For the past ten weeks I have been living in Washington, DC and working as an intern at Public Citizen. I applied to my school’s “Spring Term in DC” program after starting to go stir-crazy on a 2200-person campus and thinking that, as a political science major, it might be a good idea to spend some time in the nation’s capital to see if it was a place where I might want to live and work in the future. My interest in domestic policy and desire to learn about nonprofit government work drew me to Public Citizen. So, at the the beginning of April I packed my newly-purchased blazer and came down to DC.
Getting off the metro on the first day of my internship and seeing that the Capitol building was mere minutes away from my office was surreal. Reading the news or talking about politics in my classes in upstate New York can often create a sense of removal from the fact that there are real people in Washington, DC making the decisions about which the rest of us read and talk endlessly. Now, with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch department, I would be researching and writing about people who were hard at work just a few feet away from me. Being so close to the political action made me appreciate the sheer volume of work that happens in this city each and every day.
My experience as an intern at Public Citizen has been extremely rewarding. Speaking to anyone in the office, I have been so impressed by how knowledgeable and passionate they are about their respective areas of work. More than anything, this has been an incredible learning experience for me. Each week I wrote a blog post and I was often presented with topics about which I initially knew only the basic facts. Doing extensive research not only gave me the authority needed to write an informative blog, but gave me a clearer overall picture of the many issues being juggled by the government on any given day. I felt as though I learned something completely new each week and being around my coworkers inspired me to work hard in becoming as well-informed as they are.
Being a part of this organization also gave me a heightened appreciation of the need to fight on behalf of consumers and the ways in which we can be successful at doing that. I participated in a rally outside of a gas station to blame Trump for high gas prices and helped with drafts of letters to the editor that members of Public Citizen could send to their local papers. At the same time, I was surrounded by people doing research to craft in-depth reports that would make new knowledge available to the public. This convergence of professional and grassroots work was inspiring to see. Even as I learned about the challenges we are facing in the government every day, I also saw my coworkers and motivated citizens working hard to make their voices heard. Public Citizen and its members have given me confidence that there will always be someone willing to fight on behalf of the American people.
Of course, being in Washington also gave me opportunities that would not have been possible in other cities. Having lived in Massachusetts my whole life, I was very excited to be part of a consumer lobbyist group that met with Representatives Richard Neal, Joe Kennedy, and Jim McGovern, and to sit in the second row as Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered a powerful speech about the importance of regulations. Not only did I get to brag to my politically-minded friends and send some cool pictures to my parents, but I got a chance to speak to and hear from the members of government who affect my hometown the most. These were experiences I never could have had sitting in a classroom.
When I applied to come to DC and when I interviewed for this internship, I said that I wanted to learn about what working in politics could mean outside of running for office or working on the Hill. Being in the city and interning at Public Citizen have shown me just how much political involvement exists outside those two realms and how crucial that involvement is. While I may not have figured out a definite career trajectory for when I graduate in a couple of years, this experience has given me the drive to be a vocal advocate for causes about which I am passionate. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by everything going on in our country, but my time here has inspired me to continue educating myself and working to create meaningful change within the government. I hope that in the future I will be able to return to DC and have as positive an experience as the one I have had in these ten short weeks.