This semester’s five Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service fellows discussed their hopes to gain new perspective by engaging with students and help guide future generations of politics in a Jan. 17 interview with The Hoya.
The fellows include former Congressman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Communications Director for Kamala Harris for President Lily Adams, BuzzFeed News Washington Bureau Chief Kate Nocera, co-founder of Torchlight strategies John Rogers, and Head of Public Affairs for Facebook Robert Traynham.
The spring 2020 semester marks the 10th class of GU Politics fellows. The program invites professionals involved in government and advocacy to share their experiences and expertise with the Georgetown community. The fellows host open weekly discussion sessions and office hours, among other events, for students seeking to learn more about practitioners’ perspectives on politics.
Why did you decide to become a GU Politics fellow?
Nocera: “It has been wild the past three years, and so I kind of wanted to take a step back and talk to people who maybe aren’t in it as much every day — talk to folks about what the media is doing right, what we are doing wrong, thinking about ways to build trust back in the media. … I have talked to the same people and follow the same people on Twitter and see the same people in the hallways on the Hill who really are in it all the time, which is great — it is great for my job — but getting a fresh perspective I think is important, so that is really why I wanted to come here.”
Adams: “I think the fresh perspective thing is — you’re gonna hear it from all of us, I think we all have been in politics for a decent amount of time, so I think this is a good opportunity not only to share our experiences with students here at Georgetown, but also hear from them. I’ve been doing campaigns for more than a decade, and so there is a lot that I’ve picked up along the way that I hope that I can be helpful to young people who are thinking about doing campaigns and working on the Hill, but I also know that we don’t have it all figured out.”
Rogers: “I kind of look back at my own career and see starting out without a program like this and having to find my way through politics and remembering how unknown all of that was. You just didn’t even know where to start or how to start. I just want to give back to close that gap for students out there who may be interested in a career in politics. … Having worked in politics for the better part of 20 years, it is just great to see that fresh set of eyes, and that pure excitement from students is something that I’m excited about.”
Traynham: “I really, really enjoy intellectual conversations and rigorous debate on both sides. I feel as though I become a much more stronger, grounded person when I hear different perspectives, particularly that are different than mine, and so I cannot think of a better place than to be with my colleges here but also here at Georgetown. … My hope is — over the next two months — is that we can almost be a recipient of that and that we can really learn from all of you and from your readers in terms of what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling, but just as importantly how you are going to create a better world for all of us.”
Crowley: “Including everything everyone else already said, when I was in college, I remember taking a class: ‘How to Run for Congress.’ … No one ever came to the class who was actually a member of Congress and told us what they do and what their experience was. I think that this is an opportunity for me to have that exchange with young minds and ideas and new ideas and fresh ideas.”
As part of your role as fellow at GU Politics you have to lead discussion groups. Can you all talk about how you decided on your discussion group themes and topics?
Crowley: “My discussion is “Of The People: 30 Plus Years in Elected Office,” and it’s kind of soup to nuts in terms of my experience of what drove me — what drives people — to run for political office. … What attracted people today to be involved in politics — why do they want to do it? What do you do when you’re successful? What do you do when you’re not successful initially and keep at it, and then when you get to Congress how do you build coalitions, and what are the ramifications if you don’t? Ultimately leading up to why people choose to leave and under what circumstances, and what they choose to do later with their lives.”
Nocera: “Mine is about covering politics when old rules don’t apply. I feel like especially, you know, the last decade, and especially the last three years, norms have been totally shattered in terms of what’s acceptable for journalists to do, what’s acceptable for our sources to do, what’s acceptable for the president to do on Twitter, so just that environment is something that I wanted to take a step back and look at.”
Adams: “We’re going to take a look at the Democratic primary that’s going on. I worked in this one, I worked in the last one, and so my hope is that sometimes it can seem a little far off, and seem a little distant to folks who are just watching it on TV or to students here, so I’m hoping to close that gap and talk to students about what it’s like to be on a presidential campaign, or any campaign for that matter, and to try to look at what decisions campaigns are making and candidates are making throughout the process and to try to help the students understand why that’s all going down the way it is.”
Rogers: “Part of mine is going to be that current event of Iowa Caucus, New Hampshire, Super Tuesday, and then another part of that is on that practical campaign side, leaning on my experience of getting through ads and polling and things of the sort and how to get careers in politics, and just kinda get into a little more of the nitty gritty on the campaign side of things.”
Traynham: “I read a statistic a couple of days ago that 87% of Americans consume data and digital in a new way, and they’re constantly evaluating the way they use technology because it’s always changing. So the discussion group I’m fortunate to lead is around the intersection of technology and democracy, and specifically how members of Congress or future members of Congress, along with other public officials, will communicate with this vast new thing we call the internet.”
American political discourse can be very polar. How would you plan to facilitate dialogues from students across the political spectrum?
Crowley: “I welcome it. I look forward to that.”
Nocera: “I think we all have had instances in being either in a tough conversation, a tough interview, in my case, or you know, Joe worked with Republicans for many years — you can have a civil conversation and totally, totally disagree with the person that you’re having a conversation with. I think that a lot of the political discourse we see is online, where you’re not sitting across from someone, you’re not engaging with them, you’re not seeing them as people, right? … I think having the opportunity to work out some of this stuff in person lends itself to a healthier and more civil discussion.”
Traynham: “I would hope in our discussion group that we’ll do more listening as opposed to talking, and setting up some ground rules by saying, ‘Please, come passionate to the living room with your thoughts and ideas, but just as importantly, please stop and listen, and listen to the other person’s voice, because they have a right to be able to express themselves.’ You don’t have a right to your own set of facts, but you do have a right to express yourself.”
How would you characterize your initial experiences with the Georgetown community?
Adams: “I think probably the biggest takeaway — we were here all of yesterday — is just the level of engagement from students who are on campus. These are young people who are showing up not because anybody is giving them extra credit or not because there may be food, but overall, they’re showing up because they’re excited and want to make the most out of their Georgetown experience.”
Nocera: “It was not my college experience to show up to things you weren’t required to do, just generally not anything I’m familiar with. Just generally the fact that people seem like not only eager, but interested in what we have to say and what GU Politics is offering here is amazing to me.”
Traynham: “Yeah, this is a special place, and you guys know that. I mean, this place is a place that, in my view, really reveres and respects tradition, but also is rooted in a sense of purpose. … Even if you’re a biology major, or whatever major you are, it appears that you still show up for things that are important not only to the Georgetown community, but important to the whole entire country, and that’s a really, really special thing that I think is pretty unique on this campus.”
Crowley: “As of an hour and 20 minutes ago, I got an ID card that says I’m a member of the Georgetown faculty. I’m telling you — I’m telling everybody! I’m excited about it! … This is a premier institution — this is a fabulous place — and you know, getting the opportunity to really be with some really, really, smart young people is all good.”
Rogers: “It’s been great to see how excited students are. It’s just been great seeing the energy level out there, total engagement, super smart questions we’re already getting.”