Everything at DC Vote has been absolutely wonderful. DC Vote is an extremely dynamic and fast-paced organization that functions on a working-schedule, which allows for much-needed creativity and innovation in the fight for DC congressional representation. Structurally, there are four components to DC Vote, Communications Public Interest (which is my department), Public Affairs, Operations, and Development; but, we actually, much like our modern government, function as more of a marble-cake, in which every department has a functional working relationship with each other.The first task I was delegated was to work out the logistics of an event we called the Freedom Ride.
(Michael on left)
Because DC Vote is an educational, as well as an activist organization, on the injustice of DC's congressional representation status, we were planning to gather a large group of people, from every political affiliation, on a bus and travel to Tampa Florida, making stops along the way to democratic conventions, and to petition in aims of raising awareness of DC's representational status - 78% of Americans do not know that DC does not have a vote in Congress, and 80% of Americans affirm that they believe DC should have representation once they are informed of the situation.Unfortunately, given our non-profit status, funding is tight, and we were not appropriated enough money to actualize the Freedom Ride.
My second big task was to help DC Vote improve their communication skills. Because DC Vote is in constant communication with thousands of people through Facebook, Twitter, and E-mail, it is imperative that they communicate with these people in the most effective manner. For this reason, I drafted a communication optimization guide, based on research from leaders in the social media world, which is now being added to the DC Vote manual.
Throughout my entire time here, we have been advocating for and following the DC Budget Autonomy Bill (Bill S. 2345), which would have awarded the District financial sovereignty. Currently, DC pays one of the highest federal income taxes in the nation, but technically has no control over the money it raises. Each year, corresponding with the Congressional Budget Year (which is different than the state's and the District's budget year), DC has to propose a budget, which then goes through the House and the Senate. If the budget is not approved, the district could fiscally grind to a halt.Furthermore, the timing of the Congressional Budget Year negatively effects the funding of local public schools, which does nothing but harm the education of DC students. Bill S. 2345, DC’s Budget Autonomy Bill, seemed promising, but it was recently attacked by Senator Rand Paul, who planned to attach four amendments to it in the Senate mark-up: two-abortion, one gun, and one anti-union amendment. These amendments ultimately led to the bill's failure.
Currently, I am functioning as the office’s copy editor, and I am being trained to write DC Vote styled press releases. Through Eugene Kinlow, the Public Affairs Director, and Illir Zherka, the Executive Director, I am constantly being introduced to prominent DC political figures, such as Congress Women Eleanor Holmes Norton. I have been invited to and have attended many great events, such as the DC Democratic State Committee Kennedy King Gala, where I was privileged enough to hear the inspirational words of Andrew Jackson Young. But, the best part of my experience so far is that I have been doing all of this with people I genuinely enjoy working and spending time with.
This experience with DC Vote has already been more than I could have asked for. I’ve learned so much, not only about DC and DC politics, but firsthand knowledge about how the Federal Government actually functions, and also a lot about myself – my strengths, my weaknesses, and my talents and interests - many that I never knew I had.
The second part of my experience at DC Vote has been focused much more on internal functions and planning. At this point, my vetting period has been long over, and it has become very clear that my most valued strength to the organization is my intricate and strong attention to detail - this became apparent when Ilir Zherka assigned me my final project.
Ilir entrusted me with the task of developing a complex plan on how to improve the DC Vote website. After being with the organization for a little over a month at that point, I realized the great privilege of being delegated such a task, given that the DC Vote website is a staple piece of the organization's success. Not only does the website advocate for DC Vote's initiative of bringing about congressional representation for the District of Columbia, but it also helps to educate people on the issue, and moreover it serves to positively represent DC Vote as a brand. The DC Vote website is accessed by around 1 million viewers per year, and to be entrusted with such a task has been a great honor.
A large part of DC Vote's job as an organization is figuring out how to stay current and relevant. This is largely why the DC Vote website will be revamped, and why the second half of my internship experience has been much more internally focused. For the remainder of the year, we have mapped out a few initiatives that we hope to accomplish: we will be launching a bus add campaign that will raise awareness of DC's representational status to locals and tourists, which will not only advertise DC Vote as an organization, but also educate locals and visitors on the issues the District faces; we will be leading and participating in the Free DC's Budget March and Rally at the DNC; we will continue to garner, foster, and reinforce relationships with key local and national political and advocacy figures, as well as their friends and supporters; we will focus stronger efforts on reaching out to media outlets; and we have formulated many angles to hopefully and finally get a DC budget autonomy bill passed. We have spent a lot of time as a team figuring out not only what we want to focus on, but also how we plan to accomplish our tasks - our action plan came out of many internal conversations and meetings.
One great tool DC Vote utilizes is the use of staff retreats to positively influence the office culture. For the past several years, DC Vote has had staff retreats lead by Bob Hoffman, a well-known and highly accredited life coach, which has led to immense improvements in office relations. As a fellow, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the staff retreat, and the insight I gained from it was immensely enlightening not only in reference to learning how to operate efficiently and effectively within the office, but also throughout life in general. I have always been a skeptic of the benefits of life-coaches, psychologists, and professions of the sort, but after the session with Bob Hoffman, I realize I could definitely benefit and grow as a person from hearing and internalizing new information and advice from the vantage point of an accredited other - Ilir was wise to enlist the help of someone outside of the organization. I believe that we all learned a lot about each other and ourselves during the retreat, and that the retreat helped us to collectively and clearly formulate our goals for the next few months.
Now that I am entering my final week with DC Vote, I can't help but become a little nostalgic to the thought of having to say goodbye to the people I have grown so close working with. Each person is so special and unique in and out of the office, and brings a bright light to any room. Each person at DC Vote is a very different character in their own right, with extremely different backgrounds and stories that have shaped them into who they are today, but also managed to bring them together to fight for a common cause. Just as a testament to the cohesiveness of DC Vote, for so many type-A and strong-willed people to not just co-exist, but cherish each other’s company, just goes to show how mutually passionate and dedicated they are to attaining the DC Vote goal of congressional representation for the District of Columbia.
At this point in my internship - entering the last week - I am busy tying up loose ends to my DC Vote website project. It is great to know that I will have left something behind that will be of benefit to this organization, and that I was able to give something back to these people that I have learned so much from throughout my time spent with them. If there is one thing that I can say for certain, it is that I value every moment spent with DC Vote, and that I have taken away invaluable lessons that have already begun to shape my future for the better.