All posts by Diego Quezada


My last day interning at the Center for American Progress was Friday, Aug. 1. Now back at home for the first time in 10 weeks, I feel nothing but thankful for what has been a great summer.

Brown bags — when staff members speak to interns during lunch hours — stand as a highlight of CAP’s internship program. Throughout this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to hear from CAP President Neera Tanden, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, CAP Executive Vice President for Policy Carmel Martin and Duke graduate Raj Goyle, a Senior Fellow at CAP, among others. I heard about accomplished policymakers’ life stories and asked several questions to them. I heard Carmel Martin talk about everything from her decision to live on the U.S./Mexico border after graduating from college to her views on Michelle Rhee’s stint as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools.

This last month of my internship also featured MakeProgress, a large event Generation Progress — a national organization based at CAP that focuses on Millennial issues — hosted. MakeProgress invited hundreds of young people to Washington, D.C. to hear people like Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Additionally, MakeProgress included breakout sessions on various issue areas. Although I had to start working at 6:30 a.m. that day, it was a great event that featured compelling speeches and informative sessions.


But I guess what I was most thankful for weren’t the two trips to the White House or MakeProgress. It was the fact that CAP brought together a diverse set of intelligent, passionate college students to learn from and work with each other. When a brown bag wasn’t scheduled, the interns on my floor — representing departments like immigration, health, race policy and faith — went out to eat lunch.

We spoke about the complex issues that the MakeProgress breakout sessions focused on. One session I attended there was titled, “More Than Marriage,” and it centered about LGBTQ issues beyond marriage equality. On my row at CAP, we spoke about those issues frequently. We talked about how although the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black should be commended for including diversity — in terms of racial and sexual identities and body types — in its show, it wouldn’t exist if it didn’t have a white, young female as its protagonist. All the interns I had the chance to speak with were friendly. They challenged me and they each made a mark on me. For that, I’ll be forever thankful.


New experiences, disheartening decisions

This past week in Washington, D.C. has been hectic — full of novel experiences and bitter disappointments. But as I move past the halfway point of the summer internship, I’ve recently found that reflecting has given me a good dose of perspective.

Last Monday, I joined other interns at the Center for American Progress for a rally in front of the Supreme Court. The Court was going to announce its decision in one of the biggest cases of the year, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which challenged the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that comprehensive birth control coverage be included in employee health insurance plans. As someone who participated in some of the Moral Monday protests, I was excited to join this rally. I joined other activists and chanted, “Keep your rosaries off our ovaries” and other fun sayings. But a little after 10 o’clock, a 5-4 Court ruled that “closely-held” corporations could deny employees certain forms of contraception they religiously object to. Although I enjoyed the rally, I was deeply disappointed that five men decided that a for-profit corporation can restrict birth control access to women under the guise of “religious freedom.” This ruling marked the first time that the Supreme Court accepted a corporation’s claim of religious belief.


This week also marked the time at which Speaker John Boehner told President Obama that the House of Representatives will not vote on immigration legislation this year, leaving limited administrative options as the only possible relief for the millions of vulnerable people hoping to come out of the shadows. It’s disheartening to see that even when the vast majority of people agree that the immigration system needs reform, the status quo persists. While Obama has multiple policies at his disposal to enact, nothing he does alone will give the system the overhaul it needs.

On the other hand, spending July 4th in Washington, D.C. was an unforgettable experience. I visited the White House for the second time this summer that morning, seeing a special naturalization ceremony at which President Obama spoke. Later that night, I went to the National Mall to see fireworks go up above the Washington Monument.




A couple weeks ago, I also attended a panel discussion featuring Sheryll Cashin. Cashin, a Georgetown law professor, had just written a book titled Place Not Race, in which she reimagines affirmative action based on neighborhood or school poverty. At the talk, Cashin talked about a concept called “optical diversity” — when one can look out in a college classroom and see a racially diverse group of students, but know that most people in that group have similar, privileged life experiences. Another panelist argued in favor of race-based affirmative action and wondered why Cashin was trying to solve a racial problem in a race-neutral way. The back-and-forth made for a spirited and thought-provoking discussion.

I am having a great summer. But I also have to acknowledge that the Supreme Court and House of Representatives have just made decisions that adversely impact millions of people who are less privileged than I am. After the Court decision came down, we chanted, “They say ‘go away,’ we say ‘no way!'” Now more than ever, I hope to take that attitude as I continue to learn how to become a good policymaker.


An Eventful Start to the Summer

I didn’t entirely know what to expect this summer — my second in Washington, D.C. in three years. I knew I was going to intern at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, but had no idea of the opportunities that would present themselves to me as soon as I moved up to the nation’s capital May 25. In less than three weeks, I have gone to the White House to hear President Obama talk about student loan debt, attended an Economic Policy Institute event at which Labor Secretary Tom Perez spoke, raced other interns whenever an e-mail was sent out informing us about free food and run into fellow Duke students seemingly everywhere I have turned.





I immediately realized how many Duke students were interning in the District of Columbia. I have met classmates at the George Washington University gym, in my own residence hall at GW, on my way to work or on the metro. Moreover, two other Duke students are interning with me at CAP. The familiarity of fellow Duke students has undoubtedly helped me adjust to the hustle-and-bustle of Washington, a city I was somewhat accustomed to thanks to my six-week internship with David Price’s office after my first year at Duke. This summer has a decidedly different feel than the 2012 internship; I had not taken a single public policy studies course before I interned for Representative Price, but now I know and recognize several students from Sanford courses. The pervasiveness of Duke certainly has its benefits; it has allowed me to arrange meals and get-togethers with friends during the week and on weekends.



At CAP, I work with the immigration team. Lately a lot of my work has centered on the humanitarian crisis of child migrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border without their parents. My favorite part of the internship (aside from my trip to the White House, of course) are the immigration planning meetings I attend at which all the people talk about what they are working on and strategize for future projects. It’s clear that CAP has people researching on several issues meticulously and attempting to pressure actors to create action. I have found a welcoming environment that appreciates my work at CAP; I couldn’t ask for anything more. I cannot wait to find out what awaits me the rest of this summer.