Courtney Laudick, 25, started dedicating herself to the progressive movement well before she came to Capitol Hill. Laudick, who is originally from Michigan, grew up in a progressive family with parents from working-class backgrounds. No one in her family had ever really worked in government. When she was 20, her father, who had a substance-use disorder, passed away.
“That experience, and getting kicked off health care when he passed because my mom didn’t have health care at the time, really pushed me towards doing a career [in] and dedicating my life to the progressive movement,” Laudick tells Teen Vogue.
In 2018, she moved to Washington, D.C., to work for a succession of Michigan representatives: Dan Kildee and Andy Levin, a cosponsor of the Medicare for All Act. But Laudick wanted to do more, so she talked to her friends on the Hill about building a coalition of progressive staffers; a space, she thought, where they could share ideas and work together to see them implemented.
Laudick’s idea garnered more momentum after Jacob Wilson, 28, joined Levin’s office in January. Wilson also wanted to build a network of progressive staffers. Along with Philip Bennett, 29, a scheduler in Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar’s office, and a few other staffers, they met at Dunkin’ Donuts in the Longworth House office building. The excitement was palpable.
“We’re like, ‘Hey, it would be amazing if we were able to formalize the informal — [to] have a group where we can connect other like-minded staffers on the Hill around progressive values,’” Bennett recalls. A year and a half later, the Congressional Progressive Staff Association was born. Its members want to expand the ranks of young progressives working in government and, in the process, break down the silos that have kept many on the outside.
With Democrats currently controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, the group says they’ve found their moment. “This is the perfect time to do it,” Bennett says, “so we just want to make sure that progressive staff and voices aren’t left out of any of these conversations.”
There’s good reason to want change on Capitol Hill: In February, Politico reported that, while this Congress is more diverse than ever, staffers remain overwhelmingly white; meanwhile, staff pay is notoriously low, and morale among staff has dropped in the months since the January 6 riot.
The interest is definitely there. Since announcing its formation in early June, the Congressional Progressive Staff Association has attracted some 500 members, mainly from the offices of progressive lawmakers, but also from more mainstream and conservative Democrat offices. The group hosted a widely attended inaugural virtual meeting and a subsequent in-person happy hour, and plans to invite progressive speakers, including grassroots activists, to meet with staffers. Bennett calls the interest inspiring: “The baton is being passed to the next generation of progressive staff to kind of start building out this community here.”
Beyond helping to build behind-the-scenes support for progressive policies, the group hopes to serve as a resource and community network for like-minded young staffers. “It’s certainly no secret that there are [working] conditions that aren’t ideal for everyone,” Bennett says. “And these were only kind of heightened during the pandemic.”
Laudick points to low pay and long hours due to understaffing. Progressive staffers, she says, face additional barriers in actually getting their ideas implemented. “So if you start to feel siloed, or you’re alone in your work,” she says, “I think it quickly becomes a dangerous place to make change, but also for your mental health and well-being.”