This past Spring, I worked as a District Intern for my Congressman. Most of the job was easy desk work, fielding calls and directing constituents to my higher ups, organizing mail, writing up drafts, but every once in a while something interesting would come my way, and if my bosses were swamped with work, or wanted me to learn a bit, they would let me try something new.
One of those times came about a month and half into my internship. I was still very new to the job, slightly nervous on the phone, and a bit uncomfortable talking to public figures. It was a normal day, where I was mostly working on research for an upcoming tour that I would be doing with the Congressman, when the phone rang. My boss, the district representative, was in her office in a meeting with either a constituent, coworker, or some political official, I didn’t know for certain, but I knew that she wasn’t to be disturbed.
I answered the phone hesitantly, still not fully comfortable with being on the phone with strangers. I thought initially that it was going to be another simple, “fill out this form on our website, and we will be in touch” call, where I could pass her issue off to a more experienced caseworker. However, it turned out to not be that simple. She was an elderly woman, whose veteran husband had recently passed away. He was a prisoner of war back in the Second World War, held by the Germans, and as she said, was paid money by the German government as reparations for his suffering. However, when we checked the database of veterans, and checked for his service, he never came up. After speaking to her, I was tasked with finding this man’s records, and if there even was a program where Germany gave money to American prisoners of war.
First, I researched all the different reparations that Germany paid from World War Two, and if any lined up with the woman’s story. Apparently, they were paid almost $2,500 each month, increased every few years according to inflation, which helped them greatly due to being retired. Despite all my searching online, nothing came up. Then I had an idea, to call the German consulate themselves, and try and see if I could find the program, and potentially the widow’s husband’s file from the people who sent them the money.
When I called the consulate, they said that there were a few programs for reparations, but none for American soldiers, which made me realize, the woman never actually said her husband was American. I called her back, and found out that her husband was Lithuanian, and was drafted by the Soviet Union to fight in World War Two, until he was captured, and eventually freed by America. I then called the consulate back, and after we figured out the identity of the man, we were able to begin reinstating the payments.
When I called the woman back, told her that we found her husband’s record, and that they would be beginning the payments again, she almost cried. Although there would be many times that I would help people in that office, this one stands out to me as the first time that I worked on a project on my own, and it showed me that politics wasn’t just about scheming, votes, or otherwise, but was also about helping, and making meaningful change in regular people’s lives.
While reading your blog post I immediately noticed just how much of a great storyteller you are and admit that I am a little envious. Your writing captured me from the very first paragraph and I felt like I too was experiencing a day as a district intern working for my local congress representative. It’s admirable the work you put into aiding the elderly woman who called in and can’t imagine how rewarding felt once you were able to help her.
I was so intrigued that you corresponded and worked with German Consulate to solve your constituent’s problem and can’t help but wonder how commonplace that practice is amongst congressional staff. One thing that was clear was that working in a congressional office requires a wide range of skills. Your ability to problem-solve on-the-fly, independently to accomplish your goal in order to get things done is exceptionally praiseworthy.
I hold a similar outlook to what you expressed in your concluding statement. I also believe the ‘world of politics’ is not just about obtaining political power and making deals to maintain this power but also, and far more importantly, about genuinely going out of your way to help the people you were voted into office to represent.