Editor's note: StoryCorps initiated a new program, One Small Step, late last year. The program seeks to "bring together people with different political views of all backgrounds and beliefs to record an interview with each other." Quite a few students and Hamilton College community members, as well as members of the greater Mohawk Valley community, participated in this program on campus last week. This is the experience of one of those students, Eric Kopp'22.
I signed up for the StoryCorps One Small Step initiative after my government professor mentioned it to my class. To be honest, I never thought I was going to get a response.
About a month later, I received an email containing a short description of the person I was supposed to have a discussion with. The only things I knew about him was that he had been active in local politics, worked in private business, and had written two books about the politics and history of the Utica area. Then there’s me: an 18-year-old, college student with no accomplishments to his name. To say I was intimidated was an understatement.
When the day finally came, I walked into the Bristol Center and came face to face with the man whom I was going to share my life story with over the span of 40 minutes, Rodger Potocki.
As soon as we met, he immediately struck up a conversation, asking me where I lived and how I was enjoying Hamilton. He also mentioned his granddaughter who is a first-year with me. It turns out I’ve been in Brass Ensemble with her this entire year and didn’t realize it.
When the actual recording started, we talked about our time in politics. He was active in Utica politics, working for Mayor Dominick Assaro in the late 1960s. I worked in local, county, and state legislative politics in New Jersey.
We bonded over the fact that we both went into politics to make people’s lives better. While it sounds noble, politicians often lose sight of what they were elected to do. Even though we come from different sides of the political aisle, we both saw the structural problems that plague politics to this day.
I brought up my part in the March for Our Lives movement in the spring of 2018. I planned my high school’s walkout and co-founded Students Demand Action Bergen County. With that group, I spoke at a march in Hackensack, New Jersey, calling for stricter gun legislation. As a result, I got to meet now House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Even though we might not agree on all the specifics of gun control policy, Mr. Potocki was able to empathize with the new situation that many teenagers deal with; the fact that you might go into school one day and then never walk out.
In this highly polarized society, we too often forget that the person behind the screen has their own story. We are more similar to each other than we realize. This is where our country gains our strength and motto: E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.