aVOCATION

Internships are what you make of them. Just as in the poem, Two Tramps in Mud Time, it is easy to get comfortable with the day to day grind – wake up, go to work, come home, repeat. This can feel boring and unrewarding, like chopping down tree after tree. You become used to the weight of the ax in your hand (or, in the intern’s case, the phone) and it can become unexciting….if you let it. I know this because my internship last summer was exactly this way. To be fair, all I did – and all they needed me to do – was schedule appointments all day but still, the redundancy of early mornings, computer screens, and patient diagnostics became draining. That was not the case this summer though I know it easily could have been as I have watched the routine knock out other people. I believe the poem warns of this occurrence when it says “be glad of water, but don’t forget the lurking frost in the earth beneath that will steal forth after the sun is set and show on the water its crystal teeth.” To me, this means that one should be glad to have a job but that they should not take it for granted or get too comfortable for fear of someone taking your job from you.

In my office, there are essential intern duties: answering phones, logging constituent complaints, and giving tours. If I wanted to, this could be all I did all day. But, I realize, there are so many people who would kill for my internship and happily take my place if I let them, just as the author in the poem states “ I knew pretty well what he had in mind: He wanted to take my job for pay” – except interns want to take my job for no pay. Instead of sticking to my designated projects this summer, I asked and took on more work, and, if they didn’t have any for me, I went to hearings and met up with contacts in D.C. for coffee and to expand my network. Everyday has been different and I have loved every minute of it.

However, the summer has gone by all too fast. “The sun was warm but the wind was chill. You know how it is with an April day, when the sun is out and the wind is still, you’re one month on in the middle of May.” These lines, to me, really speak to how fast time can go by. I feel like it was just yesterday that the Capital Scholars took a day trip to Annapolis. I have learned so much this summer and formed so many meaningful relationships that I know will continue even after returning to Tempe.

Another concept in the poem that I believe closely relates to my internship is when the author states “the time when most I loved my task, the two must make me love it more”. For me, the two mentioned is the passage of time. The closer I get to leaving my job, the more I realize just how much I have received from my internship this summer and how much I will miss the hustle and bustle of the Capitol. I am realizing just how incredible it is that I was in the Capitol building when Supreme Court Justice Kennedy announced his retirement, when two huge immigration bills came to the floor, when Trump visited Helsinki and the whole world went mad. I know someday this is what people will read about in history books.

More than anything, this internship has made me realize that I love what I study. As the author of the poem states, “my object in living is to unite my avocation and my vocation”. For me, I hope that one day politics does just that. As for now, I am taking my Capitol experience to the campaign trail as I found out today that I am accepted as an intern for Greg Stanton’s run for Congress. I am excited to see where this new chapter leads, I am truly hoping it is right back here to Washington D.C.

 

Advertisements

Poultry and Bipartisan Friendships? What a Week!

“I’ve never see so much poultry!” This, or a variation of this phrase, was probably the most commonly uttered thing at the Capital Area Food Bank on July 7th. The Capital Scholars group had the pleasure of spending the morning volunteering at the food bank, working alongside the ASU Alumni association and other community members. Our task was to organize donated frozen meats to be given out to the community. Though the meat was cold, my heart was warm realizing how many families would benefit from the food. The entire staff was incredibly generous and giving and I could tell they truly love their jobs. The energy surrounding us was truly infectious. I appreciated the opportunity to get away from the city’s tourism and give back a tiny bit of what this city has given to all of us.

I also enjoyed getting to know some of the members of the ASU alumni association, particularly Jessica Andrews. Her career trajectory is amazing. After graduating from ASU, she went to American University here in Washington, DC and received her masters in International Media. This is a degree program I had never heard of before but that I find very interesting, especially because I don’t think enough people are trained in how to effectively communicate across cultural boundaries. Her education allowed her to get a job in the Department of State Chief of Protocol’s office as Communications and Visits Support Officer and, then, as a Public Affairs Officer. In this role, she got to plan and implement events for foreign ambassadors in the United States. I have to admit, I’m a little jealous that she got to attend state dinners in the Obama White House. I think that would have been a dream come true. Now, as she was a political appointee in the Obama administration, she works as the Associate Director for Speaker Outreach at POLITICO. I am still just completely in awe of the direction she has taken her career.

