VCI Blog

Welcome to the blog for the 2018 Victory Congressional Interns

 

Week 1: Interns Arrive to Washington!


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.


My Identity

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

 


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.


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.


 

Week 2 and 3


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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.


 

Week 4 and 5

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.

Week 6 and 7

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

Coming soon.


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 façade? 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.


Taking It All In: Inside the Halls of Power

By: José “Che Che” Turrubiartez

Coming soon.


 

Graduation: An 8-Week Journey

Graduation: Coming Full Circle

By: The 2018 Cohort

Coming soon.