Updated, 11:05 a.m. | What happens when a creative young staffer with a monotonous job and hours to kill takes to Instagram? A hilarious meditation on Hill life told through the language of our time: memes.
Hungover mornings, angry constituents, awkward interactions and career anxiety are all being meticulously documented by a group of meme accounts taking over Capitol Hill. There’s one for almost every position in a congressional office — staff assistant, legislative correspondent, press secretary, communications director and scheduler. Even campaign fundraisers and committee staffers get a nod.
“Waking up to 8 missed calls from your boss and 17 texts from your staff that could all be answered if they would just look at the calendar … (groans existentially),” the Congressional Scheduler posted last fall, with a screenshot from “BoJack Horseman.” That account has 151 posts and has racked up close to 3,000 followers.
Another prolific account, America’s Staff Assistant, began posting Dec. 2 in an effort to capture “the daily life and struggles of a Staff Assistant.” It started off strong, posting five to six times a day, but has since slowed and now relies partially on audience submissions. In almost two months, it has accumulated more than 2,300 followers.
“What started as a small side project in sharing inside jokes on the Hill, just continues to grow,” read a celebratory post when the account hit the 1,000-follower mark.
The memes explore the highs and lows of Hill life, the thrill of starting a career in the most powerful city in the world, and all the opportunities and pitfalls that entails.
There are posts about getting too drunk at receptions (like the one that uses a half-naked Ken Jeong from the “Hangover” movies), or scrambling to book a White House tour at the last minute, or wrangling interns (likening them to kindergarteners being dropped off at school).
For D.C. veterans who’ve long since left the Hill, the accounts can stir nostalgia.
“Seems pretty accurate,” said Ginna Moseley, a former Capitol Hill intern who now works in the energy sector. “Reading these is giving me flashbacks to being 22.”
They’ve also produced a forehead-slapping, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Niche audience but so spot on. I love it,” said Helen Dwight, who worked as a legislative director before becoming a lobbyist. “My friend on the Hill sends these to me. I feel like we should’ve started these accounts.”
These pockets of comedy can only be understood by someone intimately acquainted with the insular world of congressional staff life. They’re jokes that no one but Hill staffers would get.
The legislative correspondent account, for instance, sparks recognition for anyone familiar with the esoteric process of constituent letter-writing — like when the chief of staff makes an edit to a letter that a legislative director already changed. If you know, you know. And then there’s the post that pokes fun at the difference between personal and committee staff by juxtaposing a burning city with nobles playing harps.
It’s not all sarcasm. There’s a heartfelt post that uses crying football players from “Friday Night Lights” to convey the disappointment of losing out on a job opportunity. A photo of the Joker smiling through pain sums up the pressure felt by junior staff to move up the career ranks.
It isn’t clear if one person is running all the accounts, but subtle differences in tone indicate they may have multiple operators. (Plus, staff assistants have a lot of down time — but not that much.) I reached out to America’s Staff Assistant, but they (politely) declined to comment.
Life as a Capitol Hill junior staffer can be stressful. The pay is low — the median staff assistant salary is about $36,000, according to data compiled by LegiStorm — the work can be monotonous, and the constituents can be demanding.
For those getting their start in a personal office, being a staff assistant is more akin to be a customer service representative. You’re responsible for handling constituent calls, greeting in-office visitors and sometimes guiding them on tours.
Consider this meme about phone calls from outside the district, which staff assistants aren’t required to take. Given the volume of complaints from within your own jurisdiction, it can be downright cathartic to hang up on someone when you can. (I’ve seen staff assistants hang up in the middle of a call as soon as they find out it’s not one of their constituents.)
There’s the House and Senate rivalry. Much like their bosses, Senate staffers do feel a sense of superiority to their kin in the “lower chamber.” Meanwhile, everyone feels superior to district staff, as evidenced by the arm wrestling meme.
Congress is a seemingly large workplace, but each lawmaker’s office is essentially its own silo, with rules varying from one to the next.
Changes could be on the way, as the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress considers a slate of recommendations aimed at making the legislative branch function better. The bipartisan committee, which formed in 2019, voted unanimously to urge Congress to create an internal human resources hub.
In the meantime, career development — and protections — are still informal and haphazard, and young staffers are left to navigate the murky waters largely unguided, armed with memes.
Update, Jan. 30, 11 a.m. | A flurry of helpful posts Thursday morning sent me even further down the meme-hole. The Congressional Scheduler account began publishing earlier than America’s Staff Assistant. We hope we haven’t started something.
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