The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: My Summer in D.C.

Editor’s Note: We are looking to highlight a few MC students and things they did during their summer vacation.  Today we share Sarah Snow’s adventure in Washington DC as a congressional intern.

As I drove around Dupont Circle during rush hour on a Tuesday afternoon, I thought to
myself, “This was not a good idea.” Cars lurched out in front of me and herds of pedestrians fearlessly
threw themselves into the streets as I tried to carefully maneuver myself around the busy streets of
D.C. in my mom’s car. Mom was in the passenger seat, practically hyperventilating over the traffic, and
I was left to find my way and not wreck at the same time. I passed at least ten Starbucks, a handful of
embassies, and a mile long line of people waiting at the Steak and Shake before I finally found my way
down Connecticut Avenue. At around five thirty, I finally spotted my destination and praised the Lord
for getting me there in one piece.

My first place of residence was here, with a Marietta alum and sorority sister who shares my
love for politics. After I unloaded the car and gave Mom a paper bag to breathe into for a few minutes,
we collected ourselves and set out, via Metro, to see the sites and get some dinner. Later that night, as
I gazed up at the Washington Monument in the moonlight, I was immediately at ease. Walking through
the World War II monument and reading the Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Monument made me
realize that no, this was not a mistake, and it was indeed just the beginning of a beautiful summer
romance with our Nation’s Capital.

The next couple of days were some of the most exciting. After mom returned home, I began
my internship on the Hill, and time seemed to just fly by. I was working for an Alabama congressman in
the Rayburn building and that is where I learned more than I have in most classes and made some great
friendships that I hope to never lose. The first week was filled with answering phone calls, sorting faxes,
and-if I’m being honest-surfing the internet or reading newspapers. In the beginning, when the staffers
were trying to determine if the interns could be trustworthy and capable, time crept by as there was not
much to do. However, eventually I proved my abilities and the tasks began piling up.

I began writing letters to constituents regarding bills they were interested in and handling the
Congressman’s schedule as well. These were some of my favorite things to do, because not only did I get
to do something of importance, but I learned a lot as well. Some more important letters I wrote, such as
five to dignitaries from another country, were signed by the Congressman himself, and that was always
thrilling. I would write them, he would read over them, tell me what to fix, and then sign them to be
sent out.

Tours were also a big job of the interns. If you take a trip to D.C., you can call your congressman
and have them arrange for you a tour of the Capitol, including the House gallery. This is where the
interns come in handy. We would give up to three tours a day when busy. The tours are about 2 hours
long; they begin in our office and end in the House gallery. The house gallery was one of my favorite
parts of the tour. If you watch C-SPAN, you will most likely see a Congressman on the House floor,
speaking about a bill or an issue; the House gallery is the balcony area in the chamber that you usually
see during a State of the Union address given by the President. My second favorite part of the tour was
the Rotunda. Without fail, every time I led a group into the Rotunda my head would fall back as I looked
at the ceiling and my mouth would drop open. Time after time, it never gets old. It is one of the most
beautiful and patriotic places and it makes me proud to be an American. If you ever get a chance to visit
D.C., take the Capitol tour. You will learn so much and it will definitely be worth the two hours.

Outside the office was a lot of fun as well. I went to a Nat’s game, saw the sights, went on a
ghost tour in Old Town, and attended many summer political summits as well. On the fourth of July, I
crawled through a window onto the roof of one of the House Office buildings and watched the fireworks
from there- that was one of the greatest experiences outside of work. I also got to walk around the
outside of the Dome, on top of the Library of Congress- an experience reserved for groups who are with
a Congressman or Chief of Staff. I definitely did not waste my free time at all.

Being in D.C. was quite the experience and I couldn’t have chosen a better time, historically, to
intern there. The “Weinergate” scandal was the first history making event to occur during my tenure.
I remember the camera crews posted outside Rep. Weiner’s office in Rayburn as I walked through the
halls, and I remember meeting his interns and thinking how terrible it would be to be his intern at that
time. The second great debacle this summer was the debt ceiling. I’m sure you’ve heard of those two
words by now but it was much different living in D.C. through it than just hearing about it.

I’ve never seen people so heated; so impassioned. Not only were the Congressmen, staffers, and
lobbyists fuming and fighting; but the constituents, the People of America, were mad as well. There
were times that so many people were calling at a time that the circuits overloaded and people couldn’t
get through. I was told that I hated America, asked if I knew I was going to Heaven and told that I didn’t
understand or care about what the American people wanted because I was making “a big paycheck and
sitting on the Hill.” I had a lot of good experiences on the Hill, but this was not one of them.

Two and a half months after arriving in D.C., I finally got to go home on the weekend that the
debt ceiling issue was to be solved- and I had never been happier to get on a plane and fly away.

I learned a lot this summer, though, and I am thankful for that.

For starters, I learned that while politics gets a bad name- and for good reason-there are some
Politicians out there who are in it for the right reasons, we as voters just have to find them.

Second, I learned that working on the Hill isn’t as glamorous as people perceive it to be. Staffers
aren’t making huge pay checks, congressmen aren’t driving fancy cars, and the office space is less than
desirable- not to mention the tiles that are falling out of the sub-basement ceiling.

Third, Congressmen DO get too comfortable in their offices when they are continuously re-
elected and lose touch with the people they elect. I once heard a congressman say to his Chief of
staff, “The people want us to vote no, so I talked to the Speaker’s people and they said if they have
enough votes we can vote no, but if they don’t we have to vote in favor.” This shouldn’t be happening.

I learned a lot more but there’s always too much to tell. My biggest hope is that you will get
involved and call your Congressmen when you care about an issue; and when you do, remember that if
you talk to a staffer, they are more powerful than you think as they influence the member’s vote. Also,
they are usually overworked, under paid, and underappreciated, so try not to scream at them and tell
them they hate America.

Most importantly for me, I learned what I came to find out. I learned that I love politics, that I
am passionate enough about it to be screamed at on the phone and come back for more, and that I truly
love what this country represents and want to spend my life fighting for it.

My plane took off from Baltimore on July 29th and as the lights disappeared from the runway
and the sky blackened, I settled into my seat and felt the bitter sweet sensation of leaving D.C. sweep
over me. I was so happy to return to Alabama to see my family that I had been missing so much, but I
was saddened to say goodbye to all of my new friends, and a life I knew I wanted but couldn’t have just

I have two more years at Marietta to dream and plan for that life, so for now I will simply
treasure the experience and enjoy the present.