Ms. Fox Goes to Washington
Writing briefings for Senator Bernie Sanders’s staff. Discussing healthcare with callers from Kansas. Crossing paths with former Vice President Joe Biden. All a normal day in the life for political science student Elizabeth Fox ’20 during her Field Work Term (FWT) internship for Senator Sanders’s office in Washington, DC.
Fox found this opportunity when the program’s intern coordinator emailed Political Science faculty member Rotimi Suberu about the internship. Suberu sent the listing to all of his students, and Fox jumped at the chance.
“I actually hadn’t yet had a class with Rotimi, but I emailed him over the summer and was like, ‘Hey, can you tell me more about this?’” Fox said. “Normally, these are semester-long internships, so I kind of sneaked in there.”
Fox spent her first FWT at the Vermont State Legislature working for Senator Brian Campion, who also serves as Bennington’s Director of Public Policy Programs in the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA).
Through her work at the Vermont State House, Fox became interested in Vermont politics, particularly noticing how they differed from those of California, her home state. This year, she wanted to continue to learn about how the Vermont government works at various levels.
“I had no idea what to expect going into this job,” Fox said.
She found that while some of the daily work was routine—answering phones, writing response letters, taking notes at hearings—the pacing and detailed nature of her work challenged her.
“You have to be on top of the issues at all times because people would call and ask what Senator Sanders’s position was on specific bills that might have only gone to the floor two minutes ago,” Fox said. “Even as a political science student, most of your thinking is broad, about institutions or history, so having to talk about the Bikini Workforce Act of 2017 or having to talk about how various trust funds work is specific beyond what I expected to need to know.”
However, diving into the details of DC life became a point of pride for Fox. She described how rewarding it was to go to hearings and be able to later speak with authority when discussing an issue with a more experienced staff member.
“Everyone’s understanding and work is important for the office to function,” Fox said. “It was crazy to know that when Senator Sanders was going to vote on something, it was my research he was reading in the briefings.”
Talking on the phone with constituents, Fox found, was also a highlight. Contrary to the stereotype of the detached, uncaring federal government, Fox was impressed by the efforts staffers made to address people’s complaints and discuss the issues at stake.
The office is held accountable to all of its constituents, and even to people from out of state. Being able to talk to someone for 15 minutes over the phone and have them leave with some faith in the government was awesome. Elizabeth Fox '20
Fox’s two FWT experiences have only increased her interest in politics. Going forward, however, she would like to explore ways to get involved with on-the-ground activism that works directly and more quickly than legislation. For next year, she’s considering an internship with the ACLU through a contact she met at Senator Sanders’s office.
“I also learned about a job that I’d love to have in his Burlington office,” Fox said. “They have case workers for Vermonters who are having problems with institutions, and these constituent services employees serve as liaisons between residents and the federal government.”
Fox said that Senator Sanders’s DC office would receive weekly “success stories” from Burlington. She was inspired to find that “there’s a person, paid for by the federal government, working for a US senator, whose job is simply to make sure someone gets their Medicare, or to make sure someone’s prescription drug costs don’t go up.”
Fox first was intrigued by political science after she took an AP government class at Novato High School.
“I always liked history, but I thought you couldn’t really use it to do anything,” Fox said. “Getting into a government class that taught how this country has worked, how it’s working now, and here’s what you can do with it was interesting to me.”
When Fox came to Bennington, she took a broad range of courses and continued to study the cello, which she’d played in high school. All the while, Fox particularly enjoyed her political science courses, including John Hultgren’s “Environmental Political Theory” and Suberu’s “Federalism and Peacebuilding.” As a focus for her studies, Fox said, political science, “just stuck.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer