Today, we're discussing our experiences during our Crashing the Gates action last month. As you probably know, Philo and I worked together to organize a group of volunteers to deliver a copy of Jerome's and Markos' book, Crashing the Gate to every Democrat on Capitol Hill. It was a hectic day, so hectic that we really never had a chance to sit down with each other and hear about what people's experiences were like. We also had a number of post-action responses, some of which we are putting up here. We hope that some of the other volunteers can tell us some stories in comments.
RedShift sums up the first impressions of people who were, as I was, visiting the Hill for the first time:
One of the great things about this was experiencing how accessible our government really is. Every office has a sign outside that say "Please come in." Staffers are ready to talk to anyone who shows up. Once you've walked in the first time, it's not intimidating at all (heck, it's less intimidating that a lot of corporate offices I've been to.)
There's no guarantee that they'll do what you want them to, of course, but being there gives you a great sense that it really is our government, not the government. If you're visiting DC for business, vacation, or a rally, I'd encourage you to drop in on your representatives. It's not one of the typical tourist stops, but it's well worth the trip.
That picture at the top of the page is of Jim Preston and Paradox65, two MD NetRooters who were gracious and energetic enough to make us part of their very busy day.
Jim describes the meeting that preceded the photo op above:
Our warmest reception occurred at the office of Darlene Hooley (OR-5) (photo above). Rep. Hooley had had some interesting interactions with bloggers from blueoregon.com, and wanted to make a good impression with us. Her Legislative Director, Joan Mooney Evans, let us know that Rep. Hooley really wanted to meet us and get a picture so we waited for a few minutes until she got back from another meeting. They were all very nice, and Rep. Hooley was really great. She is very down-to-earth and enjoys a good laugh. She regaled us with stories about her appearance on The Colbert Report which I was excited to be able to pass on to my kids. We were all laughing about "The Fightin' Fifth" as we took the picture and went on our merry way. We also had a very pleasant reception at the offices of Grace Napolitano (CA-38).
Paradox65 has a homier take:
Me and Jim stayed paired up, a tag team if you will. We got some strange looks in the tunnels, a rather eclectic bunch of people carrying armloads of books(I recall seeing one gentleman wearing a elephant with american flag tie walk by,a rather dour look on his face as he came across us. Hahaha!)Got a few puzzeled stares, met a few LD's, had one staffer chase us down in the hall after we had left; he wanted more details. And some offices were waiting for us, even took pics. Rep.Hooley was a character, she wanted to meet us so we waited for her. We were given a much appreciated drink of water there too!As the day wore on the word seemed to spread ,some expressed concern that they had gotten left off the list.(Nope,we had 'em). Finally the House was done–off to the Senate. We ended in the same building we had started in. To RagingGurrll, who was running the camera, I hope your feet feel better. But how many people can say they strolled through a Senate office building barefoot? The deliveries rolled on. Let me take time to say Jim was great at giving the personal touch when delivering, giving thanks for the Rep or Senator's work on different projects, speeches, peace initatives, whatever. He really knows what's going on in that town.
Jim and Paradox65 spent the morning meeting with their Senators’ (Sarbanes and Mikulski) staff, discussing Iran and other nationality security concerns. You can see a full write up of their day over at the CtGProject site.
Philo, who first had the idea and handled media and Hill contacts posted a full account of his day.
Here’s my favorite excerpt from that post:
A young man introduced himself as Yoni Cohen, Congressman Stark's press secretary. Mind you, I'd been out of Starks office for at least three minutes and made it about thirty feet down the hall. Yoni had chased me down to talk about the book and find out more about the action. I chatted with him for about five minutes and left gratified that a congressional aide thought enough of our efforts to even attempt to follow me down the hall to talk.
The best part for me was the time Philo and I spent with Tim Cullen (Media Technology Director) and Sheryl Cohen (Chief of Staff) of Senator Dodd’s office. We had a broad and deep discussion about the nature of the netroots, our demographics, the intensity of our involvement and our numbers. Sheryl was very much engaged—on the day that Dodd had announced for the presidency, which must have been a very full one. I left feeling that we had supported Tim in his efforts to increase the role the blogosphere plays in Dodd’s media strategy. Tim was the only person from the Hill who reached out and contacted us before the event, just by the way. And Tim reports that the Senator has finished the first chapter, and there is a podcast coming after he's read another chunk of the book.
There were also some developments after the event. A commenter suggested following up with our elected officials to make sure they’d gotten the book, and to urge the officials to read Crashing the Gate . That we did. There was a flood of calls into the offices of our elected officials. We hope that you'll post your experiences in comments.
The recipients have chimed in as well:
Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11):
"Democracy only works if well-informed and responsible people participate. "Crashing the Gate" highlights the way that individual citizens can more fully participate and help elect leaders who truly represent the American people. Because we are the party of the people, the Democratic Party should be in the better position to benefit from a well-informed and activist electorate."
Rob Pierson from Mike Honda’s (CA-15) office:
Every Congressional office should read this book to learn about the growing impact of the blogosphere, and how it increasingly empowers citizens to impact political discourse.
It’s on Representative Jim Moran’s reading list published in the Washington Examiner (h/t Eric Durland)
Via his Outreach Director, Bryan Spooner, Moran tells us that “Crashing the Gate is at the top of my summer reading list. From what I've heard so far, it provides very insightful analysis for progressives working to chart a course to the majority."
We've had other, private, communications from other offices. One staffer got in touch with us, through another Congressional office, asking whether we had delivered a copy to her Rep's office. As Paradox65 says above, everybody got one. In this case, I happened to have made the delivery. In the process of straightening this out (somebody probably took it home and hadn't fessed up), our contact said that the book is a "hot item." Another office reported that there's a waiting list for CtG, and the Chief of Staff is next on the list. And that's just a sample.
When we started working on this, it was my opinion that the event mattered as much as the upshot; if the book got shelved as so many gift books no doubt do, our presence and the contributions of the invididuals who bought the books would nonetheless stand out as a demonstration of people-powered politics. The confluence of events has made this more successful than I had hoped for–Lamont's victory happened the weekend before, and Tester's shortly thereafter. Oh, yes, and there was YKos. The folks inside the Beltway want to know what to make of the netroots, and this project will help them figure us out. And, hey, if we keep it up, "them" will become "us."