Personal is Political
As the first child in Pennsylvania to be adopted by a same-sex couple, the idea that the personal is political has proved particularly relevant to the formation of my own political identity. During my internship at Pride at Work and, more generally throughout my stay in D.C., I’ve repeatedly found the chief catalyst behind almost all legislative action to be a personal event, relationship or moral standard of the movement’s leader and its members. If politics is the medium through which we exercise our own moral codes and personal beliefs, then in D.C., the personal is always political.
For the American government (and especially Congress), discourse often revolves around a “universal unifier.” What keeps that red-and-blue striped rainbow intact? Some would say money. Some would say power. I’d say it’s personal. Indeed, more often than not, it is the depth of one’s personal investment and dedication to political and social issues that effects the most progress, as well as the most substantive and meaningful types of change.
In our political system, no one’s ever born into power – we said ta-ta to that ideology along with afternoon tea centuries ago. We work for our positions by working for our personal passions. For Machon Kaplan participants especially, I think this recognition underlines one of our program’s most fundamental beliefs: More significant than the roles we satisfy in our respective organization is the cognitive behind our presence. Call me optimistic, but I credit perhaps one of the most compelling, and comforting, theories I have heard thus far to RAC Program Director Rabbi Michael Namath, who, at the beginning of our journey, told the Machon Kaplan interns that no one comes to Washington D.C. with hopes of negatively impacting the world. The idea that everyone begins their D.C. career from a seemingly shared vantage point – that of bettering the world by engaging in what we would call tikkun olam – provides an intersection not only between myself and other Machon Kaplan interns, regardless of the broad spectrum of issues our individual jobs address, but also between myself and my superior, regardless of our decidedly disparate day-to-day tasks (Obama has yet to add me to his speed dial).
The hierarchies that manifest themselves in the political jungle that is Washington D.C. can be overwhelming, to say the least. It’s understandable to walk past your boss’ office, see them rocking some expensive watch that’s designed for really important people, asking their assistant to reschedule a meeting with some really important person because they’re on the phone with some other really important person, and unequivocally fail to see any semblance of a connection between you and them.
It’s times like these that I find it useful to remind myself that despite the ostensibly polar universes inhabited by us and our superiors, we likely both premiered our D.C. political careers at the bottom of the food-chain, when we took on the glorious and, of course, financially secure role of an intern, motivated only by our unabashedly sincere certainty that our coffee and copy-making skills would change the world. That, and our mothers’ habitual check-up phone calls (if you thought yours was bad, imagine having two of them).
In sum, what continues to resonate with me from my intern experience so far is the overarching parallels between bosses and interns through a shared dynamic I initially assumed was impossible. Before my start at Pride at Work, I wholeheartedly believed in the workplace divide to disengage pedagogue and pupil, boss and intern. However, the combined experience of my internship at Pride at Work, as well as my participation in the RAC’s courses and lectures, has helped make apparent the very present realities that each of us share, despite stature or seniority. By virtue of simply being people in the same place with similar personal passions, we are able to unite through a shared intent to better the world.
Leah Dawson is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program. She is interning at Pride at Work, a constituency group of the AFL-CIO that works to mobilize mutual support between organized labor and the LGBT community.