By Robin Chakrabarti
As my dad drove me to my inbound train stop near Boston, I wondered, when I wipe politicians’ asses, should I go side-to-side or in a circular motion? Of course we all know that the answer is the latter but that’s beside the point. After working as a research assistant studying congressional politics in the fall and taking a course on international politics and the perplexing mess of international political theory, I figured I should see some actual game time and experience politics firsthand. So, over winter term I found an internship back home in Boston at the Massachusetts State House working in the office of a state representative.
Now I was convinced that as an intern I would only serve to fulfill the quintessential office tasks of coffee-runner, footrest, and emotional punching bag, all the while composing myself like a coiled spring, ready to bounce back and complete whatever duties were thrown my way. It turns out, my boss, Scott, who was the Rep’s legislative aide, had a bit of a soft spot for interns. After being subjected to the typical back-break at internships when he was in college, he fortunately did not want to subject me to the same fate. From our casual phone conversation/interview, I could tell that Scott, a recent Oberlin grad, was professional yet easy going. He also appeared to be one of the few politics majors who actually ended up working directly in the field.
When I met him on the first day of work, I stood up with a chipper smile and slightly-too-high tie and goofily offered my hand. He accepted it and with a sheepish grin told me to sit down— it made him feel weird if he was sitting at his desk talking to me while I was standing.
Over the course of the internship, I would brave public transportation in the middle of a local flu epidemic to spend my day running around the State House attending House meetings which ranged in topic from decisions on the outcomes of bills to amending rules for conducting sessions. I also sat in on caucuses and hearings, covering elder care, financial aid at college, supporting economic stability for low-income families, among others areas. But I was always surrounded with the excitement of a sense of dynamicity around the workplace.
While most of my work revolved around organizational work such as filing all of the constituent emails, writing form letters, and making photocopies, I also had a chance to do research for constituent cases and handle and organize the legislation we were filing, which included bills covering major social issues, including agriculture, economic self-sufficiency, health care, social rights, and education.
The office door was frequently being flung open by a legislator, constituent, or organization canvassing for a bill on which they wanted co-sponsorship. We shared the office with another state representative and her legislative aide, as well as a secretary. While most of my interactions at the internship were with the young legislative aides, Scott and Cat, and the very motherly-secretary, Joanne, I also got some face-to-face time with the Rep, who was friendly and easygoing when she wasn’t in a meeting. The office environment in January was certainly not the high-stakes rush of election season, but it was busy enough. When we weren’t working around deadlines for bill co-sponsorships or making calls to organizations for constituent cases, we spent our time hanging out around the office. We debated generational differences between 80’s kids and 90’s kids and even 2000’s kids. We watched rap videos, joked about Oberlin traditions, and even (gasp!) took selfies with other legislative aides (and even a Representative) in the House chamber. But the environment around the office was so comfortable that I often forgot I was surrounded by political frenzy until I would run downstairs and see a press crew surrounding the Governor when he was delivering an address.
Although it felt all too brief, my time at the State House was certainly informative. The experience dispelled my image of politicians as suit-and-tie-wearing hand-shakers and baby-kissers. They seem to genuinely care about their constituents, at least the Rep I worked for seemed so, based on her many meetings, phone conversations, and district visits. Legislators spend their days in meetings, signing bills, making calls, organizing and attending hearings on their constituents’ behalf. But they’re human too—they make bad jokes, take selfies, and swear at their cell-phone providers. Sure, some legislators probably ran for office out of self-glory or in the name of trying to bring their extreme agenda to fruition at the state-level. But cut them some slack—they’re just usually trying to do their job, making the people they represent happy.