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.

No Rest for the Hilltop: Candidates Keep Coming

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) signing eggs and two posters for Politics & Eggs in the conference room of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics before the event. (Photo from @JKazadi)

It’s no surprise to Saint Anselm students that campus is a hotbed for political activity. Every president since Dwight Eisenhower has been to the hilltop. The whirlwind is getting started a bit early, though. Presidents’ Day Weekend and the following days brought two prominent candidates to campus and even more to the state.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) returned to New Hampshire, most notably for an event at her alma mater, Dartmouth College. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN) was in Raymond, New Hampshire on Saturday to meet voters. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), too, was in the state, bringing her message to the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) made his Granite State debut this weekend, spending multiple days in the state. He held a town hall event in Portsmouth that attracted around 500 people. A house party in Manchester brought in 350 people. Events in Rochester and Conway brought in about 200 each. It was a strong beginning to the senator’s New Hampshire effort.

Most notably, for Saint Anselm students, were two major events on campus. One was the CNN Town Hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), which was held in the Dana Center on Monday night. That event was followed by a Politics & Eggs event at the Institute of Politics with Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), widely considered a front runner in the race.

Chairwoman of the Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassador Program Julianne Plourde ‘20 shared her thoughts on the busy presidential campaign. She was at both the CNN Town Hall and the Politics & Eggs event. “Being able to attend the CNN Town Hall for Senator Klobuchar gave a preview into what the next year is going to be like on campus. It’s exciting knowing that having presidential candidates and national news networks walking around campus will be the usual.” The experience, she explained, is pretty unique to Saint Anselm. “No other school around is able to give their students these experiences on such a regular basis.”

During the town hall, Klobuchar answered questions, including one from Olivia Teixeira ‘20, the President of the New Hampshire College Democrats. Teixeira opened-up about what it was like to be on camera and ask the senator a question: “Asking a question for CNN was a great experience. Despite rumors that the questions were staged, that is not the case. They made sure we asked genuine questions that we submitted beforehand and were very accepting of all the questions we submitted.”

She asked the Minnesota senator to share her thoughts about gun safety legislation. The senator’s response left an impression on Teixeira, she said. “I appreciated Amy’s genuine emotion when responding to my question and the answer she gave was a very shared Democratic belief.” Overall, Teixeira said she was more likely to vote for Klobuchar because of how she did at the town hall.

Grace D’Antuono ‘19 also attended the CNN Town Hall. She said that while she’s not considering voting for Klobuchar, she went to “learn more and to be a part of the beginning of the 2020 campaign here on campus.” She was impressed by the senator’s answer to Teixeira’s question, noting that Klobuchar “understands recreational gun use and wants to protect that while still promoting screening for background checks and banning assault rifles.”

The morning after Senator Klobuchar’s town hall, Senator Harris was at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics for a Politics & Eggs event. Harris’ stop came after a town hall event in Portsmouth where many in line had to be turned away because there wasn’t enough capacity in the venue.

Harris addressed affiliates and members of the New England Council as well as students of Saint Anselm College before taking questions. Her remarks centered on three issues: middle-class tax relief, education reform, and climate change. She promised that, as a candidate for president, she would “speak truths” on the trail and be honest with the American people.

She opened her speech by addressing questions that she would not seriously contest the New Hampshire primary. Harris denied these rumors, saying she plans on competing in New Hampshire and that she intends to do “very well” in the nation’s first primary.

Emily Burns ‘22 was in the audience on Tuesday. She said she was “really excited” to see Harris come to the hilltop. Burns thought the senator “spoke incredibly eloquently” and said she seemed “very presidential.”

Despite her glowing review of Harris’ performance, Burns was unsure that she would support the candidate down the road. “I’m not totally sure yet,” she said when asked if she was leaning towards supporting the senator from California. “One of my big concerns is prison reform and while she spoke about that, she has a kind of questionable past in that area,” Burns explained.

The controversy over Harris’ past as a prosecutor has been a major factor in the race so far, with some questioning whether Harris’ commitment to criminal justice reform can be genuine given her past. For her part, the candidate embraced her record during her speech at Politics & Eggs, talking about how she was inspired to become a prosecutor by some lawyers of the Civil Rights Movement, including Thurgood Marshall.

In a recent poll conducted by Saint Anselm College, Harris was viewed the third-most favorably by New Hampshire voters. She only trailed former Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE) and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT). Sanders announced a presidential campaign on Tuesday.