The Value of a Phone Call

by Attayah Douglas '18.5
July 9, 2017

Jesse Beller '18 reflects on his time in the Brown in Washington program and shares his top tips for civic engagement. 

Q: Briefly describe the work you did in D.C. through the program.

A: I worked in the office of Sen. Kamala D. Harris, junior senator from California. I spent roughly 70% of my time doing administrative work such as answering constituent calls and mail, or leading tours, and the rest of my time doing more substantive legislative work like writing decision memos and helping with preparations for committee hearings.

Q: What unexpected experiences did you have?

A: I think I would combine this response and the next response: I had more face time and longer conversations with Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Al Franken (D-MN) than with Sen. Harris.

Q: What was your most memorable experience?

A: I rode along with Sen. Grassley (just the two of us) in the Senate underground last week and discussed the legislative filibuster and his thoughts on ending it (among other things). We talked for roughly 5 minutes and then he walked onto the Senate floor and voted to end the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees.

Q: Why should people apply to this program and who should apply for this program?

A: It is a great opportunity to experience D.C., to apply the skills you have developed at Brown for a good cause(s) and to get a better sense of whether you enjoy working in politics/NGOs/D.C.

Q: What advice would you give for anyone interested applying and to the new cohort of students participating in the program?

A: The most important part of the program is your placement - do everything you can to understand what you will be doing and to find somewhere where you will be doing substantive work for a cause you support. If you don’t get your dream internship it is not a problem, just have appropriate expectations for your internship. I would also stress the importance of making friends at work and in your age range since it can be somewhat lonely in D.C.

Q: What are your “Top Tips” from Washington?

  • A: Calling representatives is much more valuable than calling senators.
  • Call much more than emailing or sending letters.

  • You can call anyone you want - I’d suggest calling lesser known representatives.

  • Criticize, but also appreciate. If a representative does what you want, thank them! Positive reinforcement!

  • If you are in a blue area or you agree with your representative, calling/emailing is about tallying numbers, so best to email with whatever you care about clearly in the subject.

  • Get out and vote - and get everyone you know out to vote too!