Katja Kleine is an Economics major from Cary, NC. She used her Johnson Opportunity Grant to work at RESULTS in Washington, DC.
Washington, DC has an energy like no other city I have ever been to. There is something very powerful about stumbling upon monuments or historic landmarks on your way to the grocery store, or passing by your Representative as you leave a meeting. Decisions that affect Americans and people across the entire country happen here quite frequently.
But it is definitely not perfect. In our nation's Capital, almost 30% of children are in poverty and 12.6% of all DC residents are food insecure. On my way to work each day, I pass homeless Americans and high profile executives; the juxtaposition between wealth and poverty is very clear in this city. That is why I have found my summer experience to be particularly meaningful and relevant. I worked for RESULTS, a grassroots advocacy organization that focuses on alleviating hunger and poverty in the United States and abroad. I worked on the domestic side, focusing on hunger and nutrition policy, tax credits, and early childhood education and care.
I have had the luxury of getting to understand the full legislative process this summer. I have attended Congressional hearings and lectures at many different think tanks to learn where ideas come from, and how many different people there are in the world trying to find public and private solutions to our world's problems. I have spent time meeting with members of Congress and learning the challenges and complicated decisions that they have to make. And I have met hundreds of RESULTS volunteers from across the country that maintain relationships with their members of Congress and are consistently civically engaged. Seeing all these working parts move together helped me to understand both the complexity and power of Congress in a new way.
Each day, I help the domestic staff draft materials for our volunteers and follow relevant policies. This ranged from a 25 page full legislative handbook to simple article summaries. Most of my work was preparation from our International Conference in late July. This conference brought 500 people from across the world to Washington, DC. I had the opportunity to organize sessions, help with speaker preparation, and lead certain plenaries. What I loved most about the conference was the opportunity to see so many individuals interacting with their members of Congress. Lobbying has gotten a nasty reputation. Even when I hear the word, I picture a highly paid employee for a massive company. But our advocates are everyday Americans who care about poverty and inequality. They all have other jobs and commitments, but understand that for the American system to work how it should, they need to communicate with Congress.
My experience this summer has helped me further evaluate my own civic engagement. I often forget that I can do more than just vote: I can send personal e-mails, call, and even meet face-to-face with my members of Congress so that they know what I think their community needs. Congress approval rates are at an all time low and polarization is at an all time high; I think that engaging in conversation with your member of Congress as a constituent is the best way to cross ideological lines and actually get things done. This summer has been one of those unique experiences that change your perspective and your actions. I am so thankful to have learned more about our government and the power that we have as every day citizens to influence it.