By Camille Peeples
Camille Peeples is a Duke University senior majoring in public policy. During the spring of her junior year, she enrolled in the semester-long Duke in DC- Policy, Leadership and Innovation program. While in Washington, she interned with the Children’s Defense Fund. In this excerpt from her essay, she writes about the connections between her internship and life in the city.
‘Wednesdays in Washington’
In February, the intern coordinator and our supervisors first mentioned the possibility of an intern lobbying effort at Capitol Hill. I was a little intimidated by going to the Hill to lobby for an issue—after all, I am a college student, while these are the people who make our laws and run our country. However, the idea was exciting, and I decided to jump wholeheartedly at the opportunity.
We called the lobbying initiative Wednesdays in Washington, a reference to similar lobbying efforts during the Civil Rights Movement. We had three goals: to give each legislative office a copy of The State of America’s Children® 2014 report, to ask the elected official to support or co-sponsor the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, and to ask for votes for renewing funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. I helped prepare talking points and fact sheets for our day of lobbying on the Hill. We interns had 20 lobbying meetings with staff, and we got three co-sponsors for the Strong Start Act. We found that people were attentive and engaged with what we had to say, and that our presence and interest makes a difference.
Although I thought at first that my voice might not carry much weight, when we went with confidence to speak for those with no voice, we found the opposite. The experience has left me aware of my potential and empowered.
Living and Working in Washington, D.C.
Living in DC far exceeded my expectations. The city is big and loud, but it and the people in it are full of energy. I have never been in a place with so many highly qualified people in such a small geographic space. The people I met at restaurants and grocery stores are smart and passionate about their role in the bigger picture in this city of how government and the lives of many people interact. I loved meeting new people here because I knew I would learn something new and exciting from them.
I lived a few blocks north of the White House and saw the national Capitol every day when I got off the metro for work. The monuments and museums were blocks away, and I could find any type of food I wanted in the city limits. All of the neighborhoods have a unique character, and sometimes I liked to just stop at new metro stops to find a new part of town. There are statues of historic figures and memorials everywhere—this city itself is a memorial to our national history. Living here has given me a new appreciation for our seat of government. I enjoy being able to turn on the news and know that I have been to the Department or Agency on TV. As a lover of American history and an aspiring public servant, I could not pick a more inspirational place to live than DC.
Living and Working the CDF Mission
Washington is, however, a complex city with daily reminders of the work CDF exists to accomplish. Looking at DC as a city, and not as the seat of the federal government, reveals a place with diverse demographics, high poverty and high rates of child homelessness. Although this part of the city is largely hidden from tourists, the needs for economic mobility and equal access to opportunity are huge policy concerns.
CDF is committed to making sure every child gets “a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start.” By looking at children’s health and welfare, early education and juvenile justice, poverty and the federal budget priorities, CDF uses policy and advocacy to promote long-term benefits and opportunities for disadvantaged children. We provide them with a voice.
For me, being in DC gave me a perspective I did not have the opportunity to develop at home or at college in a comparable way. I had not been exposed to the juxtaposition of utter poverty and elaborate government buildings on the same blocks. And I had not been exposed to such a large community of advocates as I have seen in DC through a network of many organizations dedicated to similar causes. There is nothing quite like being confronted with the problem you’re fighting while having easy access to allies and potential solutions. DC is an inspiring and motivating setting for CDF’s mission.