The Hill is intimidating. It feels inaccessible, mysterious and I often forget that the politicians who work there answer to the people. While that sometimes doesn’t feel to be the case, the foundation is important because it means that the physical buildings on the Hill are open to everyone. You can march straight up to your Congressperson’s door and opine about their voting record. And much to my surprise, confirmation hearings for cabinet nominees are open to the public as well. As citizens, we have a right to attend the hearings for people who will shape education, healthcare, and housing policy.
Being on the Hill also gave me a glance into the more trivial details about the inner workings of Congress, like the fact that Members keep food in their offices, available to constituents and representative of their district or state. For example, a representative from Florida keeps the fridge stocked with orange juice, while a representative from Georgia has Georgia peanuts on hand. And the House offices are a little dinky, especially compared to the Senate offices. While the Senate gets marble hallways and soaring ceilings, the House buildings can sometimes look a little rundown. However, the House cafeteria wins in terms of the most affordable food (which sort of explains how staffers can make a government salary work in D.C.), whereas the Senate cafeterias are serving overpriced mahi mahi.
The rising cost of living in D.C. makes it difficult to survive while working on the Hill. Even representatives struggle, and 98 sleep on cots in their offices. Politicians are often criticized, and sometimes rightfully so, but there are people who dedicate their lives to public service, sleeping on a cot instead of at home in order to take their shot at shaping the country. And it is not just members of Congress who dedicate a large part of their life; the thousands of congressional staffers who you never see are integral to shaping and implementing policy.
Although I only spent two weeks on the Hill, I picked up the necessity, and difficulty, of staying informed. I had considered myself well versed in politics, but my boss would spew acronyms, names, and legislative rules that I had never even heard of when explaining the most recent Hill news. In order to feel like you have a voice in democracy, you have to understand the process of democracy itself in this country. Yet not everyone has the privilege of being on the Hill or even coming to D.C., which makes the work of nonpartisan, civic education all the more important so people understand who they are supporting and what they themselves can do to shape the country they want to see.
While it’s silly to talk about the food differences between House and Senate cafeterias, or the annoyingly long walk between the office buildings, simply knowing more about what it is like to work on the Hill has influenced my view of my own politicians, and my role in holding them accountable. The fact that we know so little about the Hill is indicative of a greater passivity towards politics. As POPVOX knows well, democracy works best when citizens are informed and engaged, and simply knowing more about the Hill encourages greater political interest.