My Comfort Zone...I'm out of it!
I decided to take a little break from the homework that I have been doing all day (Oh yes! You will have plenty of homework to do while you're here. Don't think like I did that in coming here you're escaping work for a semester. You will be surprised!) to update you a little on what has been taking up my life for the past couple of weeks. As I mentioned to you before in one of my previous blogs I was working as part of an advocacy group that went on Capitol Hill lobbying for a push for the American government to help in establishing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Well, this past week was the week for lobbying! YES...I lobbied! No, I did not provide my congressman with lavish gifts or a trip to Bermuda like the tactics that I am sure you have heard of some interest groups have used in the past. BUT I must say, out of the four meetings that I had on Capitol Hill, at least one of them was productive and one of them I learned a lot from.
Let me pause here for a Public Service Announcement. If you have not gone to meet your Congressman/woman or his/her staff in your home state or here in DC...DO IT! The staff people can be some of the nicest people in the world. Although that also means they can be some of the meanest people in the world as well. BUT at the end of the day, they are there for YOU! If it wasn't for you they wouldn't have a job! Believe it or not, they actually care about you. I used to think they were just a bunch of people who just want power and just want to be able to say that they are Senators or Representatives and do nothing once they have their titles, but they are actually people! And they actually care! Well, some of them are jerk-offs and really don't care, but surprisingly those are few and far between. Anyways, just go see them!
Back to my experience. My first meeting was pretty weird to say the least. Instead of meeting in a conference room, or in a quiet area inside the Congresswoman's office, the aide had us go around the corner and meet in the hallway. I was told that this wasn't THAT unusual, although out of my four meetings, this is the only one that happened in the hallway. It lasted all of about 5 minutes (if that) with us just speaking on our talking points and him taking a few notes and then sending us on our way. I was at least thankful that he wrote SOMETHING down, even if it was just "These kids are weird, they think they know more than I do about Israel! HA!!". At least he wrote something to at least entertain us and make us think that he was engaged.
My next meeting was a little more heated. This one was with one of my own Senators, Bob Corker from Tennessee. His aide was extremely knowledgable on the conflict and knew just about everything that had been in the recent news. I was impressed to say the least because I know that as a Foreign Policy Legislative Assistant, she has a lot more to be concerned with than just this particular issue. I did expect her to have SOME knowledge of the issue, but I was not prepared for her to know as many in-depth details as she did. This meeting lasted close to 30 minutes, with her challenging many of the positions we had gone in with. This was particularly fun for me because I like to discuss issues with people who are well-versed and challenge them to think about things from a different perspective. Needless to say, I kind of took the reigns in this meeting after we all got finished saying our parts. I was engaged in the dialogue between us and the aide for the most part, not only because this was my Senator (because that doesn't really matter), but because I felt that the rest of my delegation was getting mixed up by her questions because she was trying to make us stumble over ourselves. I did pound on her a particular piece of information that she did not know which left her unable to counter...POW! Score one for me! All-in-all it was friendly debate, and I walked away feeling that it was at least some what productive.
My favorite meeting I had was my last meeting, with my other Senator, Lamar Alexander. Those Tennesseans produce a really smart team of aides because these were probably some of the best meetings of the group! This aide kept us for an HOUR!!! It was great! Not only because we got an hour off from work, but because she was willing to talk to us about her extensive experience traveling recently over to Israel. Because she had actually been to Israel, she was able to sympathize more with our positions on particular areas that other congressional offices were less sympathetic. She was one of the NICEST ladies I have ever met in my life. We said what it was we had to say, she responded, and then she went on talking about her experiences and even telling us her experiences on Capitol Hill. She was great.
Arguably one of my favorite offices on the Hill!
I decided to become engaged in this project for several reaons. The Washington Center has a requirement that all of its students become engaged in the community in some form. Whether it's volunteering at an after-school program, serving at a soup kitchen, or any of the other volunteer activities, TWC really wants its students engaged. Then whatever issue it was that you came up with, they would like for you to speak with your representative about that issue during another event they have called the Public Policy Dialogues. This is an opportunity for students to enter into dialogue with their elected representatives and pick their brains on certain issues. Well I heard of this opportunity to engage in a full-on lobbying process with people on Capitol Hill and I decided that I wanted to do this instead. I told myself before coming to DC that I wanted to LIVE outside of my comfort zone. In fact, I want to be comfortable being outside of my comfort zone, if that makes any sense. I figured this would be an excellent opportunity for me to do so. So I jumped on the opportunity and I must say that this has probably been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had here at TWC.
When you get here...try your best to stay OUT of your comfort zone! You didn't come to DC to do the same stuff that you can do at your home institutions! Don't be comfortable!