OutPower

Unlikely Connections on the Hill – Lauren Glass

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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My time thus far in Washington, D.C. has been a whirlwind of new experiences – I felt like I’d fallen down the rabbit hole and ended up in Alice in Wonderland. The D.C. culture was foreign, I knew no one, I was thrust into work that I’d never even remotely done before. The bulk of my previous political experience was in high school or remote during Covid. In short, I was woefully underprepared for how big a culture shock I would experience moving here. Being from California, I am used to the laid back, chill lifestyle where no one takes anything too seriously. It was far and few in between that you would find someone in my hometown who is wildly ambitious or career-minded; the ideal life goals seemed to be more about travel and having as much free time as possible.

But the pace of life is D.C. and the work I’m doing is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced up until this point – I’ve never worked a 9-to-5 job, much less an 8:30 to 6 one, which are the hours that my congressional office requires. It was jarring to suddenly be in a workspace for 9 hours a day, on call constantly for new tasks, and feeling like my social battery is completely depleted but still having hours to go. The first several days, I would get back from work at 6:30 and crawl into my bed and not leave it again until 7:30 am the next day when I had to get up and do it all again. I realized I needed to do more than the bare minimum of hours, and put myself out there for new experiences if I wanted to walk away from my time here knowing I got everything I could out of it.

On Wednesday, June 8th, I had my most amazing experience on the Hill as of yet. One of my coworkers in the Representative Wasserman-Schultz office invited me to attend a lecture as part of the Summer Intern Lecture series on the Hill that Cory Booker was speaking at. Immediately I signed up because I’ve been a major Booker fan since he ran for President in 2020 – I followed his campaign like a hawk and he was my number one choice of candidate. So of course I had to go meet my idol (even if by meet I mean existed in the same room as). So, Wednesday I went with my coworker to navigate to the Senate side of the Capitol through the underground tunnels – which might I add are incredibly confusing – to attend the lecture. The underground Senate tunnels remind me of my hometown of LA, except instead of seeing celebrities everywhere you see politicians. But for a political science nerd that’s almost cooler!

I ended up getting separated from my coworker in line for the Cory Booker lecture, which was packed to the brim with eager young Hillterns. A woman came up to me and introduced herself – what office was I from? How long had I been on the Hill? All of the typical networking questions that I’ve grown accustomed to hearing daily on the Hill. But then, are you on the right or the left?

“The left, obviously,” I responded. It seemed like a silly question, because without even realizing I had subconsciously categorized her as a leftist. Likely because I’ve been in such a bubble since being in college – I’m in a liberal sorority, surrounded by political science friends who I’d characterize as progressive leftists, with professors from all walks of life who tout liberalism daily. Without even realizing it, I’d grown so used to being in a leftist-dominated environment (especially as of recently being surrounded by queer individuals as part of the Victory Institute programming) that it didn’t even cross my mind for a moment that this woman I’d spent 30 minutes bonding with in line and already decided I wanted to be best friends with could be on the political side of the aisle that was supposed to be the enemy. How could she be the bad guy when we had just been bonding over office drama and making plans to have a spa day together?

She looked at me for a moment before responding, to inform me she was a Republican and also interning for one, describing how she had previously worked for Democrats for years but realized her religious values didn’t align with theirs. She launched into an explanation of where she stood on things, and after listening in the most respectful way I could, I came to the conclusion that we did not agree on quite literally anything. I was taken aback and didn’t really even know what to say in that situation. For so long I just straight up didn’t associate with people with wildly differing views from myself. My impressions of those people were negative ones and mostly through a screen, seeing or hearing things that they had done or said in dramatized media contexts. But this woman seemed intelligent, well-spoken, and most of all, friendly to me despite being on the opposite side. I thought back to the panel of Hill staffers Victory had arranged for us to speak to the week before, and how they had all for the most part agreed that the Hill was a place of respect and bipartisanship in staffer interactions, with party affiliations not tainting the way the staff conducted themselves around one another. That seemed relevant in the context of my current conversation. Feeling cautious about how to further approach my interactions with her, we headed into the Cory Booker lecture together (where we got front row seats mere feet away from him – one of the highlights of my Hill experience thus far!) and I figured we would resume our conversation later.

Unsurprisingly, the lecture was incredible – and almost like Booker knew about how I was feeling conflicted and confused after my previous interaction, he spent half the lecture discussing bipartisanship, and looking past people’s political views and party affiliations in order to love them for their “humanity”. One part that stuck with me is how he said that some of the most important lessons he had learned from entering politics were from people across the political aisle. And how he and Ted Cruz, of all people, had once gone out to dinner together as friends – nothing political related – and he joked about the difficulty in finding a place to eat with him being vegan and Cruz being from Texas.

Simple as it is, that was probably the most valuable lesson that I’ve learned thus far in the Hill. So easily I get stuck in the liberal bubble and close myself off to new people and experiences, so naively arrogant that my beliefs are the only valid ones. Without thinking twice about what it is I’m so afraid of.  Without thinking twice about what I can GAIN from being acquaintances, or even friends, with people wildly different from myself. And now, me and that woman I met in line last week have kept contact since and even have plans to go to dinner together soon. I hope I learn something from her.