After Action Report: Success!
Today members of the Roots Project delivered a copy of Crashing the Gate to every Democrat in the House and Senate. Two hundred and forty-nine offices in one day by no more than a dozen people. Last night a handful of volunteers met at PoliticsTV's office to insert personalized bookplates into every copy of the book and then sorted them by building, floor, and room number, a critical step that allowed us to complete all of our work today. I left New York City with three other Roots Project volunteers, including organizer Jay Ackroyd, from Penn Station at 5:30 am and arrived in Washington at around 9 am. We headed over to the PoliticsTV office and met up with David Grossman, producer and cameraman extraordinaire, who had already loaded all 249 copies of the book into his car. We then proceeded to the Capitol South Metro stop, where we met up with the DC/MD/VA area volunteers. Again, I don't think this action would have succeeded if we didn't have eight local volunteers handing out books with us; we had expected a smaller DC area showing.
We ran into a major problem trying to enter Rayburn HOB. It turns out you aren't allowed to give books to all of Congress at once, without one constitutent per book. A sergeant of the Capitol Police was very helpful at suggesting a way around the rules when he heard the purpose of our visit to the Hill. Fortunately for us, a friend in a high place was able to escort us in and provide a base for our operations (sorry folks, the identity of our mystery savior must remain secret).
We started in the House Office Buildings with twelve volunteers plus David Grossman, our remarkably helpful and knowledgable cameraman/producer from PoliticsTV. David proved himself invaluable at every juncture of our action - before, during, and after. Though we weren't able to start delivering books until 12:30pm, we had strong numbers and a drive to get the job done. Offices came and went, books were delivered, conversations of all sorts were struck up between Roots Project volunteers and friendly Democratic staffers and interns.
It's not surprising to say that a major obstacle in my ability to accurately and fully recount the days events is the size of our action. We delivered 249 books to 249 House and Senate offices. We started with twelve people and finished with six. I couldn't even tell you how many books I delivered, though I'd guess it's somewhere between thirty and thirty-five.
[Editorial moment: We essentially delivered the books randomly - little forethought was given to who gave to each congressperson. Not one book out of all the books I delivered was for a woman legislator. My delivery was predominantly random, yet women are so under-represented in the halls of Congress I was not able to hand over a book destined for a woman. This isn't exactly news, but it was a hard fact for me to miss.]
I also doubt we could have finished our day's work if we'd started even half an hour later. The frantic, yet fruitful, nature of the delivery process (think ants on a carcass or bees on honey) prevented us from truly taking stock of our experience as the day went on. Once we started, the action had such inertia that we never had a chance to come up for air. We didn't get to debrief or recap what was working, where our most positive experiences were, and who we'd met that was most enthusiastic. I would have loved to have the ability to get more feedback from our awesome crew of volunteers throughout the day - hopefully the next major Roots Project action budgets for more evaluation time during the course of the event.
I want to take the time to say that of all the offices I visited, the ones in which I had the most positive, welcoming, faith inspiring experiences were of North Dakota Rep. Earl Pomeroy, Rep. Paul Kanjorski (PA-11), Rep. Ed Markey (MA-7), and Rep. Adam Smith (WA-9). Jay Ackroyd says his most positive experience came at Rep. Louise Slaughter's (NY-28) office, not that it surprised him!
For me, though, the most positive experience came with my interactions with Rep. Pete Stark's (CA-13) staff. I went in and gave my now well-practiced schtick about our group, our action, and why we think Crashing the Gate is such an important book for politicians and their staff to read. After leaving my copy with the woman at the front desk, I left Stark's office and proceeded on my way. I didn't get far before I got a call explaining Senator Dodd had to cancel his meeting with us (more on that below). I hung up the phone and before I could move on to my next stop felt a tap on my shoulder. 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.
Our group had three notable meetings at the end of the day.
