After a couple years off, we're bringing Capitol Spill out of retirement and giving it a whole new look!
Thanks for your patience as we make updates.
My city does power. I stepped out of my building today frustrated by the yellow tape blocking my path to lunch. The well dressed man in front of me attempted to cross regardless of the yellow tape and cop cars, but was told off. Yes, even congressmen must walk around the barricade if they would like to eat lunch. After being redirected, grabbing food, and then redirected some more, I asked a guard what was going on, and if the motorcade got lost. He pointed to the Russell Senate Building, and I saw a pile of unopened boxes. Constitution was closed due to a bomb scare. This sort of thing happens here, and unless you are on security, you don't blink at protocol, it's all routine.
My office also does power. Our kind of power comes from the Martin Luther King Jr. legacy, when rows upon rows of people used to march for social justice and human rights. I have loved being active in our office, and I have a lot to unpack from my brain's filing cabinets. One adventure I have a lot to think about is the definition of the word public.
“Humans, as a species, are constantly, and in every way, comparing themselves to one another, which, given the brief nature of their existence, seems an oddity and, for that matter, a waste. Nevertheless, this is the driving influence behind every human’s social development, their emotional health and sense of joy, and, sadly, their greatest tragedies. It is as though something that helped them function and live well has gone missing, and they are pining for that missing thing in all sorts of odd methods, none of which are working. The greater tragedy is that very few people understand they have the disease. This seems strange as well because it is obvious. To be sure, it is killing them, and yet sustaining their social and economic systems. They are an entirely beautiful people with a terrible problem”.
This quote comes from Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What. In this quote, an alien is assessing human nature and behavior. The alien sees humanity as missing something and trying to fulfill that emptiness in other things. The major thing the alien sees is comparison. The alien makes some very strong claims about humanity and our behavior. Though it will be tempting to shrug this off as a cynical view from a self-righteous Christian author, as many may think, I would encourage you all to give this a chance.
I would like to start off this blog by saying that I am currently writing this while listening to the song Time won’t let me go by The Bravery. It just happened to start playing in my iTunes playlist and I thought how fitting it is that it miraculously played while reflecting on my time here in DC. As the title clearly states time won’t let me go and it just keeps right on going whether or not I am ready to run with it. My semester in Washington, DC has been fantastic and I would not have had it go any differently. Although it was a rather large culture shift for me from those enormous snow drifted cornfields I left in Iowa, it was for the better. My semester in the American Studies Program, more specifically, the Global Development Track, shed light on many issues in the world I had no idea were happening. From learning about sustainable development using value chain development to attending lectures on the current wild budget deficit in our government, I have expanded my knowledge farther than the normal finance and scooping hog manure on my farm.
My cohort of interns, Spring 2011
Very early in the semester we were faced with the well-known reality of many individuals that come here with a driving ambition to ‘fix’ Washington D.C. To people around the country it appears as if there is something fundamentally broken or evil in this city and its halls of power. Clearly, the immediate conclusion is the following: we need a savior to deliver us from this evil. Sound familiar? It should if you know the story of the New Testament. The following constitutes a rationale of what I have learned of Washington’s flaws, with emphasis on subtle cognitive structures and the hidden myths therein.
It is inherent in human nature to hyperbolize: people we do not know, concepts we do not understand, musical masterpieces that overwhelm us, and places we've heard of, but have not yet visited. The same can be said about Washington, as people assign government and law mythical proportions with immeasurable powers. Out of these general notions weighed down by sheer ignorance comes the defining thought to many across the nation that we must get a particular person elected, at all cost. Some even go as far as to say that if this does not happen the consequences will be apocalyptic, with the entire fate of mankind hinging on our votes—not surprisingly, most such people would identify themselves with the Christian faith. Don’t get me wrong, it is right to support a candidate and you should vote, but how far is too far? Where do these ideas come from, how do they become so defining to these citizens, and what leads them to believe this complete antagonism between political parties? Many would say polarization and vitriolic rhetoric is the fundamental reason, but I would beg to differ, as they have got it backwards. The conflict-ridden atmosphere is in fact the result of what is happening around the country. My presence and interractions throughout D.C. have convinced me that Washington is indeed highly responsive to its voters and constitutes, a mirror of the electorate.
Through all of the rhetoric and ideological prestidigitation one can find on Capitol Hill, I managed to identify a pattern very familiar to an Eastern European. The rise of ideologies in the 20th century revealed to the world what implications messianic thinking can have when secularized. Don’t get too excited, I am in no way going to succumb to a conspiracy theory on how the Antichrist is coming or going or returning, etc. In actuality I am trying to make a point by showing you how we blur the lines between religion and politics, resulting in a politicized religion—complete with its own saviors (for some it’s Glen Beck for others it is Pres. Obama) –a public realm that craves saviors. This becomes clear in any policy debate—one man has the answer (In recent budget debates it was Paul Ryan) but also on the ideational level the ‘silver-bullet’ oversimplification that we assign to all issues under the sun. Indeed, whether we like to admit it or not, the epistemological idea of what political scientists have called ‘immanentizing the eschaton’ is alive and well with us today, a token from an era dominated by ideological warfare. A highly revered Romanian Professor of Government at MDU writes: “Communism and Fascism, in their traditional incarnations, have failed. The same cannot be said about the psycho-ideational structures that made their rise possible.” (V. Tismaneanu On Anti-Americanism: The Resources And Persistence Of A Political Myth) It should be clear, if understood properly in its historical context, what the negative effects can be when succumbing to our own salvific temptations. The answer might lie in extensive politological analyses that I am not yet prepared to carry out, but I can say this: Engaging ‘the other’ will break down many myths assigned to the person otherwise vilified through media snippets.
