Capitol Hill is at the end of my road

This week America elects a third of its senators and all of its congressmen. As Leeds student Amy Gower explains, now is a great time to be working in Washington DC


October 28, 2010
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Amy Gower: “People feel President Obama is not doing enough”

Amy Gower: “People feel President Obama is not doing enough”

Washington is one of the most exciting cities I've ever been in - and I took a gap year in south-east Asia.

Capitol Hill is at the end of my road and my house is right by the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall. It's like living down the road from Parliament and in walking distance from St Paul's Cathedral.

My course, Politics and Parliamentary studies, includes a placement year and I am spending half in Washington, then the remainder in Westminster. I am an intern for Senator Ben Cardin, a Jewish Democrat who represents the state of Maryland. He has been a senator since 2006 and was a congressman for 20 years – he really knows his stuff.

It's a very friendly office and because my senator is not up for re-election this year, nobody is looking for a new job.

I go to briefings for the six committees that Senator Cardin sits on and even went to a Homeland Security meeting, where I was one of just 40 people in the room. I never have the same two days. A friend has to walk their senator's dog - I'm glad I don't have such a clichéd role.

I am the equivalent of a civil servant, so can't campaign at the mid-term elections. But it's exciting - for the mayoral elections last month there were billboards on every lamppost, street corner and bathroom door.

There are always protesters outside the White House, often condemning Israel. But they don't cause much of a scene or attract much interest. People prefer to go sightseeing.

Congress really caters for its Jewish members. On Succot I was invited to a "Succah on the Hill". And the café even sells kosher beef hot dogs.

One lunchtime I looked up and saw Dick Lugar - the most senior senator in America. I almost couldn't swallow my sandwich. I haven't met the president, unfortunately.

Obama-fever has calmed down a lot and he is less popular here than in Europe. People feel he is not doing enough. I would love to meet the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. She is the highest-ranking female politician in American history. I really admire her. I have been lucky enough to meet people like Jewish former vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, and to go to some big events, like a Bill Clinton rally and Jon Stewart's anti-Tea Party rally.

My craziest experience was the Tea Party rally. There were little children there holding up signs saying "Don't believe the Liberal Media" and so on.

There are police cars everywhere, which is pretty daunting. There's also the patriotism. At home if I saw a huge Union Jack it would make me think of the BNP. But people are so passionate about their national symbols here. The American flag is everywhere: on buildings, front gardens and stamps.

It's strange to go from six hours a week of lectures and sleeping-in to wearing corporate clothes and being seen as a "young professional".

But by the end of this year I should have a good inside understanding of two of the world's most powerful democracies, as well as decided whether politics is the career for me. I'm having a great time so far.

Last updated: 2:33pm, November 2 2010