A Healthy Democracy

There are different measures for the health of a democracy, but I would rank participation as one of the foremost. I’ve been on the receiving end of much of that this week. Given the proposed healthcare bills, constituents are calling or emailing the office with many varied concerns.

I’ve been sorting through the email account dedicated to healthcare stories; mostly these deal with thoughts about the ACA or worries over the future. It’s also an insight into how constituents think- most who write to the office are older- some are younger but feel strongly about being heard.

This has been a great chance to see how information gathered in state offices from aides and input from constituents comes together to form a basis for talking points and shapes messages. Already I feel that my phone skills are improving from increased practice.

Graphic on Healthcare
A graphic in the office shows the calls from constituents on the healthcare bill.

Recently, the Manchester NH VA Hospital came under fire for poor management and concerns about care quality. All of this- from calls about healthcare, to emails about Obamacare, to newspaper articles- serves as a reminder of the very real impact of policies and politics on people’s lives.

 

The Call Was Coming From Inside The Office!

Phones are scary things.

This week, I faced my greatest challenge yet. No, not navigating summer road construction– the office phone system.
I am glad to report that it’s not just me who feels intimidated by phone-answering. My fellow interns are also apprehensive about this aspect of our position.
Dealing with real-live people is a chance to see the human face (or hear the human voice more like) behind all the casework we’ve been sorting. But it’s also a wild card situation.
While I might worry about writing the wrong thing in a letter, I know that I have a second chance to correct it, someone else to look over it for me, and a barrier between my writing and its dissemination. I can choose the right words and use them precisely how I want to.
Phones don’t have that. They are direct and instant. And (therefore) scary.
It’ll also be a test of patience and observation skills; we’ve been told to observe how others in the office answer the phones and the criteria they use to record calls.
The phone is the newest aspect of the internship; it’s something I’ve only had to do occasionally in other jobs I’ve held.  I think it’s easier to deal with the public when you’re with them in person; I’m looking forward to overcoming my trepidation about dealing with the public as disembodied voice. I think it will be a great opportunity for growth and a way to understand all the aspects of this job.
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Also, as a French major I am compelled to say:  Happy Bastille Day!
Vive la France, vive l’Amérique, et vive l’amitié entre les deux pays! 
(Long live France, America, and the friendship between the two countries!)

Case Closed

I think my favorite words in the world may be ‘closed favorably’.

We (the interns) have been sorting through old cases and shredding those that are past a certain date. The cases have a wide range; many date from the housing crisis during the beginning of the recession. Others are about visas, loans, veterans affairs.

Many of the cases that are filed in the office represent people’s last resort. Casework documentation includes letters with beautiful handwriting that reminds me of my grandmother’s, scans of honorable discharge papers, touching thank-you notes addressed to assistants in the office.

It’s a tangible representation of the work that the senator’s office accomplishes for citizens in New Hampshire; while at times the cases are dead-ends or non-respondents, many are ‘closed favorably’. The triangle of constituent, assistant, and department/bank/other party has interacted successfully.

This aspect of work in the senator’s office is very interesting to me. It’s part of what accounts for the multitude of phone calls we get; it’s almost like non-profit work, which is another field that interests me. Public service is tiring, intensive, but can be ultimately very rewarding.

 

Also: Happy (belated) 4th of July!

Mail for Manchester

Dear Senator Shaheen,

My name is [NAME REDACTED] and I am 12 years old. I am a student at [SCHOOL REDACTED]. An issue that I care about is homework. I think there is too much and I would like homework to be banned in New Hampshire.

Thank you, [NAME REDACTED].

In addition to drafting letters, as an intern I also deal with the other half of the writing process: incoming mail. Constituents write to the senator for all sorts of reasons. I recently read through a batch all written by middle schoolers, dealing with everything from homework (see above for a summary) to bullying to pollution to terrorism. It’s also provided an opportunity to see how the offices interact with each other.

Manchester is the head office in NH, and any calls or communications that don’t go to a regional office end up here. We’re the last stop in NH. All the mail is scanned, put into a database, and assigned to someone in Washington DC for a reply.

I wonder who’ll get to write to that student about the proposed homework ban.

Week 3 – Writing

Dear Friends,

Letter-writing is, I think, one of the parts of my internship (and of being part of a senator’s office in general) that was both least expected and most enjoyable. The senator is regularly invited to events around the state that she cannot attend- in her place, someone from the office will go to the event and read a letter.

Being involved in the letters has also made me more aware of events in the state. I wrote a letter for a celebration of court appointed special advocates who work with neglected children; I learned about the creation of a new Family Justice Center in Manchester. It was really neat to see articles in the local newspapers talk about the same organizations that I had researched and written about.

Letter-drafting is (so far) my favorite job. It’s a good word-smithing job, because it involves bringing together what the organization does, and what has been said in the past, and what applies today and for the future. While form letter are designed to apply to a large group, part of my job is to individualize them when appropriate. I look up specific details about an award or a project, and try to see how it fits into the larger frame. I like learning about what is going on around the region, seeing how an event comes together behind the scenes, and helping it along.

Sincerely,

Anna Morrison
Intern, Office of U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen

Week 2: Commuting and Community

IT HAS BEEN ____ DAYS SINCE ANNA TOOK A WRONG TURN.

(My highest count has been… 1.)

Commuting is one of the newest parts of my internship. It’s about a half hour drive from my house to Manchester, mostly through back roads and farmland. I see cows on the way to work every morning!

Driving is one of those aspects that has been both more difficult and easier than I imagined: finding the office was not too tricky, but navigating a city after a year on campus without a car has been an adventure.

Luckily, I have found sympathy for my driving troubles. My fellow interns (one older, and one younger than myself) also drive to the office twice a week for their shifts. We’ve commiserated about finding parking and worrying that we’ve misremembered where we parked our cars.

It’s also been great to be able to pick their brains for ideas about tackling a paperwork issue, or how to word something in a document, or just for help navigating the office database. We’re a great resource for each other, whether we need a hand with filing or just a tip on where to find information.

If only they could keep me from turning onto the highway when I’m not supposed to…. On Monday, the commuting countdown begins again!

First Week, Part II

The first intense week in the Manchester office has passed, and I’m continuing to learn more about how a state office functions. Someone’s phone is always ringing!

I had wondered if a NH-based office would be isolated or narrow, but we’re well-connected to DC and the wider world. Newsletters and the web mean that I have a daily dose of information about the government, the senator’s work, and the issues at hand.

I entered an office filled with boxes last week. It was a hands-on experience- I helped load a truck (complete with stuffed moose and bear). Manchester, as the state headquarters, received all the New Hampshire-made products for an exhibition in Washington. I never knew my home state produced such a wide variety of products. From breweries to candy shops to the posters of autumn landscapes, there was a lot of NH pride in that place!

 

A box of New Hampshire products- and a moose!
A box of New Hampshire products- and a moose!

First Week: Recap

After a short week (of 3 days) in the office, I’ve met many new faces and been impressed by the sheer volume of communications, letters, and phone calls the office receives.

I’m looking forward to meeting my supervisor and diving in myself.