“I’m a taxpayer and I’m paying your salary!” this statement was yelled over the phone by one very angry woman from Texas. The fact that I was actually an unpaid intern made this statement hilarious to me. I had to stifle the urge to giggle and politely let her know I hoped she had a wonderful day. As I lowered the phone to the receiver I could still clearly hear her yelling and cursing angrily. This type of interaction was an all too common occurrence in the Congressional office I interned in as well as in the offices of many of my fellow Hill interns. Conversations like this happened at least once daily and on days the Congressman was on C-Span or in the news the phone would ring incessantly and I would pick it up gingerly hoping it was not a furious Texan. Sometimes I wondered if it was something in my voice that angered the constituents. I always seemed to get the angriest and most aggressive callers. Answering the phone to speak to constituents was one of my many duties as an intern. I also booked tours for constituents to view the Capitol building, White House, Library of Congress and many other DC sites. Occasionally I was called upon to research legislation and help prepare binders of information. I also handled mail and sorted faxes and messages that needed to be answered. Most days passed by in a busy blur of visitors to the office who came to lobby for causes, meet with the staffers, or visit our nation’s capitol. The phone was constantly ringing and the buzzes and lights that I soon began to ignore signaled a busy day for the House of Representatives. The one constant was C-Span constantly on, sometimes muted, but always visible, on the TVs throughout the office. At one point in the summer the remote was lost in the shuffle and we were all at a loss for a few days without C-Span’s constant coverage. A typical day in the office left me exhausted but usually with quite a few interesting stories I could not wait to share with my roommates.
As a student who encourages others to participate and be politically engaged and informed this was an interesting look at how this engagement translates into action. On the one hand these constituents were engaging with their representative. However, many were simply calling to yell and rant and had little faith in our office to solve what they saw as major problems in our country. Others were respectful but had clear ideas they wanted to get across to me. I liked these callers better. I often did not agree with them either but I was able to listen, understand and sympathize. The point of this is not to say don’t call your congressperson. By all means call. However, if you want to be heard and listened to yelling at the intern on the other end is probably not in your best interests. Instead go out to the polls, register voters, visit our office and read up on legislation. You don’t have to agree with your representative on every issue but you can advocate for yourself and your community passionately without using slurs, derogatory language, and attacking those who try to help you make your voice heard.
-Sophia Rossell (the Intern) (graduating in May if you need someone to answer your phones call me)