April 8th, 2019 | “That’s so DC,” we often say.
Yes, this is a thing. During our orientation for the program, we were told we would be caught up in moments that could only happen in DC, moments that were—as one speaker told us—"so DC.” “So DC” has become a bit of a catchphrase in the program, used both to express amazement at the experiences we were having and to poke fun at ourselves.
But seriously, there are a lot of moments that have been “so DC” recently. The most unreal one happened this week.
Our class took a trip to the Supreme Court (about half the class was late because the streets were shut down for Trump’s motorcade), and we received a tour, walked around a little, and were taken into an austere meeting room that looked straight out of Versailles. We were supposed to talk to some of Justice Stephen Breyer’s law clerks to hear more about their job and the Supreme Court. We were waiting for a while, and then two stylish young men came in trailing after an adorable elderly man.
“Oh, Justice Stephen Breyer! Hello!,” exclaimed our professor. Yup. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer heard from his clerks that we were at the Supreme Court, and he felt like talking to us, so he did. Justice Breyer was inspiring; he radiated grandfatherly warmth and wisdom (I’m sure in an attempt to move us to practice law in the public sphere), and gave us a few nuggets of wisdom that I will share with you all now:
- When stating their positions on cases in conference, the Justices of the Supreme Court do not allow anyone to speak twice until everyone has spoken once. “An excellent rule,” he told us.
- He also told us that being open-minded does not mean having no opinion, it just means you’re willing to change it when presented with new information or arguments.
I’m pretty sure I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life. Something my professor said is that students in the past have told him is “Big deal, I’ve met other famous people.” To which he responds, “Yes, but when is the last time you met someone who decides your rights?”
Another “so DC” moment occurred the next day. We had been talking in class about the midterms and we used Congresswoman Lauren Underwood’s district as a case study and then I saw her in the hallway at work! In what other city do you get to run into the incredible people you study in class?
Additionally, this weekend, I had one of my favorite days of the whole semester. We went to the mall for the Kite Festival and Cherry Blossom Festival. Afterwards, we all hung out, took photos, laid in the grass, and it was a great time. My roommate and I got Indian Food afterwards in Woodley Park, and it was warm enough to eat outside. Watching all the people pass by with smiles on their faces, my heart felt full.
As always, don’t forget to follow me on social media, @thatburnstein on Twitter and Instagram.
March 25th, 2019 | Hello again true believers! Welcome back to my blog.
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind; between midterms, a friend visiting for spring break, trying to figure out what I’m going to do over the summer, and getting in all the networking I can, things have been ridiculous.
So yeah, midterms happened. They were pretty okay. Thank you, next.
Spring break happened, and that was great! My best friend and freshman-year roommate came up to visit me here in DC, and it was super fun. We did all our usual activities, like brunch, thrifting, going to the club, taking artsy pics in front of murals, and scoping out new skincare routines.
Spring break was also a week of discovery. I finally got a chance to explore so many places I had been meaning to check out. I visited a wonderful little place called Politics & Prose, which is only a 15-minute walk from AU’s Metro stop. They had every political book imaginable and a killer coffee shop with phenomenal bagels, apple cider, artsy toasts, and fancy coffee drinks, but it didn’t have that “this is for rich people who own five pairs of air pods” kind of vibes like some of the places in DC; it was a little more folky and rustic. We also got the chance to explore Georgetown, which literally looks like a Pixar movie in the best possible way. Shops are tiny two-story brick buildings in rows painted in bright primary colors. Georgetown is definitely on the more expensive side, but that bright paint can’t pay for itself.
I’ve also been in the process of trying to figure out what I’m going to do over the summer, which is hard! I’ve been trying to get coffee with as many people who can help me figure out my life as humanly possible and Whitman alums are especially helpful. Pro-tip: your college’s alums are in a perpetual state of missing and romanticizing their college years (you will be too one day!), so they will want to take any little taste of what it’s like to be at that point in life. Plus, they’re probably really nice and want to help you anyways! Same with people you might work with: everyone wants a good excuse to not do work for 30 minutes and help someone out.
So yes, networking IS a real thing. I know, I was skeptical too. But it turns out, your network is just people who are willing to help you out professionally. But how do you make a network? Did you work somewhere with interesting people who generally liked you? Boom. Network. Do you have classmates who have graduated and are doing interesting things in an industry you want to work in? Boom, another network. And then, people in your network will give you more people to contact and boom…more network. Truly wild.