As our time here in DC is coming to an end, I find myself increasingly sad to leave. I am excited to go home and see my family and friends, however, I have come to truly love this city. Just last Friday, two of the other interns in my office said goodbye. It was hard to see them leave as I realized just how lucky I am to have not only found an amazing DC family among the other Capitol Scholars but also among my fellow interns (The Sinema Squad, as we call ourselves). This constantly changing city is truly a unique place to be and holds endless opportunity. I will even miss the humidity constantly clinging to my body and making me a stinky mess.

Today, I had the opportunity to attend a hearing, entitled SHARKS!, by the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation. Sharks are my favorite animal (I do, in fact, have a poster of a shark in my room at home) so I heavily geeked out. I learned so much about the beautiful creatures. For example, did you know that sharks are highly resistant to cancer? Scientists have found that, even when exposed to cancerous cells and tissue, sharks produce certain substances that kill the infected cells. Scientists have started to experiment with using shark materials to treat cancer in humans. You learn something new everyday! Beyond the fact that this hearing was a hotbed for cool facts, I enjoyed seeing how well all the Senators on the committee get along. The Chairman, Senator Thune from South Dakota, and the Ranking Member, Senator Nelson from Florida, were joking with each other throughout the hearing – even fondly remembering when Senator Nelson took Senator Thune on a boat ride through the everglades to search for pythons. It was reassuring to see such bipartisanship and lightheartedness in an age where everyone, on both sides of the aisle, just seems so angry at all points. Bipartisan friendships are really cool!

To be, or not to be (Essential), that is the question

Essentialism, a book by Greg McKeown, explores different ways to become an essentialist — someone who lives a disciplined life, saying no to all external activities and only saying yes to things that truly enhance the productivity and quality of life. I will be honest, I am quite skeptical of this mindset and believe you have to be in a place of significant privilege to truly become an essentialist. I think I would lose my internship in a heartbeat if I said no to all busy work given to me. This is probably the case for even many seasoned professionals. As I went through the book, I felt myself continuously thinking that, in a perfect world, the advice would be great but the fact of the matter is that the world is not perfect and we can not all afford to be essentialists.

For example, I was very interested in Mckeown’s chapter on sleep. However, the chapter starts off telling the story of Geoff, a 36-year-old professional on the board of Kiva Microfunds, named Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year, a co-founder of a successful impact investment fund, and the CEO of a global microcredit organization. Sounds like your everyday guy… After spending his life working non-stop, he began to get very sick and would become so weak he could not attend meetings. Eventually, his doctor told him that, to recover, he had to take two years off from work. So, he moved to the South of France and did just that. There are very few people in this world that can afford to do this as many people need to work as a way to support themselves and their families. I found the story to be very out of touch with reality.

That being said, I do understand the point the author is trying to convey with the chapter. I found it interesting that “pulling an all nighter…or having a week of sleeping four or five hours a night ‘induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%’” (97). I frequently go weeks of only sleeping five hours a night during the school year. Though I like to talk it up to being just too busy, I know that, in reality, it is because I do not always budget my time effectively. I am prone to procrastination and, even more so, I can be very chatty, often wasting hours and finding myself wondering where my time went. Over the next semester, I will definitely attempt to implement more sleep into my schedule as I do recognize how important it is. Mckeown is right in saying that sleep breeds productivity.

Though I am incredibly critical of this book, I really appreciated the chapter on saying no. It also hit a little too close to home for me. My favorite comedian, John Mulaney, has numerous skits where he talks about his consistent and unrelenting need to be liked by everyone ever. At one point, while describing this, he states “you could pour soup in my lap and I’ll probably apologize to you.” This is possibly one of the most relatable comedy sets I  have ever seen. Because of my constant need to be liked, I find it incredibly difficult to say no at times. Over the next semester, I will follow McKeown’s advice and try to say no without using the word no. Instead, I will start, by using phrases like “I would very much like to, but I’m overcommitted” or by saying no with humor. I am challenging myself now (with Mihaila as my witness) to say no to one thing a week from this point forward.

