Public Service & Politics: My Interview with Joel Rubin

By Breanna Lenio, PCtoPolitics Press Director, Founder/Chief Editor for AntHill

Photo by RPCV Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll of Uncornered Market. Picture is in Tortuguero Town — Costa Rica

I was honored to recently have the opportunity of interviewing RPCV Joel Rubin for Peace Corps to Politics, an organization that supports RPCVs who are running for office. Joel Rubin is currently running for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, and we wanted to hear more about how those early days of public service have since motivated his political career. I am not a PC alumna (RPCV) myself. But in working with this organization, I’ve been surrounded by RPCVs, each of them always willing and excited to tell me about their volunteer experiences. And it was no different with Joel who volunteered as an Environmental Educator in a rural Costa Rican village back in ’94. I began by asking if his PC service had indeed motivated his political career, and he responded with something quite profound. It’s not too often that someone can simplify politics, and with such positivity.

“It’s everything. Politics is an extension of public service and public service is an extension of doing good in the world. And, if you’re committed to engaging in helping people and you want to really make an impact, you can do it in a whole bunch of different ways.”

Joel has a servant’s heart, which is perhaps what I learned most about him that day. He has been involved in public service since he was in high school, and he continued throughout his college years. So while the PC isn’t where his passion for helping others began, it was a time and place that broadened his vision of what he could do with it. He smiled, beaming ear to ear, as he began to reflect on the community and children he engaged with during that time. Later in our interview he described the exact moment he realized he wanted to unite his passion for public service with a career in politics.

“I had this epiphany moment in the Peace Corps about this idea of being engaged at some level in politics or policy. And I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it mattered in particular while I was in a classroom teaching and looking at this textbook. I don’t recall the exact details of it, I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, this textbook is horrible.’ Thinking, ‘Who is making these decisions?’ It’s these people in the capital who are making up decisions for this textbook for this real village to have to use.”

When Joel recognized how far these decisions trickle down, how many people they affect and to what extent it affects them, he realized he needed to be a part of those decisions.

Politics, for him, is an outgrowth of public service, but he noted that candidates and elected officials have a responsibility to get it right, that politics is affecting hundreds of millions of people. Though I have volunteered throughout my life, I find a career in politics too big a task for someone like me. Therefore, it’s inspiring to know there are people with real, hands-on experience who have the internal capacity to be in public office — there are many other RPCVs in politics. And perhaps it’s that PC attitude Joel explained, the resilience and values the PC instills in its volunteers during those two years that motivates certain RPCVs to take on such a career.

I recently visited the PC website where I found the core expectations they have for their volunteers. The expectations ranged from character practices to proactivity, such as peace and friendship, efforts to improve the lives of others, a sense of respect and understanding of people and cultures that are different than your own, and more. It’s amazing to think of these values as the foundation of all our politicians.

Volunteers come out of their service prepared for the tough fights of the future.

Joel explained how he went through a personal transformation during those two years in Costa Rica, something he says continues to guide him in his political fights today.

“I think when you bring that with you, all the fights you have, like testifying to the Benghazi Committee. I did that because I felt like our government people who are working ever day on behalf of the American people were being treated horribly by politicians who have no clue about what it’s like to serve the American people. So I’ll stand up, take shots, and attack. That’s fine, because in the back of my mind I know there are people in a village who I worked with 20 years ago who are cheering me on.”

Also backing Joel are the children, now 22 years older, who have kept in touch with him through Facebook over the years. His eyes lit up as he told of their immense support when he announced he was running for Maryland’s 8th. It was neat to see the ways in which they both have inspired and supported one another, even after all those years. He told me about their success and achievements of graduating college and working great careers. He said those children expanded his view of what he could do in the world, and hopes his educational engagement with them was, at some level, empowering and impactful on their lives, too.

I had found new confidence in the future of our country by the end of my interview with Joel.

I think all too often we forget our politicians are meant to protect and enrich our lives because there is so much misplaced motivation in our politics. People are angry with our system as it is today, as it has been in the past. It should be more often that those like Joel Rubin run for office. We need to do our research to put our vote behind the people who deserve the seat, individuals who are dedicated to the people and have devoted hands-on time to truly improving the lives others.

Joel Rubin as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Read more about Joel Rubin on his website:

See the transcript of our full interview here on our website. Follow us on twitter @PCtoPolitics Like us on Facebook

Follow Breanna on twitter: @breannaLenio or @anthilllive

The lead photo is from Uncornered Market, Audrey Scott, and Daniel Noll. Audrey is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Audrey & Dan have been traveling the world taking gorgeous photos