My West Wing Moment
Tuesday night, I had what I like to call a “West Wing moment.” My parents got me hooked on Aaron Sorkin’s iconic TV series (cast pictured below) at the beginning of last summer, and ever since I’ve helplessly seen Washington politics as little more than a real-life iteration of that drama series. West Wing moments, transcend the political sphere. They capture the hopes and desires, the heart and soul, and always the idiosyncrasies of a very real person trying his or her darndest to make a difference in the lives of others.
On Tuesday, I found my West Wing character in Ellen Teller, the Director of Government Affairs for the Food Research Action Center, or FRAC. She had originally planned to speak to the Machon Kaplan participants about how to be a more effective intern; however, chance dictated that right as our class was about to start, the Senate was voting on the Gillibrand Amendment to the Farm Bill, which would have restored $4.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often called food stamps. Our eyes were all glued to C-SPAN as we watched senators meander to the front of the room to cast their votes. We witnessed Ms. Teller jump with excitement when an undecided senator voted “yea,” and we saw her face fall when C-SPAN announced an unexpected “nay,” all while getting a running commentary of which senator voted which way and why from Ms. Teller.
When the dust cleared and the Gillibrand Amendment was defeated 2-to-1, Ms. Teller delved right into her original lesson plan. Burned into my mind, though, was the image of Ms. Teller right after finding out the results of the vote, the image of a woman who’s spent half of her life fighting to eradicate hunger, but despite her best efforts has to live with the reality that 500,000 Americans trying to get by on food stamps will now have at least $90 less to eat with each month. Yet simultaneously, I saw a woman who was already setting her nose to the grindstone to fight further cuts and stand up for those at risk of going hungry, because that’s just what you do. And 20 years down the road, I hope someone has that same image of me. I want to be another Ellen Teller, another person motivated by the promise of making a difference for others, always trying and sometimes succeeding.
See, the great thing about these West Wing moments is that they inspire me to get involved—to become a part of a larger story that’s about more than myself. These moments remind me why I’m here this summer, delivering packets and creating Google Documents, working to become another cog in the everlasting saga of those who try to make the world a better place.
Jonathan Edelman is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program. He is interning at United to End Genocide.
Photo courtesy of Emory Magazine.