Last Days and Lunch

As my internship drew to a close, it seemed to pick up pace. A fellow intern and I shared a last day, and the phone was off the hook. The amount of phone calls has varied during my internship; but even with our usual sharing of the phones (I take one, you take one) we were both very busy. With the August recess upon us, constituents are wondering about town halls, eager to share their opinions with the senator.

And speaking of the August recess…. we had lunch with the Senator Herself! Although Congress is out of session, the recess is a true ‘working vacation’. Lunch with the interns was squeezed between an event at the University of New Hampshire and a briefing on North Korea. ‘Recess’ is definitely a misnomer. The senator goes home every night with her own homework- a packet of reading to prepare her for the day ahead.

It was great to hear her perspective on recent events such as the healthcare vote and the opioid epidemic (and the comments from the White House calling New Hampshire a ‘drug infested den’), as well as what she expects will be upcoming issues when Congress returns to the Capital.

It was also a chance to meet other interns; along with the other three I knew from the Manchester office, there were three more who worked other times and places. We got to share perspectives and compare experiences; a lot of us enjoyed letter-writing!

Lunch with the senator was a great way to wrap up my internship; it serves as a reminder of why we put in all this work. It takes an office full of people to help constituents and to aid a great lady in doing her job well.

How Many Interns Does It Take to Run a Copier?

Some days are fast. Others are… slower.

The fast-paced days are filled with phone calls and files and (sometimes) new faces. They always provide something new for the mind. I like those days, and I  need to keep in mind that if I did work in this office full time, my days would be regularly scheduled and fairly work-intensive.

It’s on slow days like these that you really appreciate having coworkers (or in my case, co-interns) to share the work with. The busy days can be hectic and stressful (one man called twice in a row to complain vehemently about a current political issue), but they are in some ways preferable to the slow days. The lack of work is dull, and I dislike waiting for orders.

When I don’t have work assigned to me, I keep up on current events and read the daily email compilation of headlines involving the congressional NH delegation, the State House, and highlights of the national news.

But after a while, we all get bored and want something to work on, to dig our mental teeth into.

But if we don’t get it, we try to make it ourselves, divvying work up so as to give us all something to do.

Even if it’s just figuring out the mysteries of the copy machine.

Oh, and how many interns? Three.

Welcome to the USA / Benvenuto agli Stati Uniti

On Wednesday, I went on a field trip!

A naturalization ceremony was held in Bedford, and representatives from all New Hampshire congressional offices (Shea-Porter, Kuster, Hassan, and Shaheen) came to congratulate the new citizens.

People from 18 countries were present, and from such diverse places as Syria, Italy, China, and Canada. I had never been to a naturalization ceremony before, though apparently it’s a routine practice for congressional staffers. Patriotic slideshows highlighted America’s national parks, history, armed forces, and diversity. Welcome speeches were made by staff of the Citizenship and Immigration Office, and then the candidates were led in the oath of citizenship.

It was really nice to get out of the office and meet people. It was also neat to meet another intern- one who worked for a representative’s office rather than a senator’s.

There was a great diversity not only in country of origin but in age; from babes in arms to older gentlemen, they were eager to experience life in America as citizens and to participate in democratic life.

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!