Thursday, September 26, 2013

An Innovative Time

I had never been to Washington, DC until this past summer when I interned for the Department of State. While I come from outside of Boston, I haven’t spent much time exploring the city itself, so living in DC was an exciting experience. I spent the summer doing the typical “touristy” things many do when in the nation’s capitol, such as visiting the National Mall and all the museums and monuments that come with it, as well as going to iconic spots such as Georgetown Cupcakes, the Potomac, or Arlington Cemetery. Coming back for the DC Program this semester I not only feel like I have a good grasp of the city, but also as if I'm part of a community. DC is welcoming in a way other cities are not, possibly due to a combination of southern hospitality and the fact that very few people who live here are actually from DC. It’s an eclectic mix of people from around the country and the world, making for a truly diverse cultural experience.

As many have said, though, it is a “one company” city, with everyone drawn into the political atmosphere in some way or another. I have seen this in the two internships I’ve had so far. Working at the Department of State is clearly related to politics, as is Environment America, an environmental advocacy group, but it’s the connections between the two and the random encounters with people from very different fields who know of a colleague or have heard about the work we’re doing that really amazes me.

What also amazes me is the hope everyone keeps hold of despite the negative political climate and continual gridlock. Through both of my internships I have attended multiple interagency and NGO meetings, and while Congress is always the subject of a bad joke or talked about in an exasperated manner, people persevere and find another way to get their goals accomplished. At State that may have meant relying more on other countries to lead the way and pass legislation, or turning more to international organizations/agencies such as the UN to get the U.S. moving on environmental issues. At Environment America it means doing more in-state advocacy or working to gain public support for EPA rules such as putting a limit on carbon pollution from power plants. Congress may be a centerpiece of our political system, but agencies and organizations have been coming up with innovative ways to work around them, changing the way they think, organize, and distribute their resources in an attempt to change at least one part of our world for the better.

My Road to Washington, D.C.

As I sit at my desk at the office of the Public Integrity Section of the United States Department of Justice, I think back to where I was one year ago from today. In the fall of 2012, I was a sophomore at Lafayette College in Easton, PA researching schools that would be worth transferring to after the academic year ended. After having lunch with my father's good friend, who happens to be a distinguished alumnus of Hamilton College, I realized that maybe taking a short trip to Hamilton couldn't hurt. Long story short, I loved being on "The Hill" and by January, 2013, I was a student at Hamilton College--the best decision I have ever made. While in my first semester at Hamilton, I had heard about the "DC Program" and immediately became interested in knowing more about it. Fast forward to the beginning of September and here I am interning for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. As hectic as it has been transferring and then only spending one semester on The Hill, a place that feels like my own home, I couldn't be happier.

As I mentioned before, I am currently interning at the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. Almost every year if not every semester of the Hamilton D.C. program, there is at least one intern from Hamilton in the Public Integrity Section--the attorneys here often joke that Hamilton College almost has a cult-like following in this section. Every day that I am here, I am presented with a new challenge. Whether it be compiling evidence for the trial attorneys, helping the paralegals prepare indictments, or dealing directly with the FBI, there is never a dull moment. I am still unsure as to what kind of law I would like to study after graduating from Hamilton, but the hands-on experience I am receiving here in D.C.  is truly unbelievable.

Though I have only spent a short time in this wonderful city, I can honestly say that it is one of the most interesting places to live. The last time I was in D.C. was for an eighth grade trip--it's amazing how much more you can appreciate your nation's capital with just a few more years of age under your belt. Taking trips to places such as the Newseum and the U.S Supreme Court has been a blast (it's almost surreal how much U.S. history you can see in one day). Though I do miss being on The Hill, this was an experience that I could not pass up and I look forward to having a great rest of the semester here in D.C. Oh, and as always....


Friday, September 20, 2013

Leslie Knope

           Everywhere I go, it seems that someone is telling me to watch "Parks and Recreation". Although the show seemed decent to me, I never was fully convinced that it was worth my time. Since moving to DC and starting my internship at the National Organization for Women, a different take on this show has finally convinced me otherwise. My first day, my coworkers kept quoting the main character, Leslie Knope, as their "feminist hero". Although I had heard that this character was quite funny, I had never thought that a character on such a popular show would be a feminist. I figured I had to start watching the show to see it with my own eyes. Low and behold, Leslie Knope is in fact a die hard feminist- down to the photo of Madeleine Albright that sits on her desk. She is goofy, she is smart, and she is passionate about women's rights. She is wonderful.
         Throughout my three weeks working at NOW, I have continually been surprised in this manner. I have learned so much from the people I am working with and through the work NOW does as an organization. It has been an unbelievably rewarding experience to attend events that are truly important to me and to complete tasks that I feel will actually make a difference for women across the world (sounds cheesy- but hey, everyone needs a little cheesy in their life!) With each day, I feel more and more like Leslie Knope, and more and more a part of NOW because of her.
          Each week at NOW so far, I have been assigned to "staff" the President of NOW, Terry O'Neil, at a rally for a variety of causes that NOW supports. The first week, I attended a rally for an organization called OUR Walmart that fights against the oppressive nature of Walmart's treatment towards workers, especially those that are women. I heard past Walmart employees speak about the terrible ways in which they were fired and the struggles they have faced. I saw 8 women get arrested through their act of civil disobedience to show Walmart and the world that something has to change. It was inspiring. The next week, I attended a rally for "We Belong Together" to fight for immigration reform. Here, I heard women speak about their families being deported and their families torn apart. I saw 100 women crowd the streets in front of the Capitol, join hands, and sit in a circle in the middle of the street while chanting "Si Se Puede!" and "Yes We Can!" before they were each arrested. This act of civil disobedience was truly moving and sought to show Congress that they will not stop fighting for immigration reform in order to put their families back together. This week, we attended a more somber event- a rally for "Mayors Against Illegal Guns", an organization that fights for gun violence reform. I heard victims of gun violence from Tucsan, Aurora, and Newtown speak of their experiences and the tragedy of losing a sister or friend. The emotion brought power to the cause, and each speaker demanded that Congress address gun violence through background checks in order to reduce the death rates in our nation. At each event, I couldn't help but think about the passion that Leslie Knope puts into her rallies for parks in her small town, and how lucky I was to be able to attend and help at such important events.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nicholas Cage and the Constitution

