2017 PFIG Recipient Mariam Eatedali
Journal Entry #1
From the age of 16, I found myself devoted to public service - it started at the grassroots level, before I could even vote, and followed me to Capitol Hill in the offices of Congressman John D. Dingell, and his successor, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. After this past year’s election, I decided to join a bipartisan cause. This summer, I am interning with the United States Association of Former Members of Congress. A nonprofit made up of Members who have since left office, FMC works domestically and internationally to educate and facilitate progress on the Hill.
FMC has a long history of uniting under its “Congressional Family” – current Members, former Members, congressional staff in DC, District Directors, think tanks and academia. Within my first week, I have immediately been thrown into the mix; the office dynamic is fast paced and inclusive. A conversation with our CEO as an intern is common- the atmosphere is one of a team, constantly educating each other on an event they have put together, or an idea they have been exposed to. My domestic programming suggestions are heard, and as such, I am put in charge of implementing many of them to come.
My place at FMC has me working with the Director of Domestic Programs, Sharon Witiw - together we have daily strategy meetings, discussing my current task of planning the next District Director tour (this time to Boston, sending senior level staffers from Capitol Hill to interact and learn from Members of Congress and local entrepreneurs or community shakers, about topics relevant to their constituency and work). In regards to civic outreach, I will help Ms. Witiw run the Congress to Campus program (where former Members visit college campuses around the country, and world). We also touch upon ongoing research I will be conducting this summer - I am in direct contact with former and current Members, striving to bring bipartisan efforts through a new platform.
My goal is to take the past and present connections I have made, and with the resources given to me at FMC, plant a civically focused seed before my return to Charlottesville. While a few of the projects I have started cannot be spoken of in detail, my time at FMC will take my four years of experience in the political realm, and allow me to make a tangible change towards the severe lack of civic engagement and legislative reform (an initiative myself and my colleagues began developing at the National Campaign Conference at Harvard University this past February). I want to thank the Parents Committee Internship Grant and the UVA Career Center for making this opportunity possible!
Journal Entry #2
In the month and a half that I have spent at the USAFMC thus far, my work has transitioned from suggestion to reality - a wonderful part of working at FMC is the ability to stand up from the intern’s desk, walk over to my boss’ door and throw around an idea that seemed plausible to me on my metro ride to work that day. Granted, much like life, not all those ideas happen successfully; in taking charge of my bipartisanship project, specifically focused on currently under wraps work in Congress, the answer of “no” was expected. And some mornings, almost preferred. The more it seemed improbable to influence a working outcome as an intern, the more my office gave me free reign to, at the very least, try.
My past experiences on the Hill were educational in policy issues and eye-opening as a professional setting; however, much of your everyday tasks as an intern on the Hill revolve around maintaining a status quo. And as Politics major who greatly respects the government I study daily, FMC allowed me the chance to better it rather than play into pattern. A new project was simply having my fellow interns & I organize events for Former Members and foreign political representatives - from Japan to Germany, we were spending hours better understanding cultures and government bodies we would otherwise be unfamiliar with. Each event would put interns front and center - write ups to better understand how the Japanese Diet Members, or a professor of Japanese politics, view their U.S. relations became a major point of conversation. FMC allowed me my bipartisan project, a hand of responsibility while also embracing international perspectives towards our nation.
In terms of public service, I would have always assumed that your actions were to be appreciated, though should never stand out - it was a service, not change. And yet, my time at FMC so far displays a non-profit group oriented towards constantly improving what public service can be. Each member of my office is a public servant - their relationships with Former and current Members of all parties that transferred over to interns became the norm. Public service, as an intern to FMC, could be molded to what you want to give to the public. At the halfway point, I have realized that despite being told that our workload was far more than a typical interns, what was expected of us stemmed from the skill we were respected for. The interns of FMC are of a generation that were not planning an event, we were a part of these events- I did not just ask Members for their support, I sat in their offices and asked for their time as a public servant. Public service, seemingly frustrating in the status quo, is no longer closed off to change from a younger voice, thanks to groups like FMC.
Journal Entry #3
To be a public servant is a scary notion - it is often the most respected tasks that no one seems to want to understand, or do for that matter. Servicing the public is not just a career, it is a choice - it is frustratingly full of failures, as my summer has displayed. At times, it can feel as though our efforts of bipartisanship at FMC would never follow through onto the floor of the House or Senate.
And yet, every minute spent at FMC will make me leaving an emotional exit. Each and every member of that office relieved me of creeping pessimism. When I, an intern, felt as though my pet project was never going to happen, it was my boss who believed otherwise. When, on my own time, I met with Representative Joe Kennedy III to discuss bipartisan efforts in Congress, I never expected my words to lead to action (FMC is continuing this project with me as I begin my 4th year at UVA). Public service is meant to be selfish as well as selfish - I want something, and that is the betterment of the society my fellow public is a part of. And to see tangible evidence of that in a setting such as FMC is a rarity - it was my former professor at UVA, Former Congressman Gary Franks, who introduced me to the group. Bipartisanship was laughable when I first considered my time at FMC - was it even possible? I left overcoming my own largest doubts about the field I most respected.
Without a doubt, my experience at FMC will directly affect my coming career. The members of the office continue to support my project efforts, open to criticism and further support. In a way, my largest milestone was differing between an internship and a notch in the tree of life - my time with FMC was a significant part of life, a notch that would never go away, one I would look back to as I grow. My aim remains law school, and from there, constitutional law and the promise of using my understanding of foreign cultures (my home in the U.S., the Iranian heritage of my parents, the cultures I learned from political leaders of other nations this very summer). And while I wish I could delve deeper into the projects I spent 3 months on, and continue to work with, I can say the projects that leave the largest impression were not completed 9-5. The project of public service itself is a lifetime long, and different for each person I met in my office - and as I prepare to graduate, I continue that project. I will continue what this wonderful opportunity has given - a chance to serve without the stresses of life that take away from public service.
My advice remains this: it is never too late to do something, to do anything. Not always is the most obvious path to serving the right path, and not everyone is willing to make way for a new generataion. The UVA students today, and of the future, are examples of those who can redefine public service with their personal experiences of immigration, of hardship and of empathy. I am so honored I had that opportunity - it will remain with me throughout my last year on Grounds, my time at the Center for Politics and my future endeavors.