Interns at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who protested that its unpaid internship program made it challenging for nonwhite and working-class people to apply, appear to have won. In a Thursday morning roundtable with the current class of interns, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the DCCC chairman, said that the committee was “going forward” with plans to pay intern classes in the future.
The change comes just weeks after 13 interns signed a forceful letter urging Luján and other committee officials to pay their future cohorts. By offering unpaid internships, the letter said, DCCC was limiting the talent pool to the kinds of people who already dominate the political world.
“Most of our fellow interns, while undoubtedly bright, are white and wealthy and have no real understanding of the perspectives of everyday working Americans, nor do we have fellow interns with diverse backgrounds to discuss issues, ideas, or experiences with,” the letter said. “It is impossible for us to champion the working class when at the most basic levels, those who work in the party do not represent them on a socioeconomic or racial basis.”
After the Democratic National Committee began paying its interns this spring, the letter noted, the share of people of color in the program leapt from 18 percent to 42 percent.
“This sort of change reflects who the Democratic Party can and should be,” the letter said.
The DCCC is headquartered in Washington, D.C., where the cost of living is one of the highest in the country.
Luján on Thursday didn’t offer details about when and how much the DCCC would to pay. He said the committee was planning to offer a “stipend” and told interns to expect an announcement in the near future.
A person present at the roundtable shared details of the meeting with HuffPost. A spokesperson for the DCCC would say only that the committee is “reviewing its intern program.”
The committee’s role is to advise and influence hundreds of electoral operations on behalf of U.S. House Democrats, meaning a DCCC internship is a powerful springboard from which to launch a career in politics.
Today’s interns will help determine Democratic policies and strategies in the future. But the perspectives of the current class can be limited, said Lydia Murray, the DCCC intern who authored the letter. She did so after getting in touch with the advocacy group Pay Our Interns.
“There’s this general misunderstanding about people of color, and also this general misunderstanding about working-class people that you hear,” Murray said. “A belief that, of course, people of color are going to vote Democrat, we don’t have to earn their vote anymore. Or a belief that if you’re working class and from the Midwest, this is how you’re going to think.”
Some of her fellow interns have asked Murray who “made the call” to help her land the internship after she applied ― a question that, for her, laid bare how many of the party’s future operatives have the privilege of pre-existing ties to the political class.
“These are the people you’re lifting up, the people who are going to have a seat at the table and have their voices heard in future decision-making: mostly rich white people,” she continued.
The DCCC offers internships to several dozen college students and young people multiple times a year. It follows the DNC, the U.S. Senate and a handful of campaigns that have recently made the switch away from unpaid internship programs.
“I think this is an example where, through your voices, you will make a difference in other peoples’ lives as well going forward,” Luján said Thursday.