Capitol Hill reflections from Sean Gill

Sean Gill, WIP 2012 speaks to about his experience on The Hill

The centre of governance, a world in itself. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to U.S. politics in the swamp. Otherwise known as D.C..

The pace is fast, the work is gritty and the fight is never ending. Staffers (as all the permanent staff of the Senators and House Representatives are affectionately called) roam the hallowed halls of this policy making club with a purpose. No one saunters.

They are here to change things, to build better government. This unyielding belief is strikingly evident when you speak to the reams of interns that descend upon the building every summer. They will work in unpaid positions and will leave D.C. with a lot less money than they arrived with but that doesn’t matter. They will have gotten involved. For that summer, they will have been the system.

Passionate and enthusiastic, their idealism oozes out in conversation. It is almost tangible. They are ready to help design U.S. foreign policy, write Senate floor speeches and draft landmark legislative bills. Day one in the office, however, resets this expectations bar.

Typically, step one on the political ladder is a year spent in the office mail room, answering constituent inquiries and preparing written correspondence. Overqualified? of course. More capable? most definitely. Sure most interns have an undergraduate degree as well as a graduate degree (typically in law). So why the mail room? Because you work from the bottom up. It’s as simple as that. It is all very American you might say.

Opportunities must be earned. And the payoff (in the non-monetary sense as government employee earnings pale in comparison to their private sector counterparts) can be great. From an Irish perspective, it is difficult to comprehend the average age of top legislative staffers in the system. The sheer number of thirty-something’s who are key legislative advisors is astounding. They are the humble servants of the Senate and House, working in the backrooms, shaping national policy. This sense of impact is what drives interns on a day-to-day basis. The belief in change.

This summer I interned in the Office of Charles E. Schumer of New York. A key player in the Democratic party and a very down to earth politician. Known to all as “Chuck”, he has earned this colloquial nickname through his genuine ability to communicate with constituents on a personal level and his commitment to deal with issues that cross his table. Action orientated, something will be done if he thinks it should be done.

As a summer intern, my role in the office initially involved a lot of sorting mail and answering constituent calls (but of course…. The bottom up approach). That said, if you worked hard, took initiative and were personable with the staffers, then opportunities began to present themselves. This is why I had the opportunity to attend Senate hearings on behalf of the Senator, prepare talking points, research legislative issues for the foreign affairs and judiciary staffers and on my last day, deliver a presentation on the Irish E3 Visa amendment being attached to a bill sponsored by the Senator. Not bad for a summer intern blow in. There and gone in 8 weeks.

Like the half full, half empty glass parable, opportunity is always there. You just need to be prepared and willing to take it. I was and it shaped my summer.