The D.C. Bubble

This week at the Department of Education there are four hearing regarding the recently released 2017 budget, as well as acting Secretary John King’s confirmation hearing. Working in the legislative affairs department, this essentially means an incredible amount of preparation and a lot of meetings. That is to say, these four hearings are extremely important to my department. Being this close to the federal government process can be disillusioning, however. I like to think of it as the “DC Bubble.” Folks in my department, myself included, carry the mentality that if we fail at these meetings the walls will begin to crumble around us. I dare say the average citizen could probably care less what happens to us this week. Not to say that these hearing are inconsequential – quite the opposite, actually. Whoever gets confirmed as the Secretary of Education could potentially steer the direction of Ed for years to come. Which does in fact have a lot of influence on federal education policy for the entire country. However, I think being in DC can lead to an overestimation of how much DC politics affect the everyday lives of people across the nation. A lesson I realized on my trip up the East Coast over the President’s Day weekend.

Over President’s Day weekend, I took the Megabus up the East Coast. Saturday I spent the night in Philadelphia and Sunday night I spent in New York City. This was my first time venturing out of the D.C. since I’ve been here. And let me say, it was an eye opening experience for many reasons. For starters, each city had its own distinct vibe.  Philly has this interesting mix of working-class, old-time manufacturing feel mixed with overwhelming historical significance. The people were edgy, friendly, and proud of their city. NYC is its own thing entirely, almost too difficult to explain in the limited words of this blog post. But lets just say you can feel the history in the air; you can almost see the progression of history in the buildings and in the people. What was especially striking to me about each city was the lack of talk about politics. Here in D.C. that’s essentially every conversation, especially with the primary races in full swing. However, it wasn’t until I went to these other cities and had conversations about everything from neuroscience to hand warmers that I am reminded the world does not revolve around politics – even though living in D.C. might have you believe otherwise.

So what does this mean for a young aspiring public servant such as myself? Stay humble. Each metropolitan area that I’ve come into contact with believes the world revolves around them. Berkeley, D.C., Philly, and New York are all bubbles, each offering something unique and exciting. It’s good to be reminded that there is a life outside of politics and to stay grounded in the things that matter for the everyday lives of citizens. I fear that without this perspective, one can get disappointed when you come into contact with someone who may not care about a political appointment or a recent oversight hearing for your department. It’s good to stay open and be receptive to new experiences and ideas; you’ll be surprised at what you can learn about yourself if you do.  

 
Elizabeth Householder is a senior at UC Berkeley studying American Studies, with an emphasis on Politics, Policy, and Justice. She is currently interning for the Department of Education as a Matsui Washington Fellow.