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Alumna Lily Johnson '18 Reporting From the Hill

Photo of Seattle Academy Alumna Lily Johnson 18 with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for Stories from SAAS 2023

SAAS alumna Lily Johnson '18 with former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. 

Getting Your Foot in the Doors of Capitol Hill. “I applied, and was recommended to, several different Congressional offices — both Republican and Democrat,” says Lily. “My advice: Apply regardless of party politics.” 

After landing a job right out of college in New York Senator Charles “Chuck” E. Schumer’s office, Seattle Academy alumna Lily Johnson ’18 has some advice for fellow SAAS students interested in entering the political arena on Capitol Hill. Apply to various Congressional offices — Republican or Democrat — based on where you have ties to them. “The reason I went to work with Senator Schumer is because I have ties there. It is easier to understand the constituents if you understand the area,” says Lily, who graduated last year from Skidmore College in New York with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and philosophy.

“We are in an age of media and news,” says Lily. “Because the press is the one making issues digestible for the public, then the public understands and orients the legislation.”

Lily worked with the press team at Schumer’s Washington D.C. office. She tracked media mentioning the Senator — both locally and nationally. She tagged it, sent it on, and that got taken up the chain of command. “I always find the press an important part of preserving democracy,” Lily explains, “because for me, what I have learned and seen is that the press is at the forefront of everything.”

“In the 1960s you had a handful of news outlets. These days, I can’t even count how many outlets: you have news, press releases, podcasts, Twitter, and so on. The press makes these political issues digestible, so the public can understand these issues, too.”

“This is something I realized over time. Without the public awareness, you can’t have these bills up and sponsored. So because the press is the one making issues digestible for the public, then the public understands them and can orient the legislation.” 

You show all sides of politics, then you give that to the students and let them decide. “Chuck Sekyra, a history teacher at SAAS, did that,” recalls Lily. “Living and being in these polarizing places, Chuck was very influential to me. That was the initial spark for me wanting to go into American politics.” 

While a student at SAAS, Lily was always fascinated with history. Looking back, she recalls that Chuck Sekyra did something different in his class. “He struck me as a teacher who taught American politics in a way that wasn’t partisan,” says Lily. “He showed all sides of politics, and then he let the students decide how they felt. I remember the 2016 election, even though we are in a very left place, Chuck stuck out to me because he pushed students during the final exam to name one positive thing about Donald Trump. I was impressed that he did that; he did something very different than people in Seattle would do."

“One thing you learn in politics pretty fast is that things shift under your feet,” shared Lily, whose goal was is to work on the Hill as a permanent staffer. At the time of her interview with SAAS, Lily worked for the press team in former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s D.C. office. Her advice: Keep yourself open and adapt to new opportunities that present themselves. “I remind myself to keep an open mind. I just landed this gig, and I keep adapting,” says Lily, “And while I am here in communications and media, obviously I want to reduce polarization and keep changing the democratic platform.”

Currently, Lily works in Massachusetts Senator Edward “Ed” J. Markey’s D.C. office as his Communications Assistant. 

“As a Chinese female adopted by two white parents, my perspective is totally different,” Lily says. “I think you are so much more than what your culture is.” Lily points out that one thing Democrats have found themselves wound up in, is that they are so focused on tying culture to race and ethnicity, that the conversation can turn into stereotypes and labels. 

“I want to change that,” says Lily. “I have friends with very different political beliefs [who are also Asian American]. My best friend, who is like a brother to me, is half Korean and also from New York . He works for a fiscally conservative and capitalist organization. He believes in limited government. We come from very different upbringings — economically and socially. He grew up with a MAGA family. I grew up in a home where my mom and dad both love Elizabeth Warren. We may both be Asian American, but we are not politically alike.” 

“We demonize the other side so much — we forget they are humans.” Lily recommends: don’t start with politics. Get to know the person. The best advice for approaching politics and political conversations: don’t start with politics. “We forget that first step,” explains Lily. “Get to know individuals as a person: what they like to do; what classes they are in. And then, over time, have political discussions. And when you have those, make sure you are checking your own biases. When I can see my own biases, understand where they are coming from, I can check myself. Another tip: have conversations in a normal setting. Just talk in a calm manner. Try not to raise your voice.”