Well, that’s all for this week. As always, feel free to follow me on all social media at @thatburnstein and find me on Linkedin!
March 13th, 2019 | Hey everyone! Welcome back to another blog with Burnstein!
I feel like I’m finally starting to gain a more complete understanding about how this whole “DC thing” works. Through my classes, internship, and free time, I really feel like I’m beginning to see how everything sort of fits together.
One thing I have never understood is how think tanks fit into this whole DC experience. While I have visited many think tanks at this point for class, it wasn’t until we met with the communications director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), one of the world’s premier defense and foreign policy think tanks, that I finally began to understand how information gets disseminated in DC. CSIS’s Communications Director walked us through how their research goes from dense, scholarly workmanship, to the front pages of the New York Times. From there, it becomes relevant information to the current administration and Capitol Hill.
Things on Capitol Hill are just about as busy and action-packed as ever. With the Cohen hearings, the Yemen resolution, the emergency declaration, the For the People Act (H.R. 1, basically a new voting rights act), and a bipartisan background checks bill, the news just does not stop coming. I’ve never been more plugged in. Our class got the chance to meet with someone at the center of all of this, Congressman Jamie Raskin, who sits on the Oversight and Judicial Committees. It was incredible to talk to someone who is at the center of what will surely be events for the history books.
As always, I’m still finding time for fun. It was my birthday on February 22nd and we all explored Adams Morgan! I’m in love with this neighborhood. DC, though wonderful, can be a little uptight sometimes, but Adams Morgan is a funky, weird place with a bit more of an “indie” sensibility. There’s a lot of live music at night, and a few key snacks: Adams Morgan is infamous for its “jumbo slice,” a single slice of pizza that’s about the size of a whole pizza. Adams Morgan also has Insomnia Cookies, a late night cookie place that serves warm, gooey creative cookies of all kinds.
I’m still slowly but steadily making my way through all of the museums. This weekend I checked out the east wing of the National Gallery, which has all the modern art. I saw everything from Picasso to Kandinsky. The African American History Museum is definitely my favorite museum in DC so far, but the National Gallery is probably second. Each wing is the perfect size for one day, and I’m a total art nerd.
Well, until next time folks. Next week is spring break, so it should be fun! As always, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and IG as @thatburnstein.
February 25, 2019 | Hey there! Welcome back for another firsthand account of the Washington Semester Program with a card-carrying DC insider (they really do give you a card)! Even though it’s only been a couple weeks since my last entry, and so much has happened since then.
I guess I’ll begin with the start of my average day. Something our Political Communications professor told us to do was subscribe to the Politico Playbook, a newsletter delivered everyday to your inbox at an ungodly hour of the morning (I feel kind of sorry for its authors, when do they get to sleep?). It’s a massive email that anyone can subscribe to that summarizes all the big news stories coming out that day so that you know what everyone will be talking about and it tells you what to watch out for in the days ahead. The Playbook has definitely helped to get me into the DC-rhythm; I’ve never consumed so much news in my life. There is such a nice pace to the day in DC that I have really found myself thriving on, and it’s not often that I get bored in Washington.
From there, I go to work, which has presented me with so many incredible opportunities, some of which include going to briefings and hearings. I even got into the House Judiciary Committee’s oversight hearing on Acting Attorney General Matthew Whittaker, and a tiny, out-of-focus sliver of my face ended up on the New York Times’ website! Is this my peak?
After work, I have my evenings free. Even though I grew up a few miles away from Seattle, taking advantage of a city’s nightlife without slogging through an hour-long jam on the 520 bridge is a new experience for me. Everything I want to do is only a few bus or metro stops away from AU or work.
A few weeks ago, I went to a live show of Lovett or Leave It, a podcast comedy/variety show hosted by Obama administration-alum Jon Lovett, who, as far as I’m concerned, is the second coming of Jon Stewart, and he had Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on as a guest! I also attended a prom-themed Valentine’s Day dance at the National Cathedral last week. I never thought I would ever find myself dancing to “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas in the same space that Presidents Obama and Bush honored Senator John McCain at his funeral, and yet, there I was.
