by Eli Davis, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
This is my first legislative session and first blog post ever. I am much more daunted by the former than the latter, which screams volumes, given my avowed phobia of writing. Despite heeding all the advice and wisdom I could muster from both our professors and our predecessors who survived prior sessions as part of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work Austin Legislative Internship Program, nothing can fully prepare someone for this experience.
I was told to expect three things as an intern at the Texas Legislature: crazy-long hours; high levels of sustained stress; and, in so many words, a fraternity-like atmosphere. A veteran of nearly a decade at a Fortune 500 corporation, I have been battle-tested by grueling work hours and stratospheric stress levels that taxed the endurance of my body/mind/spirit. However, having never pledged a fraternity myself, it was the third warning that stirred my fear of the unknown and most concerned me.
What I have found thus far, though, is that my fears were unfounded. Granted, our group of social work interns staffing the Texas Legislative Study Group, chaired by Rep. Garnet Coleman, came into this ten-strong, but after our paradoxically long and quick first month, I feel closer to my peers than some friends I’ve had for years. Even though the real craziness that will come when the session really gets going hasn’t even begun yet, there is something fundamentally different about this opportunity, i.e. the pressures and, I suspect, even the culture of this historic body, that facilitates a familial dynamic, not simply a fraternal one.
The things that excited me about the program – the educational and professional possibilities – are as awesome as I imagined, but my favorite part so far is being amongst brilliant, social justice-oriented people who are willing to nerd-out over policy (and drop everything they’re doing to help you after, say, a car wreck or a trip to the ER).
Of course, I would like to think there is something special about our group, and there certainly is, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the external factors. Better than a frat, I liken the Capitol more to one of those snazzy new pressure cookers. We are surrounded by external pressures/stressors as we face the daunting task of processing massive amounts of information in this prestigious, but stressful environment, where our legacy precedes us. This is heightened by knowing the implications of our work on the ultimate decision process. These pressures have already and will continue to test everyone that has their hands in this process, but also drive the final outcome. I have yet to meet anyone on the Capitol grounds who didn’t seem to understand that we are dealing in the currency of human lives. I say that to describe everyone involved in the work of the legislature, from the Governor to my new friend who works in the cafeteria.
Ours is an experience I wish every Texan could have. Personally, I would never be able to grasp the entirety of this process, complete with its many nuances and traditions, in any other way. And the biggest secret, is it isn’t a secret…from the dealings on the floor down to the design of the grounds, this sacred place of policy was meant for the people. I encourage each and every one of you to stop by and claim your place in the process, in whatever capacity moves you.