I’m the luckiest political junkie in the world. At the tender age of 21 I’ve been blessed with three things: professional political experiences I only dreamed of in high school, a real chance to make a difference in the lives of families just like my own, and an opportunity to meet and work with the brightest minds I’ve ever met.
So what’s my best political experience? A press conference.
Not long ago NBC’s The West Wing was my drug. I used to sit dumbstruck as Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett opined like the Abraham Lincoln of the 1990s. I was riveted by Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman and his quirky, get it done attitude.
But no one fascinated me more than White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg. Every episode she would stand under the glaring lights of the briefing room fielding questions from the press gallery firing answers off like a media machine gun. She was smart, she was witty, she had an answer for everything – I wanted to be C.J. Cregg.
CJPAC helped train me in the discipline of political communication. Through CJPAC’s top-notch Fellowship Program I participated in workshops on media relations, political advertising, and a myriad of other vital political skills. Partially as a result of the lessons CJPAC taught me I had the joy this summer of interning for then Industry Minister Christian Paradis as a member of his communications staff.
Late one evening I get a message from a colleague: be at work early and wear a nice suit. 6 am rolls around and our office’s Director of Communications whisks me into a room. Chairs line the floor. Cameras are plugged in from CBC, CTV, all the national networks. At the front, a podium.
I wasn’t there to work but to observe. It was nonetheless a riveting moment – my first press conference as a communications staffer in politics.
The Minister comes out and announces his decision on a major telecom acquisition. He sticks to government policy – encouraging new competitors for lower prices and increased competition.
My first press conference was everything I imagined it would be. The flash of the lights, the lightning hands of journalists competing for the attention of the senior official in front of them, the glass podium with the Canadian flag standing tall behind it.
There is one importance difference between my first press conference and the one that was born in the imagination of my younger mind. The imaginary press conference was a distant television fantasy: media warrior C.J. Cregg wrangling the national press. My first press conference was real. It was within reach, not ethereal but physical.
In high school the thought of standing in a briefing room was impossible to contemplate. This summer I was in the room part of the very experience I had always sought.
I stood a few metres from the podium. Only a few metres, only a few steps away. It was closer than ever before.
Someday I can only hope to close those few metres, step behind that podium, and feel those lights.
A few metres today. A reality tomorrow. C.J. Cregg isn’t as impossible as she once was.