The Six Weeks, and Six Rules, of a D.C. Intern
Going into the Machon Kaplan program, I had many expectations and so many things I wanted to accomplish that I had no idea where to begin. After attending URJ Eisner Camp for 10 consecutive summers and having just finished my freshman year at American University, I knew that I had to start something new. Washington, D.C. had already been my home for 10 months, but I never really saw or learned as much as I wanted or planned to. Judaism and Washington, D.C. seemed like the best combination to start my new journey. And it has been quite the journey... So much of what I've learned is hard to put into words, so I'll try to sum it up with six simple rules and six not-quite-as-simple observations:
Rule #1: Never stand on the left side of the metro escalator.
Observation #1: There are many different things that interest me, but I can never really choose just one. You learn in life by trial and error, as you should use and take advantage of everything that is given to you.
Washington is exactly that type of an interactive classroom; you can learn from the textbooks that are given to you, but you really connect and have a deeper understanding of how politics really works by living and working with it all under your nose. As my family and I are huge political junkies, there's no surprise that I am a political science major. I have always wondered how the world around us works. Who created these rules? Society changes, so why don't the rules change?
Speaking of rules, rule #2: You know you're a D.C. intern if you walk with purpose, or dress the part.
Observation #2: My internship has taught me more than I ever thought it would in just six short weeks. I was able to fully understand how Congress really works, how the world changes, for the good, bad, or whatever else there is. I was able to witness and experience it all firsthand.
Rule #3: Ask as many questions as possible, you can only go forward from there.
Observation #3: I sat in on markups for certain anti-environment bills (and understood what was going on!) I also helped create invitations for briefings my organization held to help make congressional staffers aware of the current anti-environment bills in Congress. While handing out these invitations to practically every Senate and House office, going in and out of each office, (and seeing my Senator in the hallway), I realized how many people play a part in government, and how many people try and change how we all interact.
Speaking of running into your Senator in the hallway, rule# 4: Actually introduce yourself if you see your Senator in the hallway of the Senate building, instead of staring at him/her, frozen.
Observation #4: Not only did I go to congressional offices and lobby staffers about these awful, anti-environment bills, but I also called offices before a full House vote to remind them how to vote. Later, while watching C-SPAN, I saw the exact same bill that I watched during the committee markup receive a full House vote. It was a truly amazing feeling. Hearing that piece of legislation in committee, and then seeing it go before the full House and now on to the Senate, is a feeling that is hard to describe.
Rule #5: When attending a session or reception with important people, get as many business cards as possible; network, network, network!
Observation #5: After the House vote, I looked at the names of the Members of Congress I spoke to and checked if they voted the way we wanted them to; as was expected, some did, and some did not. This made me feel like I had an influence on politics and how the world works. This made me realize I want to be in politics, I want to be a part of how we all change each other and how the world evolves.
Rule #6: Be on top of your game! Read news sources like Politico and The New York Times, the two news sources that got me through my summer.
Observation #6: Just as every bill in Congress has a purpose or destination, so does everybody else. So why not figure out how the world works in order to get to that life purpose? While searching for your ever-so-mysterious "purpose," you are bound to hit bumpy, smooth, and unexpected roads and turns. Whether you follow the left or the right side of the political spectrum, there's always room for exceptions. It's not about where you come from, but where you end up.
I leave you with this question: Washington may be broken, but will you help put it back together?
Rachel Shabad is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program, interning at the Clean Water Network.