2023 Democracy Camp in DC Journal

June 14, 2023

Friday, May 19th

Flying over the lush greenery and tiny monuments, I was starting to get jittery with excitement about what the week had in store for me. I never thought I would have the opportunity to be in D.C. and somehow, I managed my way there. I could not wait for what was to come. 

Friday was a short day, I got to D.C. in the late afternoon. We checked into the UCDC building and had some time to settle in before dinner. The UCDC building was very spacious, completely unlike the housing in Berkeley. The week was already starting off great. After settling in, the entire cohort came down to have dinner together. We ate delicious Mediterranean food, while introducing ourselves and getting to know everyone a bit more. Christine, Megan, and Ezra went over expectations of the program before letting us go and get ice cream from Jubilee. It was a great (and delicious) way to start off our week in D.C. 

Saturday, May 20th

Saturday was an exciting and packed day. We started the day with a visit to the National Mall. As someone who was experiencing D.C. for the first time, I was genuinely expecting a mall but the monuments were cool too. We began at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, which was bigger than what I was expecting. It was eye-opening to see the memorial up close and see a person celebrating knowing that his actions did not match with the principles he stood for. Walking through, we hit the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial, which was broken up into four ‘rooms’ representing his four distinct presidential terms. This memorial was great to walk through as it emphasized parts of his life that I have no idea were so impactful to American society. The next, and perhaps my favorite memorial, was the Martin Luther King memorial. This memorial held so much history and intention behind it, which I thought was so impactful. Martin Luther’s statue facing Jefferson memorial, not being finished, the quotes, and all the intention behind every choice made this memorial my favorite and I have to emphasize that everyone should visit if they have the chance! Afterwards, we hit our most crowded memorial, the Lincoln Memorial. I was expecting a bigger statue, like how the movies depict, but it was still a great sight to see. The Korean War Veterans memorial was our last stop, in which we were walking around and seeing veterans look for their loved one’s names. It made the point that history is living, and that events that we learn about in school did not happen all too long ago. 

After our wonderful tour was over, we made our way to the National Portrait Gallery. With a quick lunch break, we were given free time to explore the museum. I made it my mission to find the Obama's portraits, and I would like to say I was successful. It was fascinating to go into the America’s Presidents exhibition and see the art style change over time with each president’s portraits. Each portrait was unique and showed each president’s personality, as well as the art style of the time. Other notable exhibitions: 20th Century Americans, Champions, The Automobile and American Art. All were so eye-opening and taught a lot about American history and culture. There was an exhibition, maybe it was a part of another, that was all about American nature and landscape which was so stunning. I tried to find the name for you all because I genuinely believe everyone should see those paintings. 

Once we finished with the National Portrait Gallery, we headed back to UCDC where we had some down time to relax and eat dinner. After charging back up, we headed over to watch a play about the Chinese Exclusion Act. Now, this play was amazing. I could go on for hours about the plot, what it symbolized, how the stage production influenced the audience, and how stunning the props were. The gist of the plot was that there was this Chinese American historian/writer whose book about the Chinese Exclusion Act was being turned into a TV series. However, a white man and his publishing company were turning it into mainstream media with an action show and filling it with Asian stereotypes. This historian faced the dilemma of whether to let the show continue as the producers wanted and make money to sustain herself or to fight to keep the story authentic to history. The play did a wonderful job of showcasing the dilemma that a lot of immigrants and first generation children feel when living in a Western society and having their history properly shared. I thought this brought up a lot of great conversation regarding how history is taught and perceived, what we can do to better teach history, and learn how to support people of color in various professional environments. 

The play was the last official activity on our itinerary and so we were free to do what we wanted for the rest of the night. A couple others and I were all craving something sweet, so we decided to scooter to Milk, which was a cake and ice cream shop. It had very yummy desserts and was worth the scooter ride there. We got caught in some light rain on our way back to UCDC, but it made the experience so much better. And so, this was the end of my second day in D.C. and I was loving it.

Sunday, May 21st

Sunday was a chill day, and I was here for it. Originally our itinerary had us visiting the National Archives, but the schedule was switched to accommodate us getting used to the time difference and still feeling a little fatigued and the packed day from before. We spent our time in our classroom where we had a networking workshop that was preparing us for Monday. We learned what networking was and received tips on how to network. Ezra and Megan had us split into groups and led activities in which we acted out networking situations and practiced with each other phrases that we could use during events. This was extremely helpful because we were given the opportunity to practice in a stress free environment and got used to the idea of networking and were able to break it down. 