Our last meeting was with Jay, myself, and Rep. John Conyers' (MI-14) Internet Communications Director Jonathan Godfrey. Jonathan had arranged a meeting with Congressman Conyers, but it was never able to come to fruition due to a busy schedule on his end. We had a good talk with Jonathan - but we all know that Conyers is one of the few Democrats who has seriously engaged the netroots and spoke to the Democratic base. This copy of CTG wasn't so much as an introduction for the Congressman as it was a "thank you."
Jay and I also had a long, interesting meeting with Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd's Chief of Staff, Sheryl Cohen, and Media Technology Director, Tim Cullen. Four other RPers were there at the start of the meeting before Sheryl arrived, but they had to leave to meet with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (FL-20) (again, more below). Tim arranged our meeting -- he was the only Democratic staffer in all of Congress to reach out to the Roots Project in the last week to schedule a rendezvous between our volunteers and his boss. Our meeting was originally going to be with Senator Dodd himself, but unbeknownst to us, Dodd announced his presidential candidacy last night in the Hartford Courant. Our conversation with Sheryl and Tim was productive and engaging. Sheryl was great - a bit of a novice vis a vis the blogosphere, but wanting to learn and to get her Senator involved. Tim is exactly the sort of staffer I'd love to see in every Democratic office - tech savvy, big-time blog reader, and willing to push his coworkers on the importance of blogs and blogging. Jay and I left with big smiles knowing that we'd provided a strong and positive impression at the highest levels of a senate office (and presidential candidate to boot).
Our groups last most notable meeting was one that I wasn't present for. Four RP volunteers met with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and her Communications Director, Jonathan Beeton. I can't provide all the details for it, but the meeting ran an hour and a half long! Expect some fantastic video footage (shot by RagingGurrl) of the meeting within the next couple of days...I can't wait to see it myself. I hope someone who was present will post a report in the comments, as I don't think I can possibly do it justice. Sorry readers, the best report will have to remain untold for now.
I wish I could recognize more people by name and more offices that showed our volunteers the utmost respect and interest, but again there are just way too many stories to report that I haven't heard yet. All in all, I'd say 95% of our experiences were tremendously positive. Common responses ranged from courteous and welcoming at the low end, to genuinely enthusiastic about our work, the book, and the blogosphere on whole. Many staff members knew we were coming and were looking forward to receiving their gift. The only interactions that were less than positive, to my knowledge, were negative solely for the apathy shown by the individuals at the front desk - hardly a crime when you work in the hectic environment of Capitol Hill.
I'm exhausted - this action was conceived about three weeks ago. All 249 books were delivered to every Democrat in the House and Senate less than a week after the action was announced on FireDogLake. It's been a whirlwind of emails, phone calls, blogging, traveling, and today hundreds of office visits and dozens of miles walked around Capitol Hill. But this is how open source lobbying will work. Good ideas will get put into action by people who believe in them and want to organize.
This action couldn't have happened without the hard work of Jay Ackroyd, David Grossman of PoliticsTV, Mike Link and a few others from Politics & Prose, Edgery, RagingGurrl, Paradox65, redshift, all the other volunteers who made it to the Hill today, Beau Friedlander and Margo Baldwin of Chelsea Green, Mike Jane Hamsher, Christy Hardin Smith, Pachacutec, John Amato, Glenn Greenwald, SusanG, Kos, Jerome Armstrong, all the Roots Project members who helped with press calls, and of course every single one of you who donated a copy of Crashing the Gate. I hope that I can say safely that I put some good work into this action, too.
Check out some pics from the action on my flickr feed, though most of them as of now are of pictures taken Monday night during the insertion of bookplates into each copy of CTG.
--Matt Browner-Hamlin (aka Philo)
UPDATE: WATCH THE VIDEO HERE
NEW ACTION POINT: HELP THIS ACTION OUT ONE LAST TIME!!!
Based on the suggestions of MissLaura and grrtigger in the comments at DailyKos, please do one last thing to help this action be a success:
Please, if your representative and senators are Democrats call them up and ask them to read their new copy of Crashing the Gate! Calling them today can really push this to a new level of success and show how important it is that they understand more about the netroots. Thanks!