The Hills We Climb to See the World: My SPS Internship

Internship Blog Posts

The Hills We Climb to See the World: My SPS Internship

Samuel Borer, 2018 Mather Intern, SPS Member at University of Maine

Disclaimer: All thoughts are my own.

Flying away from Washington, DC, my mind turned to a quote from one of my favorite short poems, “A Dream Within a Dream,” in which Edgar Allen Poe said, “It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.” It is so striking to me; there is so much truth in such few words. This past summer was a dream. While I wasn’t able to write blog posts during the midst of the summer activities due to my work placement, I hope to now share some thoughts and observations on my experience.

I was able to spend my summer as a legislative intern for Senator Tammy Duckworth, specializing in science and environmental policy. It was an eye-opening experience, and I was able to gain so much perspective on the legislative process in general.

As an intern in a member’s office, you do very different tasks from what you would do if you were in a committee office (like the one my comrade Sarah Monk was in). Personal offices deal with the constituents of that congressional member, while committee offices deal with the agenda of that specific committee. Working with constituents is one of the toughest, but most rewarding, experiences you can get from working for Congress. Seldom will you be closer to the literal process of democracy. Senator Duckworth was elected by the great citizens of Illinois, so we had a responsibility to hear from those same citizens. When they call, write a letter, or send an email, they are engaging in the political process, and our office took that very seriously. As interns, you are “on the front lines,” answering phone calls, listening and logging the opinions of the voters, sorting mail, and categorizing everything. From a science standpoint, I was amazed at how efficiently the office took in massive amounts of data and sorted everything appropriately so that it could be handled by the small team of staffers. Like a sequence of data filters, every bit of information always found where it was supposed to go.

Some of my most meaningful experiences happened when I was able to work on legislative tasks. I worked with two amazing staffers who were serving as legislative assistants (LA), managing Senator Duckworth’s science, energy, and environment portfolio. Senator 

Duckworth serves on several committees and subcommittees related to these areas, so the workload was always high.
I performed deep dives, researching specific topics we needed for various legislative reasons. One quickly becomes a master of internet resources, able to do things like find “that one quote” in a 350-page government report from eight years ago. It was not uncommon for an LA to come by and say something like, “I need to know more about how Brazilian biofuel exports could affect Illinois farmers,” and then I would be off to the races. I analyzed legislation that was in our committee and helped draft bill recommendations, which provided crucial information and context to the senator, helping her make informed decisions on legislation. I attended hearings and briefings, and wrote memorandums for staffers. I also wrote form letters that would eventually be sent as responses to constituent communication.
However, the most impactful aspect of working for Congress was simply being in that atmosphere. It is not something I find easy to put into words. There is a sense that you are in the middle of all these happenings, surrounded by giants. You pass senators in the hallway, you can go and sit in the Senate gallery and watch floor debates, you can attend hearings and witness our government work in front of your very eyes. Every day I walked from the metro station across the back porch of the US Capitol. I stood on the stairs that President Obama used when he left his life as a private citizen and walked out of the Capitol building for his presidential inauguration. I got the chance to attend a lecture by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the very courtroom that legalized same-sex marriage. Those are the experiences that made my summer more meaningful than any that came before it.

2018 Interns touring Capitol Hill. Photo courtesy of Samuel Borer.