“…the office of Senator Mendoza, how may I help you?”
That morning three months ago, I woke up at 8:03AM, the earliest I had woken up in probably a year. I barely rolled out of bed on time for my 12 PM lectures, it was a miracle I had gotten up in time for my first day of work. I didn’t know what to expect, so I took everything. I took my laptop, pens, pencils, a notebook, and a backpack. A. Backpack. I can only imagine what they thought when I walked into the office with a white leather backpack on me instead of a chic, professional handbag hanging from my shoulder.
I finally found my way through the third floor and approached the office’s door – only to realize that it was locked. I stood there, with my backpack in hand because God knows I wanted it to somehow morph into a purse. I waited with my back to the wall next to the main door. Then approached Yahaira, whose name I had only seen in emails and had not yet connected to the face. So, being the small young up-and-coming professional that I am, I re-introduced myself and I made my way to the desk she gestured towards.
“Do you know how to transfer files onto a USB drive?”
“Alright, then that’s your first job.”
So there I sat. Clicking away to transfer a set number of pictures to 58 USBs. Although that was the start, it was certainly not the reality for the rest of my time at Senator Mendoza’s office.
To be honest, when I first started off I thought this summer was going to feel like forever. I had never done a 9-5 shift and was definitely not eager to try it out the summer after my freshman year of college from which I barely made it out alive. But not one day felt like an extended hell. Every day was busy, packed, and productive. I really ended up falling in love with the staff. Each one of them has their own quirks and style and learning who they were both inside and outside the office was a blessing and a privilege. What I learned is that you do not have to be hellbent on working for politics to become a part of it. Definitely not everyone in that office started off as a political science major. Three worked in education, one in non-profits, one in insurance, one in real estate, and one in police work. Their dedication to the impact they had at the local level inspired me. Going to harvard made me think that change wasn’t worth it unless it was made at a global scale. When the only people you have to compare yourself to is Mark Zuckerberg who pursued a once-in-a-generation idea and Barack Obama who became a truly legendary president after Trump’s inauguration, you forget that the local level is just as important, if not more.
I never knew that tree cutting could cost a city $1 million.
I never knew that being part of a city council was a part time job or it could be unpaid at all.
I never knew that LA County was bigger than some states but it was being represented and handled by five supervisors.
I never knew what a chamber of commerce was.
I never knew people were so attached to their roots and their hometown.
I never knew you shouldn’t be on time, you should be embarrassingly early.
I never knew that not everyone was Type A (after a year in this environment, it became easy to forget).
I never knew you were supposed to email people in your office when they’re literally 10 feet away from you.
I never knew how to write a proposal for recycling (fingers crossed our landlord says yes).
I never knew cold calling people, strangers, would become second nature after a while.
I never knew I could multitask so well – between making calls and scrolling Instagram, I had a productive time inviting people to the Senator’s picnic.
I never knew how to become a US diplomat but after someone recommended that young career path, it’s become a possible future for me.
I never knew that living in an unincorporated area was so annoying.
I never knew that local government could affect our day-to-day living so much.
That last one is a slip through the cracks on my part. That should have been obvious but quite frankly the level of civic engagement I had in high school was minimal – as in, I did only what Mr. Jeans, my civics teacher, told me to. I didn’t think politics affected me but that was because I was thinking too macro. Politics definitely has a micro level of focus as well.
Looking back at this internship, I only have good things to say. Yes it was challenging and I never really stopped to breathe and scarfed down my lunches in about 20-30 minutes, but it was worth it because it showed me firsthand the importance of being involved in the condition and growth of our city, state, and nation. It doesn’t take a political master to be involved – this democratic republic was established in a way that we can learn and contribute. Mastery is preferred but not required. As long as we’re ready to be lifelong learners, it becomes a piece of cake.