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.
Many people call the State of the Union the Super Bowl of American politics. However, I would argue that more Americans pay attention to the football Super Bowl than the silly little speech the President gives in front of Congress. Fortunately, this year I had the privilege of being in Washington, D.C. for both “Super Bowls”.
Working in a Senate office, the energy on State of the Union day was nothing if not palpable. The office, which is sometimes a little empty when folks work from home, was positively bustling with people and full of excitement. The Senator’s guest, an abortion provider from Chicago, was around for press and interviews, everyone was passing around predictions on what President Biden would discuss and gearing up for a long and busy day culminating in the big moment.
That night, as my housemates and friends gathered around our living room to witness the address being given less than half a mile from where I sat with my bowl of cookie dough ice cream, the energy was, once again, palpable. We all hushed as the Sergeant at Arms announced the President’s arrival, and then began our chorus of commentary. For those of us that work on Capitol Hill, we sounded off when we saw the congress members we work for, along with those we admire. We giggled when someone’s cane invaded the camera angle, counted the times Speaker McCarthy gave Biden a standing ovation (not very many times), and imagined one day being in that room with every important person in Washington, D.C.
About a week and a half later came the second Super Bowl, this time with many more snacks. Although across the country this Super Bowl was viewed by about four times as many people, the same little group of Washington, D.C. interns gathered in our living room to watch the Rihanna concert bookended by halves of great football.
Despite their more obvious differences (I do not think any drunken Philadelphians took to the streets to grieve the State of the Union), I consider these Super Bowls to be pretty similar. Both are highly anticipated events in which two opposing parties come together to watch as one triumphs over the other. There is heckling and anger and yelling. There are major disappointments and successes. And supporters from both sides wind up crowded in a small room together – maybe not sharing their respective goals, but sharing that space around the television as well as the ideals behind the event taking place. Everyone sits around, eyes stuck to the screen, taking part in a collective American experience as it unfolds.
I have also learned a lot about myself and those around me during these first couple of weeks, including how to navigate the intricacies of being an intern and proving that you are capable. Interns are essentially a liability for these offices – they take us in, aware that we know basically nothing about how a congressional office works and they will have to teach, train, and guide us along the way. And thus, we can’t assume that our supervisors will just turn us loose immediately. For me, coming from a time back home where I had a whole lot of responsibilities in quite a few spaces, I have had a lot of trouble figuring out how I can prove my ability to be helpful and ask for more work without seeming overbearing. When I talked to one of my mentors about this hiccup and about how I can stand out and be a good intern in the office without falling into that dog-eat-dog mentality that is all too common out here, she said something along the lines of “when you’re a hard worker in D.C. it might as well be written in your forehead”, and I think she was right. Even in the last couple of days I have been given more projects and taught more about how our team processes work. And although there are still times I feel like a bored and unhelpful baby intern, I have learned to embrace that time and realize that it’s not a reflection of my abilities, they just don’t want to put me in the game without any pads, which is for the best, and the little rookie will get more minutes soon.
Although I was nervous about being far away from my usual support network of friends and family when I moved all the way from Bloomington, Indiana to Washington, D.C., the community I found in experiencing Super Bowl squared, and playing the intern game as well, has been particularly comforting in the midst of settling into this new life. I’m making friends I know will stick around for years and decades to come as we continue the careers we are just beginning. I now realize that the people I am surrounded by, my peers and supervisors, might be here if I decide to come back to Washington. D.C. We might one day be one of those ‘most important people in Washington’.
In the coming months as I navigate more of the Washington, D.C. terrain, I know I have a group of great people to heckle both suited-up politicians and padded-up football players alongside, all while feasting on root beer floats and jalapeño poppers – and that feels pretty good.