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!