As we entered week two, most of us had properly settled into our respective internships. My internship at Congressman Ami Bera’s office dealt with interesting events this week, as House Democrats launched a 24-hour sit-in on the House floor to demand votes on gun violence. Midway through the week, I ventured to the House Gallery at 11PM to witness the sit-in and was struck by the fortitude of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis. Even as House Republicans jeered and used parliamentary tricks to try to crush the sit-in, House Dems stood their ground. The sit-in participants’ tenacity and determination to overcome legislative gridlock and force votes on bipartisan bills caused me to reflect on the importance of public service in the face of overwhelming adversity.
This week’s WLP events began on Tuesday, when we met Sonal Shah, the Executive Director of the Georgetown Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. Ms. Shah spoke about her experiences in both the public sector (in the Clinton administration’s Treasury Department) and the private sector (at Goldman Sachs and Google’s philanthropy division). Ms. Shah urged us to approach problem-solving from a human-centered perspective and focus on strengthening the interactions between the public and private sectors. She also offered some interesting analysis on international development and the rise of India as an emerging global power, noting that the “brain drain” witnessed in India 20 years ago has started to reverse and that international institutions like the IMF and World Bank should focus their development projects on strengthening and empowering the Global South, rather than imposing harsh austerity. Ms. Shah spoke in-depth on her experiences as an Indian-American woman, reflecting on the difficulties of reaching the highest echelons of leadership as a woman and urging us to change and challenge sexist norms in our cultural communities. On South Asian identity, Ms. Shah opined that the most important step for building South Asian-American political power was concentrating on local politics and community organizing, imploring us to go door-to-door, canvass our communities, and increase South Asian voter participation.
Wednesday’s event built on these themes of South Asian identity when we attended a welcome party for South Asian American interns hosted by KPMG lobbyist Priya Dayananda and Senior Adviser at Commerce’s International Trade Administration Vinay Singh. The welcome party gave us the unique opportunity to meet and interact with successful South Asian Americans in politics and government, from lobbyists to lawyers to civil servants. Perhaps the most inspiring story of public service came from Ravi Chaudhary, Executive Director for Regions and Center Operations at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who spoke extensively of his 21 years of service in the Air Force and subsequent civil service. While representation had oft seemed like an unimportant concept to me, seeing so many prominent leaders in politics, law, and policy who looked like me and shared my cultural background gave me new perspective on the importance and value of South Asian identity.
The week came to a close with the unexpected spectacle of the annual Congressional baseball game, where sitting Republican and Democratic Representatives and Senators played America’s favorite pastime with all proceeds going to charity. As I watched Rand Paul steal third base and Chris Murphy score a home run, I thought back to how much I had seen and done in only two weeks in DC. Nisha, Harin, and all the WLP volunteers have blown me away with the quality and depth of the events so far, and I eagerly look forward to the rest of the summer.
Office of Congressman Ami Bera (D – CA-07)
University of California – Berkeley