There were so many recurrent themes we came across during our time in DC. Here are the three most important things I learned while in DC, and why they are so important.
- The media thrives on things like trust and respect.
One thing we focused on during our trip to DC was exploring the complicated relationship between U.S. politics and the news media, focusing on important ways that the media shapes national discourse and dialogue. While nearly all professional fields in DC value at least the façade of trust and respect, journalism strives for the real deal. Journalism tries to reach ‘truth’ at its core in its purest sense. Bias and opinion often times get in the way and prevent what could otherwise be pure fact or at least a convincing argument. In the words of one of our lecturers Bob Costa, people should trust journalists who challenge themselves daily, and those who write about what they know, not what they think. Costa said it’s all about challenging the press, so they can “stay sharp”. Unbiased, fact-based news is essential to keep the general population informed so they are armed with as much information as possible that allows them to make sound judgments after consideration of all the facts. Fulsome reporting by the media is essential for informed voters who are then in turn capable of holding elected officials accountable. Without trustworthy or respectable material, the country suffers as a whole.
- How to act like a true Washingtonian.
Our trip to DC afforded us the opportunity to learn about urban dwelling steeped in professional and political working environments. Navigating the city on foot and via the metro, all the while using many of the prominent structures as landmarks, namely the Washington Monument and the Capitol allowed us to prospect out from our point of refuge-The Washington Center. This prospect-refuge experience allowed us to broaden our understanding of how the DC political machine functions, albeit currently embroiled in current partisanship exposure to prominent mover and shakers in the political arena gave us perspectives from both sides of the aisle. We spoke to Nicole Peckumn who is the Chief of Public Affairs for the City of DC’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. She spoke with us about how the city operates and how things like snow and the government shutdown affects DC. Since the snow was the hot topic while we were there we discussed the concerns that come along with it, like the possibility of the metro being shut down due to ice. They had to run the metros all through the night to prevent snow from building up on the tracks and prevent the formation of ice. Peckumn also deals with things like terror attacks and other such threats that might put DC at risk. We learned the differences between rural Iowa living and urban city living and as a result, we are all well equipped to live in an urban area post-graduation. Furthermore, we learned about what would be expected of us as young professionals living in DC should we decide to pursue post-academic employment in the DC metro area. Things, like honing your writing skills, doing what you say you’re going to do, and gaining as much experience as possible in your undergrad years, are crucial for success in your professional life. It is also super helpful if you volunteer for things, even if it’s as small as getting coffee, and show people how strong your hard work and determination really is. Complaining is never a good idea. Politics in DC is a small ecosystem and people talk, once you have a bad reputation it can be awfully hard to lose it.
- Don’t just learn about opposing views, learn how to respect opposing views.
The most common understanding of bipartisanism is becoming aware of the ‘other sides’ ambitions. That awareness is an accomplishment to be celebrated as there are many people so set in their ways they can’t even be bothered to learn what opposing views are. This awareness is an accomplishment however, it is not quite as epic an accomplishment as having the fearlessness to ask why. Asking why can be hard, especially when it involves topics as sensitive as politics. Simply learning about the ‘other side’ is great, but true bipartisanship lies in a complete understanding of the ‘others sides’ point of view. Perhaps an appropriate mantra is, “learn the reasons for things and learn to respect those reasons even if you disagree.” Understanding all sides in depth is what creates effective governing. Nearly everyone has a different opinion about the current political happenings, and it is so important to be able to understand why they hold those opinions to fulfill your civic duty as an informed voter. This trip has taught me to ask the tough questions because not having all the information makes it hard to cross the partisan line and get things done. Respecting and trusting the ‘other sides’ views is essential, without an understanding of the ‘other side’ we end up with things like a new record for the longest government shutdown. Respecting the ‘other side’ creates a platform in which people can work together effectively and helps to facilitate productive collaboration.
In conclusion, the biggest overall themes I’ve been able to pull away is how important regular engagement in the public sphere is and how it puts pressure on you to know your stuff and present the facts from all sides in a trustworthy and respectable way. The themes we learned have all been complimentary and have given me a broad well-rounded experience. I had the opportunity to engage with the public political sphere by documenting and sharing my experiences through a regular blog. I took on the responsibility to learn as much as I could and share my new knowledge to help enlighten others. It is our civic duty to become informed voters to ensure that our elected officials carry out the will of the people. However, it is essential we come to this information through respectable and trustworthy ways and we must never dismiss the ‘other sides’ point of view.