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A journal of social practice & professional engagement for the Antioch community

The (Aspiring) Washingtonian: Sykes ’18 at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.

My third co-op finds me in lovely Washington, D.C. After my first co-op, I knew that I wanted to come back and experience more of the thriving political mini-metropolis that is D.C. Not that Yellow Springs is not a nice place to live and work during the frigid fall months, but it lacks the charm of walking past the Capitol every morning en route to work.

I’ve been in D.C. for nearly two months working as the Government Relations Intern for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), a small educational and human rights non-profit. Now before the legions of Antioch Marxists start deleting me from Facebook, I’ll add that I am also a policy fellow in the Koch Fellows Program, run by the Charles Koch Institute.

Whew! Looks like I haven’t been ignobly dismissed from Antioch, which is a relief.

Anyway, as the name suggests, VOC is focused on commemorating the over 100 million people who were killed under Communism and providing education about modern communist regimes. As the Government Relations Intern, I work with embassies, congressional staffers, and a range of other organizations to support events and build relationships—all of which is code for making lots of phone calls, sending emails, drafting letters, and networking with people at events. And, as a co-worker of mine puts it, “charming” people.

Beyond my government relations tasks and projects, I have had many opportunities to explore other areas of non-profit work. VOC has a strong start-up culture and most of our staff are recent college graduates or young professionals, so we often end up wearing multiple hats. I’ve worked on research projects, written two blog posts (here and here), created floral arrangements, and attended a surprise statue unveiling at the Hungarian Embassy at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I’ve learned that scanning books is not a strength of mine and that it is possible (although not preferable) to rearrange rooms in heels. There is no task that is too small or insignificant and even though preparing and executing events can be stressful, descending into giggles and bonding with co-workers definitely makes it all worth it.

I’ve learned a lot during this co-op. One of my research projects was to comb through Lenin’s collected works for his definitions and descriptions of socialism and/or communism, which was illuminating and somewhat horrifying at times. I’ve read more books in two months on co-op than I usually can during six months at Antioch, and I’ve listened to incredibly intelligent and insightful people discuss issues from the U.S.’s Middle East strategy to Chinese infrastructure investment in Africa. Through my Koch fellowship, I have reflected on my professional development and am starting to proactively plan and imagine life after Antioch.

But co-op isn’t only about learning and work. There is fun to be had as well. With three other current Antiochians and countless alumni in the area, there are plenty of opportunities for gathering, good food, and some political discussions. I attended the National Book Festival, stumbled onto a section of the Berlin Wall, and had a September picnic in Dupont Circle. Oh, and watched Russell Brand mock a poll that VOC and YouGov published. So basically, as they say, we have arrived.

I have about five weeks left of my internship and I am looking forward to each day. Sure, the brisk November chill makes it tough to creep out from underneath the covers sometimes, but on this co-op I am making a difference, doing work that actually matters, alongside people who are passionate, intelligent, and committed to ending a system that killed millions and controls millions more.

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Soleil Sykes graduated Antioch College in 2018 with a degree in Political Economy with a French Language Focus. While at Antioch, she pursued her interests in foreign and defense policy through the co-op program. She co-oped at the U.S. Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, and The Record, Antioch College's newspaper. As a ComCil chair, she facilitated community governance reform, with a focus on increasing democratic engagement. Soleil served as an editor of The Record for four quarters and volunteered at her local parish while at Antioch.

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