Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Capitol Hell

“I don’t want to work on the Hill.”
“But you would love it!” my political friend always exclaims when I utter such slander.
I firmly shake my head. “I don’t do bureaucracy.”
For years I have known I wanted to go into international advocacy. Its the Mount Everest of political careers- there may be many paths to the top, but some of them will kill you. Quite literally. Regardless, there are two common themes to the climb: field experience (so you know what you're talking about) and Hill experience (so you know who you're talking to). The Hill makes me think of tedious work, little pay, and power-hungry creeps lurking the hallways into the wee hours of the morning in hopes of a promotion. Of course there are a select group of good-hearted souls that believe in what they are doing and who they are working for. I'm fortunate enough to know a few of these rare creatures, but I fear they are greatly outnumbered by their slimy counterparts. I encountered one such slime ball a few weeks ago.
We met a few months ago when I was lobbying his Senator for full funding of the international affairs budget (which I got- point 1 for moi). He seemed like a very nice person and expressed an interest in my work. After a few discussions over coffee, I had no doubt in my mind that this guy was a legitimately nice person. It started out as many networking meetings do- drinks at the Union Pub with all the suits. We were discussion a job opening when the tone of the conversation suddenly changed. He made a strange but vague comment ("You're new here- I have to show you how it works in this town") which I quickly tried to dismiss as A. not as terrible as it sounded or B. a very bad joke. But then there was a deliberately inappropriate invasion of my personal space, misplaced hands, and another sleazy comment ("If I'm going to help you, you're going to have to pay the consequences") and there was no doubt what I was dealing with. I abruptly picked up my bag and walked out, regretting moments later that I didn't punch this guy in the face. My shock quickly turned to anger- HOW DARE HE?! I felt naive and stupid and violated. It was gross. So gross.
Of course I realize this creep isn't necessarily representative of the whole, but it does say something about one aspect of the culture. The Hill is a WASPy men's club, fraught with corruption and people with an overinflated sense of self-importance. They are drunk on power- literally and figuratively- and at the moment I'd rather die than be apart of it. Its a conflict for me that begs the question- are we more effective flatly rejecting the system we don't like by fighting from the outside or fighting from within, even if it means compromise? I've always said I wanted to scare the hell out of Congress, not work for Congress. I prefer the burden of truth to the burden of a fickle electorate.
Its hard to know the best way to be the change, the best way to make a difference. For me the jury's still out.