Preparing for Political Careers

Zakariya Abdullahi, Photo Editor

Zakariya Abdullahi, 3rd year, is a Political Science (w/ Public Policy) and International Relations double major. 

As a political science major, and especially as a Somali-American, many ask me: why study politics? Is politics not the thing that destroyed Somalia? Aside from that, I was constantly told that politics is not worth my time. As a first-generation Somali American, I know that many in my community view politics with a negative lens. They have good reason to be skeptical of politics. Politicians and false promises destroyed their country. They were forced to live in fear, in conditions that are unimaginable and forced to flee their homes. Political change can seem scary and sometimes unattainable to many communities of color. 

Coming to college, I wasn’t interested in getting involved on campus because of “put it on your resume” mentalities and cliques. I decided to start doing internships off campus to gain new experiences. Transportation was a huge issue because first-year residents are not allowed to have a car on campus, and there was no Auggie Pass then. The hardest thing about being politically involved is being an outsider. In a lot of established political spaces, you need someone to introduce you to the space and the people occupying it. Aside from established political space, one could get involved in community organizing, but that takes a lot of time, energy and can easily cause burnout. If one does make it into the established political spaces, it can also feel lonely and isolating. 

My political experiences have taken me from community organizing to congressional campaigns, a congressional internship and lobbying work. I have constantly been in spaces where most people do not look like me. In those spaces, I have noticed that a lot of men of color are involved, especially Black men. 

This summer, I had the opportunity to do an internship with the Office of U.S Senator Tina Smith in St. Paul, MN. I got connected with the position this past spring while I was doing a study away program in Washington D.C. I met one of the legislative assistants at Senator Smith’s D.C office, and he urged me to apply for the internship position. Through this experience, I learned so much about how congressional offices work and how it can help the community. Something I noticed during my internship is that offices (not just Senator Smiths’ office) are vastly in need of diverse voices. Nearly all the policy calls that we received were from older white people voicing their opinions. I feel that more people, especially people of color, need to reach out to their elected officials and demand change. 

Some challenges that I encountered were learning how to respond to constituent’s concerns. At the beginning of my internship, it was tough providing effective services to constituents because there was a lot of information to learn, and the environment was fast-paced. However, after a couple of weeks, I got used to the pace. I was more confident in my ability to talk to constituents, whether it was helping them with a case or responding to policies. Some things that surprised me about my internship was the number of calls that congressional offices receive each day and all the services that congressional offices provide to the community. I knew that they provided immigration help. However, I did not know about all the other resources that they provided to constituents. If you ever have any issues with federal agencies, call your congressional office!

Some advice I would give to other students who are interested in politics or public policy work is to connect with people in your field. A lot of political jobs are not posted and are found through networking with individuals. Also, do a wide range of internships in all political spaces so you can figure out what you like and do not like. The highlight from my internship experience was getting to work with Somali constituents on visa and immigration issues and seeing how happy they were to have someone that could understand them on many levels. If you are interested in politics and would like to grab coffee or tea, I would love to connect either through email: abdullaz@augsburg.edu or on Facebook.