My high heels clicked against the marble floor of the State House as I entered through the side door, right across from the pizza place where I had my lunch. My heart beat a little faster in my chest as my eyes scanned over the high ceilings and gorgeous paintings that lined every wall. The two hundred year workplace of the Massachusetts government was even more grand than I had imagined, and I had just walked in. It was surreal. Ever since I was young, I had wanted to work in a building just like it, and know about legislation that would affect me and many others. I wanted to help a lot of people all at once, but I didn’t know how. When I heard about a big problem in our country, I wished I had the power to fix it (or that someone else would). I thought the only way to make a difference was to be in charge, and that being a leader meant making all the decisions. It wasn’t until I walked out that same door at the end of the day, that I realized how wrong I’d been.
I reluctantly looked away from the architecture and followed the signage until I could locate the nearest elevator. I reached out an apprehensive finger to press the button illuminated with the number four. As I felt the ground getting heavier beneath me, I thought about the task that lay ahead.
Through my internship with JALSA (The Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action) I was able to join a lobby day for the “Common Start” Bill, which gave kids equal access to high quality and affordable childcare and early education, and gave more money to childcare providers. The bill also allowed more parents to rejoin the workforce and provide for their families. This was important to me because I understood how hard it was to make a livable wage, let alone with a child. I was excited to help, but not sure what to expect. A moment later, the elevator ding took me from my thoughts and I stepped out onto the fourth floor. After cluelessly wandering the halls for far too long, I stumbled upon a group of organizers and volunteers for the Common Start Coalition. Soon enough, I was handed a large pile of paper, put in a group with a few other eager participants, and was once again off through the corridors, this time with a purpose.
The group leader held a small map of the building, which included the locations of each representative’s office. Soon enough, my group and I arrived at the first door. After knocking on the antique wood, we waited a moment before a kind looking woman answered and told us that she was a Legislative Aide for the Senator. We talked to her about the bill and gave her an information sheet to pass on to her boss.
The next few interactions went pretty much the same, until one of our knocks was answered by a Representative in the House. To my surprise, he invited us into his office. The five of us stood in a semicircular formation in the cramped space, as we introduced ourselves to him, and explained why we cared about education equity. As we exchanged stories about the benefits of quality childcare, and told the Representative about our comprehensive plan, he thanked us for talking to him. He said that the Common Start Coalition was responsible for making the bill, and were the reason it would most likely pass. A group of ordinary people had created a policy which would effectively help millions. In that moment I realized that making a difference was not about being in control, or having power, or even working in a fancy building on a hill. Instead, the way to help was to show up and to care. It wasn’t about being the sole contributor, but rather being a part of a bigger movement to inspire and create change.
Once we finished our conversation, the Representative offered to take the group to the House Chambers for a quick tour and a photo before he had to go. After finishing up our rounds, I took the elevator back to the first floor, and left the same way I’d entered. Turning back to look at the unbarred door, I understood why the State House was open to all. With the right company, anyone could make a difference.