The Art of Politics

Me with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl in the main office

Every Tuesday morning at 500 W. Temple Street, five actors convene on the dais for a final performance.

I have come to view government work as a show. Not in a bad way, but a great way. I don't mean that people are makebelieving or pretending, in fact government workers are very aware of the real-life implications of their decisions, but I mean that there are main characters and supportting characters, there are people on stages speaking in front of audiences, and there are the behind-the-scenes workers whose efforts might go unnoticed but their impact is visible.

If you think about the Los Angeles County government, the Board of Supervisors is probably the first association that comes to mind. Like the headlining performers of a show, the supervisors are the most recognized. In this scenario, the supervisors are the face of the work that is performaed by many people, including staff and deputies. On the dais is the culmination of meeting preparation on Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays when items are hashed out. Like many shows, there is a lot of work that goes on before the actors take the stage, or in the case of the LA County Supervisors, the dais. The supervisors perform for the residents. It is when the supervisors use their expertise and experiences to follow the script or improvise on whether or not to approve an item. LA County Supervisors are responsible for a lot, and it takes seasoned actors to have an excellent performance. In this case, an excellent performance means constituents receiving the proper resources on a day-to-day basis.

As I approach the end of my fifth week in Supervisor Kuehl's office, I cannot help but think of the great people I have met during my time here, including the office staff. Like ushers at a performance, The office staff are the first faces one sees as he or she enters the office. Staff sets the tone and picture for the rest of the office. During my first week here I did not know what the staff did as caseworks. The county is vast and provides countless services, it is difficult to know where to go or even start. Fortunately, as caseworkers, the staff connects constituents with the proper resources. When someone wants to know where to go to build a hotel in an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County or a person receiving a housing voucher is having trouble finding housing, the office staff can direct someone to the proper resources. The staff is there to guide individuals to the right place just as an usher directs an audience member to his or her seat. The staff also listens to the concerns of the residents. They help measure the constituent climate. If a constituent in Santa Monica is agitated about airplane volume above his or her roof, the staff is there to listen. One could say their job is similar to the ushers. Audience members hear what the audience feels about a performance, and that information travels back to the actors. The staff is also crucial in making sure everything works and maintaining organization, just like ushers. Without the staff deputy, a structure would be difficult to maintain. 

In the office there are also the deputies, some whom I have worked under this summer. Deputies conduct a lot of important work out in the field; they are experts who go out in the field researching with constituent and other experts. One could say that deputies visit other actors' trailers. Attending briefings on sustainable waste and meetings on the progress of Ford Theater have shown me the importance of interacting with various actors. Deputies are constantly making connections with different people and groups to make sure they can properly serve constituents. I recently attended a breakfast regarding arts in District Three schools. That meeting was a highlight for me because I am passionate about education and I am currently a part of a research grant on campus for arts education in after-school programs in Berkeley Unified District. It was incredible to see all of these leaders discussing the importance of arts in education and sharing how they were implementing arts in their schools. Everyone was sharing their ideas and resources to ensure that students could benefit from these programs. I was in a room with a network of people woking together. There are so many meetings like this one where I have realized that this is where deputies make connections and learn about shortfalls and successes in order to make sure they can best serve their district and beyond. The collaboration of various entities is a pattern I have noticed while interning with Supervisor Kuehl's office, especially while working with deputies. I also attended a water conference sponsored by the Israeli government. The conference was important as it could help shape and influence a future county ordinance. I think it is important for deputies to go out into the field so they can prepare themselves to write the policies, like writers create scripts. Furthermore, I have met with deputies individually and the  knowledge they have and their experiences are incredible. I feel so fortunate to know people like them. The deputies are so passionate about what they do and it is really noticeable in their work. The work they have done in the past year and a half is inspiring. I am impressed by their ability to come together, like a writing crew, and produce work in the form of legislation that does make a difference for not only District Three, but the entire county and sometimes even the country. 

There is no doubt that Los Angeles County is enormous and requires a lot of attention, and deputies and supervisors can't do it on their own. The reception of the audience, the constituents, guide the performance and what goes on. There cannot be a performance without an audience to perform in front of, just as the Board of Supervisors have nothing to govern if there aren't any constituents. Constituents are the ones that decide whether or not they agree with something or what they need, like audience members decide whether or not a performance was good. They are the ones that write reviews and give recommendations, like residents critique government. The audience has a lot of power. Going to the board meetings and being in the office has served as a reminder of how important civic participation is. Constituents are an important part of the process. 

Hopefully I have amused you with my analogy. I used to wondered why a political science degree was a bachelor of arts and not science. Today, I do think of politics as an art, but only in the sense that a performance is a group effort. The county is very intertwined and I see it every day. You cannot deal with one issue without touching upon another, just as what impacts one district does impact another. Interning at Supervisor Kuehl's office I have picked up on their efforts to care about the community as a whole. When someone in the office is developing an ordinance or committee, he or she is not just thinking about his or her district, but how it can benefit and affect the entire county, the nation, and the world. LA County is a big deal, many people look to the county as a reference point, the county could be its own state. I have loved interning at the county level because so much is done here. I have not attended any event where my life has not been impacted in some way. County government is under the radar, but a lot gets done here that impact how you and I live. Being here this summer serves as a constant reminder of how people must be engaged with their government in order to successfully enact change. And it has reinforced my yearning to be involved in policy work.