Over the last week, I have learned just how hard it is to work a 40+ hour week. Before this week, I was used to having every Tuesday off. This week, I did not have Tuesday off. Let me tell you, this very much threw me for a loop. I’ve worked a 40 hour week before but always with the help of dear mom and dad taking care of things like laundry and buying groceries. Without them, these incredibly important tasks have been pushed aside ( I am not a very good essentialist). Finally, this evening, I did all my laundry and grocery shopping through the apartment still needs a deep clean. I don’t know how adults do it, thank you Mom and Dad.

Featuring the Beach Boys and George Washington

For every Fourth of July since I can remember, I have spent the evening hanging out with my family, sitting on either my roof or my aunt’s roof, watching fireworks and eating caramel corn and goldfish. Though I love Tucson with my whole heart, the fireworks are nothing to brag about. In fact, one year when I was quite little, I was so disappointed with the Tucson fireworks that I decided to write a strongly worded letter to the mayor of Tucson. Even then, I knew I loved civic engagement.

Flashforward to the current day….a young Rachel Fletcher would not even begin to believe the fireworks show that I got to see this week at a Capitol Fourth. As a Congressional intern, I was able to sit on the Capitol steps (and bring a bunch of friends with me) for top-of-the-notch seats for the Capitol Fourth performance, hosted by the one…the only…John Stamos! I have to admit, I was even more excited for the Temptations. “My Girl” is my jam. I have been listening to it on repeat for the past three days. The concert ended with a phenomenal performance by the Beach Boys who spiritually took us all to the Bahamas. The night concluded with a fireworks show over the Washington Monument. It felt like an out of body experience to be in the nation’s Capitol for the Fourth of July, I have never felt so patriotic. Oh, and I made sure I had my caramel corn with me to snack on while I took it all in.

My out of body experience ended the moment I got into the metro station. I immediately became very aware of my body as it was being pushed and shoved in every which way by sweaty and inebriated celebrators. Going home, even though it was the exact same route I take home from work every day, felt like it took years off my life and gave me grey hair. Needless to say, I slept very well that night. Overall, however, it was a night that will go down in history for me.

Over the last week, I was able to go to the National Geographic Museum. I didn’t know what to expect when I went in but it wasn’t what I got. The museum has a 3D interactive exhibit on the Holy Sepulchre in Jeruslem which, despite being a Religious Studies minor and going to Catholic school for a short stint during my life, I had never heard of. The church is home to what is thought to be the tomb where Jesus was buried and resurected. Six different Christian sects hold ceremonies in the Holy Sepulchre: Greek Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Armenian Apostolics, Coptic Orthodox Christians, Syrian Orthodox Christians, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. A group associated with National Geographic is currently working on the Holy Sepulchre’s restoration and carefully analyzing and charting the building and its history.

Recently, I decided that I am going to read a biography on every single U.S. president. I am starting with Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. Despite the fact that I am only about 50 pages into the 822 page book, I have already learned so much. For example, I had no idea that Washington worked as a surveyer for many years in his late teens/ early 20s and was one of the original people sent by the British colonies to the Ohio territory to try and negotiate with the French before the French and Indian war. I also found it interesting that people once thought that traveling to the Bahamas for the hot climate could cure tuberculis which is what Washington and his older half brother, Lawrence, did when Lawrence had tuberculosis. Unfortunately, this method did not work and Lawrence, Washington’s role model and best friend, passed away at 34 years old. The times have certainly changed since George Washington was alive. I am excited to take this journey through history with the Presidents of the United States and learn more about the country we all celebrate on July 4th.

