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.
Around a year ago, I learned about the Victory Congressional Internship (VCI) Program and decided that, whatever it took, I would be in the next summer’s cohort of interns. I signed up for writing-intensive courses at my university to develop writing samples, reached out to a dozen former interns, researched all the past interns, and worked so hard at my then-internship that they ran out of projects for me—so I proposed my own.
I could write an entire blog post about why I wanted—and felt like I needed—this program so intensely. But to be frank, none of those reasons would have been enough if the VCI program didn’t provide housing and a living stipend; I know I am not the only member of this cohort that would have been forced to decline the position if not for the funding.
VCIs are not paid by the congressional offices we work for: we receive a stipend from the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, meaning that the housing and stipend we receive are not in exchange for any work or services we provide. A fairly large group of Victory staff, board members, and donors, most of whom had never met me, decided to take an over $7,000 gamble on Levi Fiedler’s future.
So let’s talk about return on investment.
For me, the number one draw of this internship was networking. I initially approached networking from the sole perspective of curiosity. One of my stock questions—“How did you get where you are today”—almost always was answered with “I knew someone who…”, and it was often someone they had worked with or met years before whatever position their connection had suggested they apply for. I took that advice and ran with it.
I connected with 27 people in the eight weeks I was in DC, 16 of whom I met one-on-one with before leaving. I sought out people from different roles, fields, organizations, and backgrounds whose work touched on LGBTQ+ advocacy, and almost all of them were connections of connections. I am eternally grateful for the kindness, generosity, and enthusiasm of the many people who let me grill them with questions about their work, experience, and advice, and who offered to put me in touch with other people they thought I might like to meet.
Value add: Network.
Through these meetings, I started to piece together what the future has in store for me. I have been involved in LGBTQ+ activism and advocacy for almost ten years, but when I envisioned a career in advocacy, it was always just “a career in advocacy”—nothing more specific. I learned that there are dozens of different career paths within the movement and that my favorite skill, relationship-building, is at the heart of many of them. I also learned that as passionate as I am about LGBTQ+ advocacy, spending all day laser-focused on the doom-and-gloom side doesn’t energize me—it just depresses me. I do my best work (and leave work feeling human) when I am focused on empowerment, growth, and advancing the movement.
Value add: Saved potentially years of working in jobs that I don’t thrive in and hundreds of dollars in therapy.
Tangibly, I gained and strengthened job skills. After dozens of phone calls with constituents who think I am everything wrong with America, my diplomatic communication skills have never been stronger. I know how to use new CRM software and am now proficient in Microsoft Teams and Slack. I wrote briefing, background, and cosponsorship recommendation memos, and proofread letters, webpages, emails, and advertisements. I have worked at a reception desk and been host to elected officials, lobbyists, subject matter experts, reporters, film crews, and Kansans. I’ve also fixed a folding machine, like, a dozen times.
Value add: Less time training; don’t need to call a technician for that folding machine.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the effect this summer has had on who I am. I don’t know if imposter syndrome was my exact problem as I prepared for this summer: I was confident in what I had already done, but I often felt that people’s faith in my potential was misplaced. But a program this selective surely wouldn’t take an intern by mistake, I told myself, and consistently people would remark that I was doing well—even better than they expected—and I was offered more and more opportunities to perform. People I admired pulled me aside to express their confidence in me and my future, and probably everyone I’ve spoken to has had to laugh and say, “Relax, you’re already doing all the right things.” Well, fine. Maybe I am good at what I do. Maybe I will do well.
What hasn’t changed about me is my values. I remain a firm believer in justice, integrity, and community. A part of me was afraid that I would slowly start to let my ambition overtake my ethics: will I stay silent when someone assumes I did the whole project? Laugh at the offensive joke because a powerful person made it? Keep a job posting, connection, or piece of advice to myself to gain a competitive advantage? I didn’t—because that’s not what I’m made of.
Value add: I know who I am and what I can do.
I am satisfied with what I have done with Victory’s investment. I have sat around trying to come up with a regret or loose end, and I have none. I have done my best and grown everything I had the chance to, and I firmly believe I will be back in DC when I graduate in May 2024.
See you then!