Making the Rounds

July 12, 2013

Andrew Kaplan '15 and Sam Gilman '15 are Starr Fellows working on building a grassroots organization, Common Sense Action


We never realized it would be so easy to walk into the offices of the House of Representatives.  Congress is an unapproachable fortress. It often feels as though only the most persistent and important among us can have influence. When you think of the federal government, you think of the Capitol building and the White House with extensive security and gatekeepers… One must always get by the chiefs of staff to the chief of staff, then the chief of staff himself before meeting with someone important. Not to mention that you usually need a badge and an official invitation.

The truth is slightly different.  House office buildings are adjacent to the Capitol, and their facades are not so glamorous.  There are no paintings adorning the walls, no dome reaching to the sky.  The halls of a typical building are unspectacular, and the doorways lead to a maze of alcoves where scurrying interns and harried staff members grease the cogs of America’s government.

The first time we did “walk-ins” we were nervous.  Unsure of how our pitch would be received, we entered the first office we saw, a representative from Texas.  It wasn’t a success.  We came on too soft, explaining that we were merely a youth group hosting fun events this summer and the interns quickly categorized us as an organization that was just like the rest.  The next office we were too aggressive and we scared our target audience away after saying that we wanted to create a political movement (“that YOU should be a part of”) after the third sentence.

Walking into the third office, we knew what we wanted.  We explained ourselves to the intern coordinator (“we throw events for interns”) and saved the meat of the pitch for the interns.  We started slow by inviting them to our next event where we knew that we would be able to further discuss the idea of Common Sense Action with them.

The approach worked.  After days spent walking up and down the halls of the House office buildings, we turned out over 130 interns to our event with Senator Olympia Snowe.  From there, we recruited ten people to join our Steering Committee, officially laying the groundwork for the rest of the summer.

For us, the most exciting part of doing “walk-ins” was the variety of accents, opinions, and perspectives just 20 feet apart.  Discussing the necessity for education and investments with an intern from a New York representative was followed five minutes later by exploring the need for fiscal sustainability with an intern from a Georgian office.  The fun part lies in connecting those two people and hearing them debate, compromise, and agree on issues that are important to our generation.  If we can continue doing that, we’ll find our success.