Look to the Past

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing a Staff Assistant, John*, at the United States Congress. John graduated from college just about a month and a half ago. Fresh out of school with two bachelor’s degrees, one in Political Science and one in Business Administration, in hand, he entered his new job at the United States Capitol. He has been in his current position for approximately five weeks. Based on other tales I have heard from staffers at the Capitol, his story is not unique. Last summer, John worked as an intern in a Congressional office. He took advantage of the job and quickly became the then-staff assistant’s right-hand guy. By the end of the summer, he was single-handedly taking meetings with lobbyists. This put him in the perfect position to snag a job at the same office as Staff Assistant when it opened up. So far, he loves his job.

Before serving as a congressional intern, John served as an intern for a state-level senator. In this position, he tracked legislation and conducted research for the Senator’s legislative team. He was able to gain valuable research skills and learn more about how local politics works. It also allowed him to hone his event management, drafting, editing, and public speaking skills. Together, John’s Congressional and State legislative internships shaped his love of American politics and confirmed to John that this is what he wants to do with his life. He is unsure at this point if he wants to run for office one day. At just 22, he has a little while to go before getting to that point. It seems to me, however, that John has never wanted to do anything different and that Congressional work is what he is meant to do.

Interviewing John gave me a better understanding of how important internships are in shaping career paths. Personally, I already feel that my placement in Congresswoman Sinema’s office has confirmed a lot of my interests. I love the research aspect and thoroughly enjoy tracking and analyzing bills. I can see myself enjoying a career as a legislative assistant and, then, as a legislative director. That being said, I do still have a special place in my heart for foreign policy and could see myself as a staffer on the Senate or House Foreign Affairs Committees. I might have to return to Washington, DC next summer and do another internship with one of the committees to see how they compare. In the Fall, I would also like to do a campaign internship with either Greg Stanton’s campaign for Congress or Kyrsten Sinema’s run for Senate to compare the differing environments, both fast paced in their own ways.

Over the last week, I have been working for the Legislative Director to compile information on the upcoming Defense Appropriations Bill. I learned a trick about legislation that I had no idea existed before. For at least the Appropriations Bill, there is both the bill text and the Committee Report. The Committee Report is fantastic! Over the last couple weeks, I have frequently found that many bills are written in a way that is not readily understandable to the basic public and leaves a lot of questions. The Committee Report, though 400 pages, is so detailed and lays out the reasoning behind each part of the bill as well as additional details. For appropriations, it also has all of the committees recommended budgets clearly laid out in spreadsheet format. I am attaching the committee report here so that the world can see how glorious it is.  

I also had the opportunity over the last week to go to the Holocaust Museum. This is my favorite museum thus far. The museum currently has a special exhibit on Syria. It was careful not to compare the events in Syria to the Holocaust directly. However, it did point out that, just as many people ignore the mass genocide occurring in Syria at the moment, many people in America ignored the Holocaust while it was going on. There was also a passage on display in the museum which stated the following:

“Between 1933 and 1938, about 40,000 German Jews found sanctuary in America — a fraction of those who sought to enter. The United States could have absorbed so many more, but it did not. Bound by immigration quotas, influenced by popular anti-immigration sentiment, and hampered by the antisemitism at the State Department, the United States government remained callous in its unwillingness to help….Efforts to rescue Jewish children failed as well. The Wagner-Rogers bill, which proposed the admission of 20,000 refugee children on an emergency basis, died in the Senate in 1939.”

I want to leave this blog post with that quote in people’s mind. Regardless of political party, it is something to think about in light of today’s political climate surrounding immigration.

_______________________________

*name has been changed for privacy

The views expressed in this blog post are mine alone and do not reflect the official position of my boss or anyone else.

Just Keep Swimming

   As interns, we are very small fish in the Pacific Ocean (largest ocean in the world) of politics. Although I know I am a very competent worker, I can’t help but feel like I do not have much to offer people with high powered jobs in Washington, D.C. For this reason, I have found it hard to force myself to hand out business cards. I have, however, found other ways to network. Needless to say, it’s easy to feel a little lost at sea.

