I’m sorry that I slacked off quite a bit toward the end of my internship and didn’t update my blog as frequently. But I still have three more blog posts left to do, and I have a lot of to reflect on my internship.
Currently in my home in Shenzhen, China, I woke up to the CNN alert informing me of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA that already led to three deaths and many injuries.
My back hardened and face numb. Baffled. Enraged. Terrified. It’s ok. I’m thousands of miles away. Wait, I go to school in Pennsylvania – that’s so close. If I was still in D.C., I’d only be an hour away…
I remembered November 9th, 2016. I went to sleep hoping that by the time I woke up everything would be back to normal and that all that hectic would be just a dream. And I woke up to a CNN alert just as mortifying. In the months followed, I told myself that I’d become more active in politics and make myself in this great battle of resistance and resilience. I applied for an internship in the office of a congress member whose ideals aligned with mine and spent nine weeks in the office of Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, whose humility and sophistication would make her one of my greatest role models in life.
During my internship, I talked to many constituents on the phone on daily basis. One constituent called every other day calling the entire MA delegation to resign because they allowed China to gain huge advantage in the world and America succumbed to un-greatness, because Democrats resisted many of Trump’s new policies and persisted with their “stupid war” against President Trump, who would “go down in history as the greatest president.” I spoke to someone who called every single Democrat member’s office to yell at Democrats for “allowing gays to spread their agenda”. I spoke to an angry man from Alaska who called Niki shameful for her trying to stop building roads and pipelines in a federal wildlife refuge in Alaska out of her concerns for damages on the environment. I spoke to a constituent who claimed that she would never want to deal with a Chinese national ever again because all Chinese people eat dogs; she then thanked me on the phone for my time and patience, and I forgot to tell her that she was talking to a Chinese person who never ate dog.
I expected that there would be plenty of people whose opinions were different from mine in my district. My intern coordinator prepared me somewhat for calls from “difficult callers”, but still I was entirely unprepared for the sheer ignorance, hate, and anger that I consistently felt through the wire. My hometown, Acton, was overwhelming Democratic. Niki held an overwhelming liberal voting record. The school district that I attended had a strict education curriculum on teaching inclusiveness, climate change, and cultural diversity. There were numerous times when I hoped that I could just smash the phone as hard as I could and hang up, but I could not because I was a member of Niki’s staff and everything I did represented the office. I was only there to listen, unbiasedly and politely.
One could come to many realizations and conclusions when connecting the election, the current holder of the White House, the other ends of those phone calls, and the event in Charlottesville. But the realization that shocked me this morning was the question whether the work I, or the other staffers in my office, or all those who believed in resisting any less-than-good policies imposed by the new administration, or the participants of the Women’s March and March for Science, did mattered. It seemed that the new, dark, hatred-fueled era that Donald Trump had promised on the campaign trail had finally arrived. It seemed that we were all just helpless little ants with good ideals. It seemed like the people who thought they were oppressed by the camp of political correctness could now finally broadcast their vile beliefs openly and proudly.
I was scared on the night of the election night. I was scared after seeing the news this morning. It was just too unfair and unfortunate because I thought we were putting up a good fight. Just as I prepared the most depressed voice ever so that I could inform my parents the news, I saw on my screen a video from the rally: On the other side of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis, there were many protesters holding banners that were similar to those during the Women’s March. They screamed to their microphones that immigrants were welcome and there were still love in Charlottesville.
My eyes moisturized.
I started to remember some of the other phone calls that I answered this summer. I spoke to a concerned mother who feared the new administration’s decision to cut down funding for scientific research on climate change would take away opportunities from the future of her children. After President’s tweet declaring a ban on transgender service members, I spoke to the wife of an active service member who almost cried on the phone while telling me about their transgender friends in the military and her fear for their place in the military, in society, in America. After Trump and two GOP senators announced their new immigration plan, I spoke to a humorous grandma who told me that we should make English our national language because then we could deport Trump.
Almost all of those callers asked me if Niki was already doing something to change this situation. As a procedural response to be unbiased, I almost always had to tell them, “At this time, I don’t have too much information on that.” Then, I would always add, “What you’re doing right now is exactly what you should be doing. Keep calling us. Call Sen. Warren too. There are many constituents in our district who share the same opinion as yours, and we truly welcome your calls. This is the only way that we know where our constituents stand on issues.”
In mid-July, Niki introduced an amendment that advised the House Natural Resource Committee to seriously consider environmental impacts if the government were to potentially allow pipelines to be built in Alaskan federal wildlife refuge. It was already an amendment that enraged many environmentalists because of its week wording. Almost everyone in the office had hoped for stronger language, yet the realist sides of us understood that only an advisory type of amendments would have a slight chance of passage. When we watched the floor live on C-SPAN to see amendment failed to pass, the staffers gave a collective sarcastic sigh, “Oh, darn it”, turned around, and reminded each other, and possibly themselves, that they knew this would be the result despite the fact that we had already given in grounds and tried to make it a little bit more acceptable to other side of the aisle. I turned to our scheduler, Bob, and asked, “Why would Niki introduce it if we knew that it won’t pass?” Bob laughed and said, “You’ve been here for like six weeks – If you’re still asking this question, you’re so fired.”
People needed to know that in Washington, there were still people who cared about small things like birds and fish, who would try knowing that they probably would fail, who would not stop trying.
During this summer, I wrote decision memos for the office on some bill and letters that would make it more difficult for companies to discriminate against women in terms of salary, that would defer student loan payments for young adults with cancer, that would make higher education more accessible to students with disability, that would direct funding to researching recycling used motor oil… In times of an extremely polarized and slow congress under a president that encouraged, in various forms, discrimination and failed to act presidentially and forcefully condemn evil, people were still trying to make things better.
Suddenly, it started to look like whenever darkness seemed to have arisen, there was always brightness countering.
We had to fight. Like Sen. Warren said, this is our fight. Volunteer, do an unpaid internship in the office of someone whom you believe would make a difference, march, give each other a hug, and live our lives as peacefully, lovingly, and happily as we could.
Our work and voice matter. Do not lose heart.