There’s really nothing like working on Capitol Hill. Walking through historic, marble halls on your way to work, sitting in the Senate gallery and watching the vote on Unemployment Extension Bill happen right below you on the Senate floor or merely working for a United States Senator is an incredible experience for anyone. Did I mention that I can go and stare at the breathtaking rotunda anytime I want? I’ll be honest, it’s pretty outstanding. Today, I sat in the Senate staff gallery and watched the confirmation vote for Elena Kagan to be the newest Supreme Court Justice. Witnessing history is just a short walk away.
A typical day for me begins with compiling all the news coverage of Sen. Wyden from the end of the last business day. I organize all of this coverage and send it out to the staff. After lunch, I spend my afternoon doing social media research. Once August recess begins, I’ll be meeting with others in the Senate who use social media as I work on putting together a best practices and recommendations report. This is my big project for the summer, but onto more important things, such as what I’m learning.
A professor told me before I got here, “You were once a big fish in a little pond. When you get to Washington, you will be a little fish in a big pond.” While I would be honest and say I had accepted this idea, I was not prepared for what I was about to enter.
In my past internships, I’ve worked with mostly consumer products. When you work for a United States Senator, you aren’t promoting a product, you are promoting policy. This is a whole different deal.
The press office seeks to shape the debate. There are a variety of issues in our office (and the Hill) this summer. Two that I am particularly passionate about are: The Disclose Act and Human Trafficking. Both of these issues are important to our nation and also to Oregon. To me, there are obvious arguments and talking points that I’m convinced would bring even the farthest out person to my side of the table. Oh how young and naive I am. Silly, silly me.
The real strategy (the part of communication that gets me fired up) comes in how you frame the argument. As my supervisor said, “it’s easy to preach to the choir. Find people who don’t agree with you in order to see your side form a different perspective.” She describes the typical choir preaching as, “low hanging fruit,” and in order to “develop the muscles in your mind to reach up higher” you need to not be blinded by your own views. This is where I am stretched and challenged.
How the media chooses to cover a certain issue can determine the success of a piece of legislation. Seriously, that’s huge. The press office has an immense responsibility. What’s inspiring is that their work is actually making a difference. There are few PR and communications jobs that you can really say this about. I feel so privileged to see this lived out firsthand.
The learning curve is completely vertical. The amount of times that I say, “Forgive me, but may I ask you a stupid question?” is at least two times a day. Lucky for me, my coworkers are extremely gracious with their advice and experience. I came in with big ideas and have been quickly humbled by how little I actually know. I am a SMALLEST fish in the world’s biggest ocean. It is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced or thought I would experience.
I am fortunate to work with an outstanding press team, all of whom bring strong and diverse backgrounds in communications. Just being in the office with them each day provides a valuable lesson.
This is a beautifully dynamic city that is alive with passions and ideas for action. I have already learned so much. I am immensely grateful for my time here in Washington. With five weeks down and four to go, I look forward to what the next four will hold.