OutPower

Running Up That (Capitol) Hill – Connor Lee

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci

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The past eight weeks have truly rocked my world. As my time as a Victory Congressional Intern comes to a close, I cannot help but be thankful for the myriad of highlights that made this experience so special. 

This week, I got to speak with Secretary Pete Buttigieg at a portrait unveiling on Capitol Hill. He remembered me from when I co-moderated a discussion with him back in May—and I got to thank him once again for visiting my college’s campus. I also visited Alexandria, Virginia with some fellow interns, finished up my long-term project on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and saw To Kill A Mockingbird at the Kennedy Center. If the highlights of this past week are any indication, I have much to be thankful for as I wrap up my summer here in Washington, D.C.

I also would be remiss not to reflect on my incredible experience in the Office of Congressman Sean Casten. Despite grappling with a family tragedy and an intense primary, Congressman Casten and his staff showed my fellow interns and I constant support and guidance. I genuinely looked forward to coming into work every day, since I knew I would be surrounded by people who possess a passion for advocacy and constituent services—and, of course, a sense of humor. I am a firm believer that to whom much is given, much is required. When given the opportunity to support the Office of Congressman Casten, I made the most of it—completing a research project on infrastructure, writing numerous briefing memos, answering phones, connecting with staffers, and more. I am proud of the contributions and connections I made, perhaps most especially with my fellow interns. We are already planning when we will all meet again.  

While there was certainly no shortage of highlights over the course of these past eight weeks, like any journey, being on Capitol Hill does feature some uphill battles. One of the biggest learning curves I faced was getting acclimated to answering phones in a Congressional office. Throughout the summer, calls to the office ranged from friendly suggestions about co-sponsoring a bill to choleric conservatives cursing about the January 6th hearings. Speaking with the latter was sometimes challenging, but what helped me navigate through these conversations was asking myself, “what would Jen Psaki do?” Or, “what would Pete Buttigieg do?” Thinking of how Psaki, the unflappable former Press Secretary, or Buttigieg, the whip-smart Transportation Secretary, have handled both hecklers and haters was a consistent reminder to approach these calls with both clarity and composure. Out of all the takeaways I have gleaned from this summer, this lesson of clarity and composure just might be the most important. 

In my experience running up that (Capitol) Hill, I have run into a wide range of people. Some familiar, and some foreign. Some crazy callers, and some supportive constituents. Some veteran politicians, and some up-and-coming leaders. But as a part of the Victory Congressional Internship program, these past eight weeks, I did not run up Capitol Hill all by myself. I ran alongside fifteen other driven LGBTQ undergraduates. These fellow leaders have inspired me to keep running, and to do so with passion, purpose, and pride. I look forward to what lies ahead—be it an uphill battle, or a victory. Onward!