Our class speakers and site visits have been incredible as always. My favorite visitor so far has been Hillary Clinton’s speechwriter, who told us about what it was like to be a speechwriter and told us so many incredible stories about her time working with Hillary. We also attended a live taping of Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, and he stuck around afterwards to take questions from us. He was really approachable, casual, and whip-smart.
On a more serious note, we also visited one of the largest homeless shelters in the country. Homelessness is a big problem in DC, and it’s an issue few people working in politics in the city really know or think about. This problem is certainly a darker side of the city, and rich neighborhoods like the one AU is located in keep people isolated from the true scale of the crisis. Meanwhile younger millennials move into neighborhoods once considered to be “dangerous,” which drives up the cost of living to the point where people who have lived in that area can no longer afford to live there anymore, forcing them to abandon the neighborhood or live on the street. I’m glad, however, that the program was willing to expose that side of the city to us, because I believe it’s important to be aware of the socio-political challenges facing your community, especially if talking about those challenges makes you uncomfortable.
February 13th, 2019 | Hey everyone! My name is Andy Burnstein, I’m a junior history major from Whitman College, originally from the Seattle area. For those of you who don’t know, Whitman College is a small liberal arts school in Walla Walla, Washington, which is in the southeast corner of my beloved Evergreen State. Washington, DC has been quite the adjustment from the rolling wheat fields and looming Blue Mountains of the Walla Walla valley, but it’s been pretty exhilarating so far!
Beyond politics and history, my interests include theatre, the Marvel movies, playing guitar, sad indie romcoms, and re-watching Parks and Recreation for the fifth time. At Whitman College, you can find me begging my friends to register to vote, admiring excellent footnotes in my history readings, leading tours of the campus, and busting out a chocolatey-smooth bass-baritone in Whitman’s premier co-ed a-Capella group. In DC, you can find me hanging out with the Alexander Hamilton statue in the Capitol Rotunda because this semester I’m interning on the Hill with my Congresswoman, Suzan DelBene (WA-01)! It’s been a fantastic experience thus far, and it is just incredible to walk past the Capitol each day and come to work surrounded by dedicated public servants.
In this blog, I’m going to be sharing with you some of my experiences in DC, and my general thoughts on life in the city and the program. Sometimes the posts might just be me listing off all of my experiences, but I also hope to create a little more thematic cohesion in future posts. For now, check out all this cool stuff I’ve done!
After arriving in DC, we started things off right: with a mad scramble against time in a city-wide scavenger hunt. The winners won tickets to a Valentine’s Day black-tie gala at the Italian Embassy. My group didn’t win, but we did learn that the real black-tie gala tickets are the friends you make along the way. Later that weekend, we were hit with some serious snow, so naturally we went back to the capitol to both see our workplaces and do a photoshoot. That day, we also began what has become a bit of a tradition: brunch. We visited a fantastic little spot called “Busboys and Poets,” a social-justice themed restaurant, coffee bar, and bookstore. Every inch of the space is adorned with paintings and quotes of famous activists and intellectuals, and I’ve never been anywhere quite like it.
Classes have been equally wild. It still boggles my mind just how much access the program gives you to hugely influential players in DC. Highlights from speakers thus far include the top Democratic political ad consultant in the country, several leading experts on Social Security and budgetary policy, and the new communications director of the Republican National Congressional Committee (RNCC). I have also been shocked by just how nice everyone has been. Speakers readily offer business cards and try to connect with us. For example, in my political communications class, we went to a VIP event at the Newseum for a book tour, and at the end we went up to the stage and asked if our class could take a picture with everyone on the panel, and they said yes without hesitation. All we had to do was ask and all the speakers took time to talk to us afterwards. As my communications professor said, there is a real “pay-it-forward” mentality in DC. Everyone only got to where they are because someone was nice to them: someone got coffee with them, or got them an internship, offered invaluable career advice, or introduced them to their future boss.
Another thing that I really admire about the program is how it necessitates dialogue between opposing political views. For example, on the same day, we visited one speaker who made the case for privatizing Social Security, and another who made the case for keeping it public. Growing up, I’ve been very isolated from conservative people; in all the communities I’ve lived in, conservatives have been few and far between. Coexistence, let alone having a genuine dialogue or even friendship across party lines, is a skill that I haven’t had much of a chance to practice, and I’m grateful that the program is giving me an opportunity to do so.
That’s about all my thoughts thus far, I’ll see you all in a couple weeks! And if any prospective WSP students have questions, feel free to message me on social media!