Strong As We Know How – Jennifer Zhang

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


I keep a list of every interesting quote I have encountered over the last six years. Many are inspiring. Equally many are cynical. All touched me in some way that I thought they were worth preserving. The list, stretched over a Google Doc file, now runs 83 pages long. I added many quotes to the document this summer—witty quips by keynote speakers at intern dinners, introspective comments from peers over drinks, elegant observations buried in the depths of a yellow-paged book I thumb through on the rare occasions I visit a café.

I don’t organize or section the quotes by topic. The chaotic placement of excerpts from law review articles alongside song lyrics emulates how we recall memories—vivid, colorful moments that speak out from the murky fog of what is past, without much care for chronology. As the summer now closes out, my memories of the last eight weeks have blended into a mix of Polaroid vignettes of weaving through crowds at D.C. Pride, long afternoons and research rabbit holes under fluorescent lights in the Hart Senate Office Building, sprinting through rainstorms in Adams Morgan, and sweating through starched shirts at press conferences on the Capitol lawns.

A survivor interviewed for an exhibit in the U.S. Holocaust Museum: Giving up is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

This was a difficult summer to be in Washington, D.C. We witnessed the first rollback of rights in our country’s history, committed against anyone who could reproduce, with targets painted on the backs of LGBTQ+ people and everyone who could benefit from a right to privacy. We watched continued congressional complacency with consecutive mass shootings, punctured by a bill that funds mental health services but dares not to confiscate weapons of war. We knew that though D.C. has always been a muggy place, every bead of sweat under the alarmingly hot sunshine is a small reminder of the coming climate crisis.

Ashley C. Ford: Ungod yourself. It’s never just you.

It is hard to not think of overlapping problems in catastrophic proportions. But facing the catastrophe is always an army of thinkers, strategists, and communicators. Attending protests that rallied within hours of the Dobbs decision and watching an eloquent law professor confront a Senator on transphobic rhetoric reminded me that we are never quite as alone or helpless as we are made to believe. And because we are alive, steady optimism and persistence are the only options available in the face of disaster.

Senator Warren, in Persist: In a crisis, the door to change opens just a crack. What had been impossible becomes hard-but-maybe-possible. That’s the moment to fight with everything you’ve got.

I have always cared deeply about socioeconomic justice. I was raised in a sandstone mining town 10 minutes from the Canadian border, surrounded by blue-collar families that had lived for generations in the second-poorest county in New York State. Supporting the office’s work against corporate tax dodging, monopolistic mergers, and price gouging spoke to my core and affirmed my aspiration to work in these areas after college.

For the first time in decades, we are seriously questioning why we allowed multinational corporations to control entire markets and create production bottlenecks that collapse at any sign of stress. In a rare rebuke of the ghost of Reaganomics, people now see inflation as a problem of price gouging and supply chain weaknesses rather than purely the symptom of government spending. The needle moves slowly, but it does move.

Langston Hughes: We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.

During our final week, the Victory Congressional Interns gathered in the Capitol Visitor Center to prepare for a meet-and-greet with Congressman Mark Takano. I watched my peers’ steely expressions and sharply poised shoulders, an implicit staple of the Hill wardrobe, melt away as they entered the room and rediscovered camaraderie. I felt it too as I walked in and realized that out of strangers, I had made a cohort of friends and those who would double as allies in the adrenalizing yet exhausting struggle of building a more equal and just society.

The internship is over but our work is far from done. It will never be done, and our hands will always reach for other hands to join in the journey. I’m grateful to have spent the summer in Congress witnessing and partaking in the letters and legislation that—even in times of gridlock—drive forward a modicum of progress. In the process, I memorized an alphabet soup of regulatory agencies and random pockets of information on Dodd-Frank, the USPS, antitrust work in the pharmaceutical industry, decision-making algorithms, and systemically important financial institutions. Armed with the knowledge arsenal of a policy nerd and two months’ experience working for one of the most progressive Senators in the U.S., I feel new excitement to enter my final year of college and jump into policy advocacy after graduation. Interning in D.C. through the Victory Congressional Internship program was a personally and professionally transformative experience that reaffirmed my wish to help make policies that uplift the least among us. I only hope that future generations of young LGBTQ+ people will have this same opportunity.