presence of mind to utilize what I have learned and the connections I have made, to give other underrepresented students the same chances. Whether this means on Capitol Hill or at my university, I am determined to remind myself of the motivations I hold and the support I was given to be successful. For me, success means, that one day I will be able to improve equality for all minorities in the field of policy and law – remembering that I was only able to be successful myself, because someone else held a similar goal.
Because America Needs Us
By: Elias Hakim
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.