   One way that I am networking is through a project my boss is having us do at work. He is having us use LinkedIn to identify ASU alumni working in DC and reach out to them to arrange lunches. While working on this project, I found a woman, Amirah Ismail, who has my dream job. She is currently an Afghanistan Desk Officer at U.S. Department of State. She has worked in Algiers, Riga, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. I knew immediately that I wanted to reach out to her and then I found yet another connection. While at ASU, she worked with the same thesis director, Dr. Souad Ali, that I am working with. I immediately contacted Dr. Ali asking her to connect us and she said she would. Hopefully, I will be able to report on a successful networking lunch/ coffee chat with her over the next couple weeks. I will also be reaching out to other people that I have found through LinkedIn.

   Today I had an encounter that demonstrated to me just how valuable networking is. I was working the front desk at the office and was in the middle of answering a question on the phone when I looked up and saw a familiar face. One of the girls who I did a fellowship with at the Center for Religion and Conflict was sitting in our lobby. She is in D.C. lobbying for refugees with a group called Oxfam. Through knowing her, I was able to give my business card to her boss who said she would invite me to future Oxfam events. These events are primarily focused on helping refugees resettle in the United States. For example, this morning they held an event where people were challenged to put themselves in the shoes of refugees through a series of exercises. As someone who is very interested in creating policy for refugees, especially policy related to refugee women’s health, I would very much like to be involved in events like these and meet fellow like-minded people.

   For the rest of the summer, I am going to attempt to go to every event possible and take advantage of every opportunity possible. In doing this, I hope to meet a wide variety of people. I would particularly like to meet people on the other side of the political aisle. I have always found it important to be able to communicate with people across the aisle but working for Congresswoman Sinema has taught me just how essential this is. She has built her reputation in Congress on building solid relationships both in and out of the office. I have frequently gotten myself in trouble by not listening to what the other side has to say. I want to become a better listener and bipartisan communicator.

   Speaking of communication, this week I have learned a lot about how to handle irate people. As I’m sure anyone reading this knows, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the zero tolerance policy at the border where children are being separated from their families. Tomorrow, if everything goes according to plan, there will be votes on immigration regarding two Republican-sponsored bills. Furthermore, there will be an upcoming bill in the house, The Keep Families Together Act, that will be addressing this policy. Because of these upcoming crucial votes, we got a record number of calls today. Many people are very friendly and I am happy that they are civically engaged. However, quite a few have decided they are going to call and yell at interns (and if anyone knows, who do I contact to get Congress to pass a law preventing constituents from being rude to unpaid interns?). For example, today one man told me that I couldn’t possibly understand the administration’s border policies because I am a woman. It may sound cliche, but this has taught me extreme patience and professionalism. As I mentioned earlier, I believe this is one step along the path in informing me when and how to hold my tongue appropriately. Until succeeding in effectively navigating these DC waters, I’ll just keep swimming.

________________

The views expressed in this blog post are mine alone and do not reflect the official position of my boss or anyone else.

A Force to be Reckoned With

To get to where she is now, Congresswoman Sinema had to overcome many obstacles. In particular, she grew up in poverty, even living in an abandoned gas station at one point. Nonetheless, she worked tirelessly and now boasts an M.S.W., J.D., and Ph.D. following her name [1]. Rumor has it, she will soon be adding an M.B.A. as well. She also stands out as the first openly bisexual member of Congress. Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is breaking a host of Washington’s unwritten rules and I absolutely love it.

Arizona_Congressional_Districts,_113th_Congress.tif

Congresswoman Sinema represents Arizona’s 9th Congressional District. District 9, created following the 2010 census, is centered around Tempe but also includes parts of Mesa, Chandler, Scottsdale, and the Ahwatukee area [2]. As of 2016, about 784,502 people live in the district, the majority of them white and middle class [3]. Congresswoman Sinema is the first representative from the district and has served throughout the 113th, 114th, and, currently, 115th Congresses [4]. In 2012, Sinema won 48.7% of the vote. At the time, Republicans were considered to have the advantage as there were approximately 122,540 registered Republicans in the district and only 109,994 registered Democrats [5]. In 2014, Congresswoman Sinema won 54.7% of the votes [6]. Finally, in 2016, she won 60.9% of the votes [7]. Clearly, she is doing something right (even though she is from the left…haha) as the percentage of votes she received increased with every election. The future of the AZ-9 congressional office is unclear, however, as Sinema is running for Jeff Flake’s upcoming Senate seat.