We were given some free time during the middle of the day, which people utilized in various ways. Some went shopping, some used the lounge to chill and play games, and others, like me, went out to explore the city. A block from the UCDC building is the cutest bakery/coffee shop called Tatte’s. It had the most delicious pastries and desserts, a must try if (when) you join Democracy Camp. 

After some time, we reconvened in the classroom where we discussed and read the bios the people that we were meeting throughout the week. We prepared questions that we could ask and learned about what each individual was about.  We also watched a documentary on Barbara Lee, our NorCal representative. While watching her documentary, I was just in shock that we were going to be able to meet her. Afterwards, we had a great discussion about Barbara Lee and all the work that she has accomplished and continues to work on. It was a great end to our restful Sunday.

Monday, May 22nd

On Monday morning we were greeted with breakfast with the director of UCDC, Professor Tanya Golash-Boza. It was great talking to her and learning about UCDC in its entirety. Professor Tanya gave great advice and was very welcoming. Right after, we had a workshop on how to land a job/internship in DC with Michael Nieto. Michael taught us the importance of LinkedIn in the DC professional workspace. I personally had no idea LinkedIn was this important and Michael provided a LinkedIn template which was very useful in sprucing up my public profile. He was able to give insight about work life balance in DC which was really important to hear about and gave tips on how to make it if we were to ever move out there.

Today was our first official day of Democracy Camp. We started off with going to the Department of Homeland Security. This was an experience. It was not at all what I was expecting (honestly it was just a regular office building) but I was grateful to be there. We walked in and there was a big conference table that had our name plaques, I felt important and it felt great. We met with Traci Silas who I want to specifically mention because she was a highlight of the trip. She asked us questions about our trip so far, life in Berkeley, and wanted to get to know us which is really refreshing. The panel at Homeland Security was really insightful. I learned that there's so much more to DHS than what we hear in the media, such as sustainability and environment and academic engagement. 

After the Department of Homeland Security we went back to UCDC building briefly before heading over to our networking event. This networking event specifically invited Berkeley alumni who work in DC. At first I was very nervous because it was my first formal networking event but with my cohort I felt very comfortable going into it. The view was spectacular, the food was delicious and most of all the alumni were great to talk to. I met with people who gave me wonderful advice on various different pathways that I could take postgrad. All the alumni were extremely willing to keep in touch (and connect on Linkedin) and to continue talking to me afterwards. I was able to learn about the different paths that people were able to take before coming to their current careers and learning about people's different educational backgrounds. A traditional pathway simply does not exist and it was very apparent when I was talking to the alumni and I'm happy to have learned from the event. I'm very grateful to have been part of this networking event and to have put myself out there.

Once the networking event was over we all headed back to the UCDC building to end our night. We took the leftovers with us and had an informal debriefing session about the networking event and how it went for everybody in the outdoor lounge. I was so happy to hear that everybody had an amazing experience and made connections that were worthwhile. We played a couple rounds of Uno before calling it a night. This was another well spent day in DC.

Tuesday May 23rd

Tuesday had our first early start of the week. This day could have gone in so many different directions but I'm glad it turned out the way that it did. We had a very strict schedule but in so many different ways that schedule was tested and we had to adapt. And I lucked out with the best cohort ever because everything went smoothly despite all the changes in the schedule.

The very first thing that we did was get a tour of the capital. We got a tour of the capital in which we went inside and  learned about the history and architecture of the building. We saw all the statues and paintings and learned about their significance. One really cool thing that we did was that we were able to go and sit in the gallery  in the House of Representatives. We sat in when a representative from New Mexico was deliberating with a representative from Texas.  It was fascinating to see people walk in and out of the room, see the representatives deliberate,  and watch how our Representatives work day-to-day. At some point, we saw AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and she waved at us and gave us finger hearts! All of us were stunned; we were hoping we would see her but did we actually think it was going to happen? No, but the fact that it did, that was crazy.  After that incident we went to go get some lunch at the cafeteria. The food was okay, I came out of the cafeteria so I wasn't expecting much anyways. 

