Eric living out his childhood dream while interning with Senator Schumer

I wanted to start my journal entry with a little introduction.  I was born in Yonkers, New York and raised about twenty minutes away.  I attended Fordham Preparatory School, a Jesuit school in New York City, and continued with my Jesuit education at Fairfield University.  I am an avid cinema enthusiast, my favorite director being Wes Anderson, and love the game of basketball.  My interest in politics stems from childhood visits to the nation’s capital and famous American Revolution sights like Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg.  It is my hope that I can someday work in the federal government in the capacity of a Congressional or White House Staffer. 

My typical day at Senator Schumer’s office starts with my arrival at 9:00 AM.  At this time I log-in on my desk phone and begin listening to the constituents.  As an intern, I am delegated the task of screening phone calls.  Constituents certainly have the right to talk with someone with a specific expertise, but not if they are going to yell and scream.  Interns are also expected to transfer calls throughout the office and take the messages of constituents that they want to pass along to the Senator.  We receive a number of calls from people who are not constituents and are instructed to hear them out, but not record their message.  Throughout the day I log the messages of constituents and add them to a list that will be given to the Senator.

At 10:00 AM, 2:00 PM, and 5:00 PM the office receives mail.  The Senator is constantly receiving packages, junk mail, and constituent letters.  Every conceivable magazine publication sends the Senator their publications in the hopes of persuading his votes in the Senate and work in the Democratic leadership.  We sort all desired materials into the mailboxes of the staffers that are assigned to those issues.  The constituent mail is read, and then sorted into file folders of themes (Environment, Energy, Defense, Israel, Health Care, Medicare, Medicaid, Tax, LGBT Issues, Pro-Choice, Anti-Abortion, Labor Transportation, etc.).  These folders will later be divided into subsections, then have each sub-section’s names and addresses recorded into a spreadsheet, and eventually have a form letter crafted to answer the major theme of the constituent’s concerns.  For example, some of the Environment folder will be spilt into pro-fracking and anti-fracking.  Eventually those who sent letters to the office will be compiled into a spreadsheet, their letters shredded, and a response will be written to answer their concerns with how the Senator plans to deal with the issue.  We also deal with letters from people that need help with a specific problem.  Most recently those letters are still flowing in about issues with FEMA in regards to Hurricane Sandy.  All casework letters are forwarded to our office in New York City.  From time to time we receive letters from children, photo requests, and scheduling requests which are all given to the Senator’s personal assistant. 

Those are the only two things that I will definitely do throughout the course of the day.  If given the opportunity, I will seek out a staffer and engage them in a conversation.  I like to find out what it is that they do and how they came into their position.  I was recently trained on how to give a tour of the Capitol.  The spring is the height of tour season because every middle school comes to Washington D.C. for a trip.  Those tours visit the old Senate chamber, the old Supreme Court, the Rotunda, the Crypt, and the two statues from New York hidden throughout the Capitol. I am really excited to get out of the office and started with tours.  

Just another day for Maggie, learning and interning with Congressman Lynch

While my average day at my internship is far from the luxurious image my friends back home have of me chatting with famous politicians or helping draft bills on the House floor; I have already learned far more about the American political system than I could have expected in two months. As a politics major as well as someone who routinely keeps up with current events pertaining to the US government, before I moved to Washington DC I was pretty confident in my knowledge and understanding of the way things worked and what I would be doing in my internship. Since I have started my internship on Capitol Hill working for Representative Stephen F. Lynch of Massachusetts, I have far surpassed my previous understanding of the way Congress works. My duties are not always ideal, however one of the most important lessons I have learned through working on the Hill is that experience is essential and you need to earn the respect from your coworkers doing seemingly mundane tasks in order to prove you are determined to advance in your career for the future.

Surprisingly, one of the most difficult aspects of my internship thus far has been with the clerical work I am expected to do in my office. Congressional interns are responsible for answering phones, sorting through and answering constituent and legislative mail, as well as maintaining an efficient work environment in regards to greeting visitors, coordinating staffer’s meetings and their daily schedules, and acting as an overall representation of the Representative’s office to the public. I entered the internship without this type of experience, and while I am skilled in customer service from being a waitress for five years, the computer, phone, and mail systems were entirely new to me. My initial frustration with my internship was a result of my disappointment that I was not adequately showcasing my political knowledge or willingness to learn as I was busy acting as a secretary; however now that those tasks have become simple and secondary, I have been trusted with more challenging and interesting jobs. I have been able to attend congressional hearings on some of the most controversial and prevalent issues facing our nation such as gun control in the wake of the Newtown shootings, budget planning in preparation for the sequester debate, and even social issues such as the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. I have helped draft Member Cosponsorship bills in which I have grasped a strong hold on the mechanics of legislative bill circulation. Working alongside legislative assistants who focus on specific areas of legislation on everything from healthcare to veterans affairs, I have also come to the conclusion that I do not need to specialize in all areas of politics in the future and that it is entirely plausible to carry my personal interests into the professional world of Capitol Hill. The more I have developed relationships with my coworkers and proven my ability to complete tasks promptly and to my best ability, I have noticed a change my attitude towards being “low on the totem pole.” Just like all aspects of life, you must start small and even answering a phone call from a concerned constituent has the power to broaden my professional perceptive on political science and my future career.

The overall environment of Capitol Hill is so energizing and everyone seems to have a purpose and a goal that drives their every action. Simply being a part of our nation’s capital and going to work surrounded by our nation’s leading political voices not only has inspired me to work hard in order to make my own voice heard, but also has reaffirmed my interest in this field for my career. So while my everyday varies from what seems like busy work to the exciting occasion to attend hearings or do research, I am not in an everyday environment and for that I am extremely lucky for this opportunity.