While in office, Sinema has become known as one of the most independent voters. During this session, she has sponsored 14 bills and 1 amendment. None of them have passed the House thus far. As an ASU student, I feel it is important to discuss one particular bill that she is sponsoring — the Fostering Innovation Act of 2017 (H.R. 1645). The bill would “amend the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 to provide a temporary exemption for low-revenue issuers from certain auditor attestation requirements” [8]. The original Sarbanes-Oxley Act created and expanded regulations on all U.S. public company boards, management and public accounting firms [9]. To be honest, I don’t really know what that has to do with innovation. On a more serious note, my favorite bill she has introduced is the Social Worker Safety Act of 2017 (H.R. 1484). This act would “authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to States to provide safety measures to social workers and other similar professionals who work with at-risk populations, and for other purposes” [10].  As someone who has worked in a children’s shelter with social workers and has a family member who is a social worker, this act is near and dear to my heart. Sinema has also sponsored and advocated for legislation aimed towards supporting veterans and regulating the government’s budget.

Another cool thing about Congresswoman Sinema? Her Washington D.C. office is really fun to work for. All of the staff are incredibly nice and, in my opinion, they have hired a great set of interns (though one is from UofA so we have some beef). I have learned quite a bit about congressional research over the last week and I am already forming an intimate relationship with Congress.gov, the ultimate tool for looking up what is currently going on in Congress. I also gave my first tour of the Capitol. My favorite part of the tour is pointing out all the statues of women because, though they are few and far between, they represent how women, throughout time, have been a powerful force to be reckoned with. Congresswoman Sinema is a powerful force, for sure. I feel confident that one day interns will be pointing out her statue as they give Capitol tours.

 

[1] “Meet Kyrsten.” Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema. Accessed June 13, 2018. https://sinema.house.gov/meet-kyrsten/.
[2]  “Arizona’s 9th Congressional District.” GovTrack.us. 2018. Accessed June 13, 2018. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/AZ/9.
[3]  Center for New Media & Promotion, and US Census Bureau. “My Congressional District.” United States Census Bureau. January 25, 2017. Accessed June 13, 2018. https://www.census.gov/mycd/?st=04&cd=09.
[4] “Arizona’s 9th Congressional District.” Ballotpedia. 2018. Accessed June 13, 2018. https://ballotpedia.org/Arizona’s_9th_Congressional_District.
[5]“Arizona’s 9th Congressional District Elections, 2012.” Ballotpedia. Accessed June 13, 2018. https://ballotpedia.org/Arizona’s_9th_Congressional_District_elections,_2012.
[6]  “Arizona’s 9th Congressional District Elections, 2014.” Ballotpedia. Accessed June 13, 2018. https://ballotpedia.org/Arizona’s_9th_Congressional_District_elections,_2014.
[7] “Arizona’s 9th Congressional District Election, 2016.” Ballotpedia. Accessed June 13, 2018. https://ballotpedia.org/Arizona’s_9th_Congressional_District_election,_2016.
[8] Fostering Innovation Act of 2017, H.R. H.R. 1645, 115 Cong. (2017). https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1645/text.
[9]  Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, H.R. H.R.3763, 107 Cong. (2002) (enacted). https://www.congress.gov/bill/107th-congress/house-bill/3763/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%22Sarbanes%E2%80%93Oxley+Act+2002%22%7D&r=108.
[10] Social Worker Safety Act of 2017, H.R. H.R. 1484, 115 Cong. (2017).  https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1484/text?r=11.

________________

The views expressed in this blog post are mine alone and do not reflect the official position of my boss or anyone else.