After lunch we were busy, we had meetings scheduled back to back. First, we met with Kevin Figueroa after lunch. Kevin was so down to earth and gave advice that resonated with a lot of us. He told us about how he manages to live in DC and what he does to stay grounded while working in such an intense career. As a former Berkeley alum, he talked about the differences of living on the West Coast and East Coast and how his experience at Berkeley helped him in his career in DC. Right after Kevin we met with representative Doris Matsui. She was so nice and welcoming and it was so apparent that she genuinely was so excited to be able to talk to us. She told us how important it was for her to have a group like us,  students of color, be present in DC and how she is grateful that we took the opportunity to come to DC and learn everything there is to know. Off topic but I have to mention her office, it was gorgeous. She had this wall of portraits and pictures that was just stunning. Soon, she had to leave so that she could go vote and so we skedaddled out there and went outside to wait for Barbara Lee. Our meeting with Barbara Lee was short but very impactful. She was so excited to meet us and greeted us very warmly. She gave advice which really stuck with me, and also urged us to come out to DC. 

Now, the next part of the day goes in two different directions for two groups. First, one group decided to go back to the UCDC building to relax a bit before dinner. Second, another group decided to stay at the capital to take headshots. I’d like to mention I was in the second group. The group that decided to stay for headshots had no idea what we were about to experience. As we were chilling on the steps of the capitol, we saw that AOC was also coming down. We were nervous and freaking out, but Ezra decided to make a move and ask if we could take a picture. We were very lucky that AOC said yes, came down, shook everyone's hand, asked for our names and took a picture with us. We weren't able to have a lengthy conversation, only able to say a couple of words but immensely grateful to have been able to meet her.

The last thing on our itinerary was to have dinner at Ben's Chili Bowl. The food was absolutely delicious and the shake was to die for. I don't know if it was the adrenaline of the day, but the fries were also so tasty; I couldn't stop myself. It was great to learn all about the history of Ben's Chili Bowl and to hear from the owner about how DC has changed in the years that Ben's Chili Bowl has existed. Overall this was a really yummy way to end an amazing day.

Wednesday, May 24th

Wednesday was another early day. We walked over to the Human Rights Campaign. The space that they had was very cute and colorful. We met with Jemaise Jones, Who gave us an extensive presentation overseeing the entire program and all the various aspects that go into it. This was followed by a Q&A, where we talked to the press secretary, policy coordinator, and assistant director of a program. It was fascinating learning about the HRC and how comprehensive the entire program is. We got a tour of the office building and learned a little bit more about DC work ethic and work life balance. After saying bye, we headed back to the UCDC building to have a quick lunch before heading over to the EEOB (Eisenhower Executive Office Building). 

Once we arrived at the EEOB, we had to go through security and it was at that moment, I realized I was about to head into the White House. We met with Phil Stupak, who delivered a small tour of the building before taking us to the Diplomacy Room, where we were going to have meetings with others and learn about them. Two notable figures that we met with were: Kylie Patterson and Kemba Walden. Kylie works for Senior Advisor for Opportunity & Inclusion, CHIPS for America, and Department of Commerce. Learning about her work was intriguing, And she is an amazing person who we could all resonate with. Kemba was like that one Auntie who just told us how it is. Our conversation with her was about determination, being a person of color in government, about cyber security, about work-life balance,  and a variety of other different topics. Overall I was able to learn a lot from all of the speakers.

Afterwards, we went outside to the front of the White House, took some pictures and then walked through the Black Lives Matter Plaza. I had a little dinner break and then got ready to go to the White House for a private tour. A third of us were taken to the White House for a tour with Phil,  who was the most amazing tour guide ever. He knew every room, could give us fun facts about everything, held great conversation, and was just simply put, amazing. Not sure how much I'm able to say about this tour but it was great and the Oval Office is just smaller than what I thought.

Thursday, May 25th 

Thursday held our earliest start of the entire week  and this was because today we were headed to the Supreme Court.  I was so excited to go to the Supreme Court. On a side note when I was seven, I wanted to be a justice and so this was fulfilling my childhood dream.  We got there early, put our stuff away and were seated quickly. I'm also not sure what I'm able to say about the actual courtroom but it was really nice. The entire process was very quick; it lasted a total of fifteen minutes. The justices came to their seats in the blink of an eye, and the decisions were read fairly quickly. We heard three decisions from the court: Sackett v. EPA, Dupree v. Younger, and Tyler v. Hennepin County.  I was pleasantly surprised when I heard Sackett v. EPA  because I had heard about it earlier in the semester and was sort of following along. Afterwards, we met with Micheal Shenkman who entertained us with some history of the Supreme Court and answered some brief questions about what we had witnessed earlier in the morning. We were also able to talk to a Berkeley Law graduate,  who was the real star of the day. She told us a little bit about Law School, what she was doing in DC, and explained the decisions that we had heard earlier along with the background knowledge. We were able to spend a couple of minutes in the gift shop before heading out to the Department of Education. 

