The ‘Hilltern’ Life – Kevin Wei

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute.

Power is not a mere abstract capability, a compeller of action, a hierarchy of (un)equals. It is rather a disposition that can be thrown over your shoulders like a warm shawl against the bitter cold, a way of life that cascades from the shadows of the powerful to nestle in the troughs carved deep into the Capitol’s steps by innumerable footsteps. It descends when an elevator in the Rayburn building sounds ding-ding and notifies its freight that “this elevator has been chosen for Member Only service,” and at the next stop the contours of a congressmember’s dark gray suit peek through the doors as they open. It echoes in the sound of your heels ringing across a Hart corridor’s marble interior. Power is the deafening, silent atmosphere of Capitol Hill in action.

Of actually having power I am tempted to say that I have little experience, but any “Hilltern” should realize that the opposite is true on their first day at work. Not only do we interns serve as the faces of the Congress when we lead visitor tours, answer correspondent mail, and respond to concerned citizens’ phone calls, an intern on the Hill does have a role to play in shaping policy decisions, albeit an indirect one. Since it seems that every office is always short-staffed relative to the number of motions, events, and trends occurring at any time, it’s often the interns who support legislative aides in staying informed on all their issues. If no staffers can attend a briefing, it’s the interns who take notes and author policy memos on the topic. If an upcoming hearing needs to be reported on, it’s the interns who can give office staff the quick-and-dirty summary of events. And if any administrative tasks in the office require completion, it’s the interns who will finish the job. As one senior staffer in my office, the Office of Leader Pelosi, mentioned in passing: interns are the “backbone” of the office.

Power doesn’t manifest only on the House floor or in the course of policy work; it permeates all the supporting functions that we interns conduct for our offices. Not every day is hectic and not every assignment is glamorous, especially when the House or Senate is out of session. In my first two weeks as an intern, I’ve run numerous errands between various House, Senate, and Capitol building offices, catalogued a storage container full of office records, and organized hundreds of constituent comments (PSA: constituents, please don’t yell at the interns. We’re doing our best). While sometimes these duties seem tedious, they’re necessary components of helping an office represent its constituents, so I’ve been excited to support my office in a number of different ways.

On top of policy research and reporting, all Hillterns have a unique chance to hear experts of all stripes speak on a variety of different topics, from AI safety to affordable housing to STD research. Just recently, I spoke to an industry expert from Intel, a researcher from the Brookings Institute, and a Presidential Innovation Fellow from the National Institutes of Health. My experience on the Hill has included a number of interactions with top experts in their fields and running into these luminaries makes work in government all the more exciting. These interactions are also an exercise of power.

Finally, power can be found through many different networks of staffers and through institutions off the Hill. Being a member of the Victory Institute intern cohort has been instrumental in assisting my fellow interns and I in finding a strong support network of LGBTQIA+ friendly folks in Washington, D.C. My office in particular is extremely diverse and has a very queer-friendly work culture, though I’m certain that not every office can say the same. To have the opportunity to work within the halls of power is a humbling experience that I am grateful to have found through Victory by way of my teachers and guides, my friends and colleagues, my upbringing, and many others besides.

So to all my fellow Hillterns: remember that you have power. Together we make a difference.