The Because Project asks Vermonters to share their stories about people and experiences that have shaped their lives, especially during their formative years — stories that may inspire others to get involved. Because together we can all make a difference.
This month's essay was written by Miro Weinberger, mayor of Burlington.
I took a year off between my sophomore and junior years of college, and that fall, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to join a protest against the first Gulf War.
I was young and it was my first time in Washington. I found the city — its buildings and monuments dedicated to democracy, justice and the law — an inspiring place to be. I had no opportunities lined up, but I basically kept going back to Sen. Leahy's office, knocking on the door to see if someone would give me an internship. After about a week of persistence, I was able to talk to the right person.
They wouldn't have taken me on during the summer — that's when most people intern in those offices, and positions are filled far in advance. But because it was the off season, they were able to find a role for me. I worked in the office for eight months.
The work was low level, like sorting mail and compiling research for the senator's staff. But the office was an exciting, energetic, collaborative place. A lot of offices on Capitol Hill have a great deal of turnover. People come in, they get burnt out, they move on. But Sen. Leahy has long been known for having one of the most stable and loyal staffs in Washington. People really believed in what they were doing, and they stuck around.
Like Luke Albee, for example. Luke was the legislative director, and later became Sen. Leahy's chief of staff. It was a big office — there were probably around 30 people — and it would have been easy for an intern like me to get completely lost in the shuffle. Luke was one of the top people in the office, but he paid attention to the research I did. He gave me advice throughout that time, and has continued to do so in the years since. And not just about politics — he eventually introduced me to a colleague who then introduced me to my wife!
But what affected me most was witnessing the senator and his staff working with people from all kinds of backgrounds and political orientations to try and push the country forward. I was moved to see that government was in large part about that kind of collaboration. So much of what we read and see about politics is about polarized, combative rhetoric. But a lot of what actually needs to get done requires working together.
Now, as mayor of Burlington, I find that to be especially true on the local level.
If I hadn't walked into Sen. Leahy's office requesting an internship, there's a very good chance I would never have gone down this path, or known how to pursue a public-service career. Pretty much my whole political experience flowed from that internship. It shaped how I approach my work and engage with people every day.