Living in Washington, D.C. for a semester is especially interesting for me because unlike many people, I have not spent that much time here. The last time I visited this city was for my eighth grade class trip - just a couple years back, but who's counting? Whenever I would tell people over the summer that I was spending the next semester "domestic abroad" they would laugh and say how great it will be because D.C. is a really great city. I would agree but in my mind I would think about how the only thing I remember is that it was a very well manicured and well kept city.

Little did I know that I was about to spend the semester in one of the most lively and exciting cities in the world. Coming from New York City, I thought nothing could surprise me, but learned I was wrong within the first few days. Every single day, there is another exciting activity or festival or concert taking place, all within the small border of the Beltway. What's more, it's not really a city as much of a community, all bound together by this common goal of making our country a better place in one way or another.

The differences between my understanding of the city as a fourteen-year-old and my understanding today came to fruition on Wednesday after our seminar when we went to visit the National Archives. I remember walking through the small yet majestic hall with images of Nicholas Cage in National Treasure racing through my mind. However, on Wednesday I strolled past the documents framed in marble and gold and couldn't help but feel proud of where I was. I'm not going to lie and say that I didn't think about that scene in National Treasure where he manages to convince Diane Kruger that the replica of the Constitution that he bought in the gift shop is the real thing, but this time it just seemed a little bit funnier.

Friday, September 13, 2013

What Has Changed: Syria

What Has Changed

When you look at the current conflict in Syria from a historical point of view you will find that nothing has changed. The French mandate of Syria has left the country divided since its independence in 1946. Prior to that, France governed Syria via a policy of divide and rule. Instead of promoting a national identity that encompassed all Syrians, the French encouraged ethic, religious, class, and territorial differences already within the country and still very much present today.  For example, Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, is an Alawite Muslim, as are the top officials in the Syrian government, including the military.  The Free Syrian Army is composed of Sunni Muslims, which happens to be the Syrian majority.  The tension between these two conflicting groups, first manifested under French Rule, still affects the politics of Syria today as well as the nature of their current civil war.
            If Syria has yet to get past its sectarian disunity how will a US military strike help? While I commend President Obama for his humanitarian interest considering Syria, I do not believe that a US military attack will solve anything. However the main concern currently revolves around Syria's chemical weapons. Although Assad has agreed to give up Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, the civil war still continues. If the use of chemical weapons used against civilians is the primary reason for US military action, then what will happen after the chemical weapons are no longer in their possession? The Middle East is constantly riddled with internal conflict.  Is the US expected to send troops to aid every single one?
As I previously stated this civil war is based upon tensions established decades before.  The minority Alawites standing behind the Assad regime verses the Sunni majority. The fighting is not expected to end soon. Both parties have too much at stake. The elite Alawites do not wish to give up their power. Although the US in providing aid for the Free Syrian Army, it needs to be aware of radical Islamist groups like the Syrian jihadists who are a part of the Free Syrian Army. The nature of this civil war is a combination of politics and religion, thus making it difficult to  find a solutions to the conflict within Syria. President Obama's persistence has served its purpose; Assad has agreed to hand over the chemical weapons.  I do believe that after the weapons are in fact secured, the threat of US military action within Syria should be taken off the table.  Military action does not necessarily mean an end to the conflict.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Welcome Fall 2013 Participants of the Hamilton College Program in Washington D.C. !

This week kicked off the 44th year for the Hamilton College Program in Washington, D.C. With internships, debates, and excursions, this semester will surely be as exciting, informative, and entertaining as prior semesters. The Department of Justice, Global Policy Group Firm, Qorvis Communications, and the National Organization for Women are just a few of the places where students are interning this semester. This semester the seminar course that accompanies the program, entitled Public Policy Problems: The American Administrative State, focuses on the complexity of the federal executive branch. In addition to learning about bureaucratic politics, agency design, and agency conflict, students will also examine multiple executive branch crises in depth. Hurricane Katrina, the attack on 9/11, the Gulf Oil Spill, and the attacks in Benghazi are a few of the case studies students will analyze.

Wednesday evenings this semester students will get to interact with dynamic speakers and visit important historical landmarks across Washington. Scheduled events include a meeting with Admiral James Loy, former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; a meeting and Capital Tour with Representative Hanna; a Hamilton Media Panel with discussions from Hamilton Alums with media careers in D.C.; and visits to the Pentagon, the Newseum and the National Archives. This Wednesday, students got the chance to hear about lobbying and politics in Washington D.C. from Hamilton Alums Frank Vlossak IV and George Baker of Williams and Jensen. With all that D.C., and the Hamilton College D.C. Program has to offer, it will definitely be a busy and memorable semester!

Professor G. Johnson
Assistant Professor of Government
Fall 2013 Hamilton College Program in Washington, D.C. Director