The Department of Education knows how to host a panel. The intern had music playing while we were entering the room. They had a proctor who was asking questions, and the questions that they were asking were insanely thought-provoking. We met with Shannon Myricks, Claire Viall, and Valerie Williams. All three of these women were super thoughtful in their answers and very open to discussion about the topics that we were asking about. We discussed opportunities for students, how education can become more accessible, the different educational paths that these women took to get to their careers, and how their careers impact the education that we see in our communities. I learned a lot from this panel about education and just how much more work needs to go into education so that it can become the most useful tool that it should be for society. 

Once we left the Department of Education, we went back to the UCDC building for an alumni panel. This panel was truly insightful and taught me a lot about how differently paths can go after college. The alumni that were present at the panel were for all different age groups, ethnicities, whether they were a (un)traditional or transfer student, and were so relatable to us as a cohort. As I've mentioned before,  we were able to get a lot of perspective on Bay Area versus DC in a professional and social setting,  and were able to learn about the variety of different paths that one can take after college to get to their career. One alumni, Shannon,  talked about how she had multiple career changes because once she was at the spot that she thought she wanted to be at, she realized she wanted to take her career into a whole different direction. It was really comforting to hear these stories as a recent graduate because now I know that everything that is meant to happen will happen in its own time. 

After the alumni panel, we had  dinner and then free time to recharge. I took this opportunity to go back to the bakery that I had visited on Sunday and enjoy one of their desserts as well as visit my family.

Friday, May 26th 

On Friday, we visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I was really excited to go here because our student representative, Tati, was raving about this Museum the entire trip and how much she enjoyed it from last year.  I started from the bottom of the museum where it begins with slavery and goes forward in African American history. The exhibition was very impactful and it was hard to go through the bottom two floors. To see how deep rooted the hatred ran in our country, only showcases how much work we still need to put in. On a lighter note, they had an Afrofuturism exhibition, which was the coolest exhibit ever. It was jaw-dropping to see how much African-American influence there is in science fiction technology and media. I saw Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther costume, which was a nice surprise. Overall the museum was a learning experience and I'm grateful to have gone. 

We had a couple of hours of free time  and so I wanted to use my time to explore more of the museums, since they are free in DC. My original goal was to go to the Smithsonian Castle, and I walked all the way there but turns out it was under repairs. However, I'm not mad about the walk because there was a spot where I could do a 360 and have a view of the White House, Washington Monument, National History Museum, and the castle, which was spectacular. Since it was close by I decided to go inside the National History Museum. this Museum was insane, I wish I had more time there. I went to the Egyptian exhibit, butterfly exhibit, diamonds and gems exhibit, astronomy exhibit, and the lights out exhibit.  I'll mention two things: first, at the Egyptian exhibit I saw two real mummies which is so crazy, and second, the lights out exhibit about light pollution blew my mind.  I knew that light pollution was an issue but saying the difference in how much light affects the night sky was mind-blowing.

After the museum I decided to once again head back to Tatte Bakery. What can I say? I'm in love with the place. After enjoying my mousse cake and matcha I decided to hit up H&M really quickly just to see what DC shopping would be like and then I headed back to the UCDC building. In our classroom we all sat down to have one last conversation. We did evaluations for the program, said thank yous to everybody, and debriefed the entire week with each other. After this, we were free to do whatever we wanted and it was Friday night, so I’ll let you imagine the shenanigans we got up to. 

Saturday, May 27th

The only thing I could think about this morning was how fast time went by. It felt like we had just landed in DC and now we were leaving. I had the last flight of the day so my morning was a little bit more relaxed than everyone else. However, I woke up early so that I could attend our last breakfast together and say goodbye to everybody. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to everybody because I formed great friendships with so many people in the cohort and it was crazy to think that our time together in D.C. was ending. There's honestly no other group of people I would have wanted to experience DC for the first time with. All right now that the sappy part is over, here's what I did after everybody had left for the airport: I, once again, went to Tatte Bakery and grabbed brownies to take with me back to the West Coast, got my nails done, and saw a bit of a parade on my walk back to the UCDC building. Once I was back, I grabbed my bags and it was time for me to go. This was my first ever time in DC and I enjoyed every single minute of it. I'm so grateful to have had this experience and I wish that others can also experience what I got to.