NHIOP Cares About Civic Engagement, and We Should Too

On September 10, exactly 100 years since New Hampshire ratified the 19th Amendment, the New Hampshire Institute of Politics invited author Elaine Weiss to speak about her book “The Woman’s Hour”. The historical non-fiction takes readers on a journey through the final battles of the 19th amendment, shining a light on the racism, political corporatism, and bigotry that made this movement one of the most awe-inspiring in terms of the unbeatable odds. 

Curiously enough, Weiss commented that her interest in the subject began when she started asking people how women won the right to vote, and they would tell her they’d never heard of Seneca Falls. Weiss suspected that there must have been more to an entire movement than one convention, leading her to study the fight for the 19th in great detail.

After describing the strenuous events that led to the ratification of the 19th, many audience members were left feeling hopeless because of the current climate on the topic of gender. When asked how Weiss felt about time slipping backward, she responded that “it gives me hope to see what this movement has gone through…they always picked themselves back up”.

She went on to say, “maybe that’s the comfort in knowing history is cyclical, it’s always happened, but you have to keep fighting”. Weiss’ conversation with the audience brought her to a very important topic: voter turnout. She emphasized the importance of using the vote that these women had fought so hard for. Not only using the vote but using it wisely; informing oneself on the issues, holding elected officials accountable, and caring about what is happening on the national, state, and local level. 

Civic Engagement is more than just simply participating in the political process, it is about engaging with your own community. Sure it may seem silly to think that just by voting alone someone can make a difference, but it is more than just the act of voting; it is what that act represents. 

To vote well, you have to educate yourself about what is going on in the world around you. Not just about the issues that affect you, but about the issues that affect us all. By engaging with your community you hear a story that you otherwise would not have heard. 

Voting should never be only about you. In fact, that would be impossible. Through voting, we all have the ability to make a change in our communities, in avenues that we may never have had exposure to. You could be a non-disabled person voting on increasing accessibility. You could have no experience with the armed forces voting on veteran services. You could be a man voting on anything to do with women’s reproductive rights.

In order to vote well you need to be able to view life from multiple different lenses. Requiring direct engagement with the people in your community. That engagement with the diversity present in our communities can only serve to enrich ourselves, and our political process. 

The Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassador program at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics has been rolling out numerous programs focused on Civic Engagement for Constitution Month. This is a month-long celebration of the anniversary of the signing of the constitution in September of 1787.

In addition to “The Woman’s Hour”, the Civic Engagement Committee has hosted a lecture on the importance of Civic Engagement and Civility with Judd Gregg and Joe McQuaid, and co-programmed with Campus Ministry for a 9/11 memorial.

One of the chairs of the committee, Brendan Flaherty ‘21, commented that they are “attempting to engage students across campus in some new and exciting ways”. One of these initiatives is called “Pickup and Politics” which is a co-sponsored program with Green Team where attendees will spend an afternoon cleaning campus while discussing important environmental issues. 

Providing opportunities for the campus to come together to discuss the world we live in is an essential part of cultivating a community of respect. Co-Chair Melanie Fey ‘20 commented that she “plans every event with the hopes of connecting with as many students as possible”. She went on to say that “it is crucial that we take the time to educate and engage these topics because one day our generation will be the ones elected into office”. 

In addition to the events already planned, the Civic Engagement Committee of the Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassadors is hosting National Voter Registration Day on Alumni Quad, Tuesday, September 24th from 11:30-1:30. There will be free Ben and Jerry’s with volunteers ready to register other students to vote, or request absentee ballots from their home states.

Graduating for a Cause: This Year’s Commencement as a Call to Action

Those who attended this year’s Commencement exercises may have noticed some of the graduands wearing the above sticker, either on their caps or on their arm. This was part of a coordinated initiative that some members of the class of 2019 chose to engage in.

The image shows a power fist, a traditional symbol of movements of liberation for communities of color, in front of the pride flag, which has become a symbol for LGBTQIAP+ communities and movements.

We chose both images to reflect our experiences of discrimination during our years on the Hilltop. Many of us have been made to feel unwelcome or inferior just because of who we are, whether at the hands of various individuals or institutional patterns of commission and omission. While we recognize that such treatment was often—though certainly not always—inflicted without the intent to do so, we have felt the hurt all the same.

Those of us who engaged in this protest action believe that such marginalization has no place in the institution that we have called ‘home’ for the past four years. Therefore, at the end of 4 years of trying to make a difference, we took this one final step to highlight the urgent change that is needed across the board, from athletics to the monastery and everyone in between.

Yet there is also another issue at stake than what I just described. As far as we know, no class has ever organized a protest action during their own Commencement, which frustrates us. There is a general lack of political engagement at Saint Anselm College, and we took this last opportunity we had on the Hilltop to break with this phenomenon.

What I’m talking about is best visualized by the following two paradoxes. Saint Anselm College is nationally recognized for its high levels of student involvement in volunteer and outreach work, both in Manchester and beyond. Yet, there is a lack of corresponding culture of issue-based advocacy, which would look like students mobilizing to end the very issues that compel their volunteer work in the first place.

For example, how many of us have volunteered at soup kitchens without mobilizing for policies to end unemployment, poverty, or hunger? Volunteering without advocacy is unfortunately never going to solve these issues.

Second, Saint Anselm College boasts of the internationally-renowned NH Institute of Politics, which attracts politically-minded individuals from all over the world to enroll as a student or speak as an honored guest. Yet, students cannot seem to conceive of what ‘politics’ would mean beyond mere partisanship; many of our students who consider themselves ‘politically active’ only go as far as volunteering for campaigns or interning at various public institutions.  

Of course, we need Hawks to continue volunteering in their communities and getting involved in electoral politics, because our school equips us with the knowledge and resources to make a difference. Yet we also need to broaden our conceptions of ‘service’ and ‘politics’ to include occupying the public space and fighting for a better world.

How could we do this? Organized, issue-driven student campaigns, coordinated civil actions, public gatherings and demonstrations, and ‘get out the vote’ campaigns are all ways students can get involved. By engaging in these types of actions, we become part of a tradition of direct, participatory democracy that is fundamental to our country’s heritage and ongoing vitality. We can take the first step confidently, knowing that we are surrounded by those who have walked this path before us.

Therefore, those who participated in this action hope that we can serve as a source of inspiration for those who remain on the Hilltop. We are also confident that our small act will not go unnoticed.

Education, service, and advocacy are all linked—we can’t create change without all three. In many ways, our unique Anselmian experience points us toward a convergence of all three. Our drive to serve is cultivated. Our access to information is provided. Now, all we need are outlets to make our voices heard.

Thus, with this final action, we are calling on those who remain to continue the work we tried but failed to accomplish. This campus is already renowned for its food, its Benedictine hospitality, and its ethos of volunteering; it’s time to make it renowned for its student activism.