You might ask: What are you proposing, Robert? What is your silver-bullet, what should we advocate for now? In an attempt not to fall into this trap, I will conclude with thanking you for the intellectual effort in reading to the end, but also in quoting a greater thinker, Albert Einstein: “The World’s problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that has created them.”
What kind of work would I consider “worthwhile”? This question actually turned out to be quite difficult. I decided to list what I think is worthwhile in work from most to least importance. This question was taken from material in my Internship class.
I personally think Accomplishment is the most important component of a job. I believe that a job that allows you to feel that sense of accomplishment keeps you motivated to take on the next challenge. This made me to realize that I can never be an archivist. A single collection can takes years to finish and there are constantly more coming in, creating an eternal to-do list that would drive the life out of me. Since High School I have been working on several projects planting native trees and shrubs in a pasture in Kansas. The massive cottonwood trees that once lined the creek bed have nearly died out, leaving the area devoid of any beauty (unless you can consider a fat cow beautiful). It takes years of work before the trees are self-sufficient. I have tasted the bitterness of setbacks; grasshoppers, deer, drought, but I have been motivated by all the little victories along the way.
Ever since I was a kid I have been drawn to things that allow me to be creative. I started with Legos and Lincoln Logs and later took a liking to drawing and writing. I believe a job that stifles creativity puts a roadblock in the employee’s brain. A sense of value is replaced with emptiness as we perform robotic tasks in a robotic way. I love work that allows me to put my signature on it, so to speak. When we lose the opportunity to be creative at work we tend to start glancing at the clock more and work becomes, well, work; boring, lifeless, endless, mindless work.
In the first week of my internship, I was bombarded with a myriad of things that I may have the opportunity to participate in. It was a bit overwhelming and I didn’t get the chance to get excited about any particular one of them, but I was generally excited. Little did I know that the most exciting opportunity that was thrown on the table of “might happen” would actually, happen.
As my supervisor wandered by my desk unsuspectingly, he asked if I could get out of class on a Thursday and Friday in two weeks with no explanation. I responded with “most likely” and he kept walking. My mind began reeling with wishful thinking that I may possibly be helping with an upcoming event near Chicago. I didn’t get too excited, after all, he may have just wanted me to be in the office those days to hold down the fort. So I went on with my day, as usual, being the best intern ever.
All of a sudden, an Outlook notification popped up in the bottom right corner of my monitor. It said “Southwest Airlines.” I was a little perplexed and opened it hastily. It was my conformation number for a flight from BWI to Chicago Midway airport. It was determined I was helping with the event, even before getting Gerry’s permission to skip class on Friday.
Today had to be one of the most eventful days of this internship. The day started out with my normal routine: unlocking doors, turning on lights, passing out daily newspapers to the staff, basic organization and cleaning. the only thing that had been different was the increased volume of calls, emails, and letters due to the current budget crisis. For weeks we had been flooded with angry callers wanting to express their opinion on the crisis as well as put in their two cents (or 5, 15, or 30) on how to solve the crisis. Today was no different than most of the others had been during the budget crisis. However, at 12:35 all of that changed.
Sitting at my desk in reception I greet all guests and visitors of the office and try and assist them in any way that I can. Most are meeting with a staff member, others are merely wanting to drop off information for us to pass along to the Representative. So when a group of 5-6 college age students came into the office, it was no surprise. When they entered I was on the phone with a caller, so I didn’t fully hear what they were looking for. As they were speaking to my colleague, I noticed that one of them had a rather large bag with him. But before I could fully notice its contents, the man carrying the bag whipped out a long thirty foot yellow plastic chain and extended it from one end of the lobby to the other. Instantly they began chanting: “G.O.P Equals H.I.V!” Screaming at the top of their lungs, the group proceeded to tie themselves to the chain and conduct a sit in right in the lobby of our office. Others in the group marched outside the door of the office while chanting in unison. “Budget Cuts KILL!!!” they screamed “Clean Needles Save Lives!” They continued to chant as the Capitol Police gathered down the hall preparing for the inevitable.
So, here is the final blog post. It feels very weird to say that, because I feel like I’m only just now starting to get a real feel for working at my internship and living in Washington. It’s been up and down over the past two and a half months, but it has most certainly been a fantastic experience. To be honest, I feel like I should devote my last blog to saying what I “learned” from my internship experience. It might be the stereotypical thing to do, but in this case, I actually feel like that’s something that I want to do.
Well, I definitely gained a lot of knowledge and experience from my time with my internship. I wanted to get a look at and a feel for how the realm of public policy works, and I definitely did. Policy work involves a lot of time, patience, and research. I will say that I did not spend as much time on the research aspect as I would have liked, but I definitely gained some experience with policy research. Most of what I did related to the networking capabilities of my organization. This is certainly important work that has to be done, but it would not have been my first choice. It was also nice to get some experience with an organization that is under a certain amount of public scrutiny. My internship organization is currently facing some negative publicity, and we’ve had to change some of our practices as a result (ex. no longer leaving the front door open at work). That has definitely been an interesting aspect of working there.