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The Importance of Political Participation at the New Hampshire Primary by H.D. Wright

On Friday February 7, I climbed onto a New Hampshire bound C and J bus to participate in the New Hampshire Primary with my cousin Jon Gould. Having worked in the Obama administration, worked on numerous NH campaigns from Senate races to gubernatorial runs, and recently graduated from Upenn Law to begin helping granite staters seek justice under the law, my cousin Jon is an expert in NH politics.

Throughout his early life, Jon has actively participated in both the New Hampshire and New York political scene, volunteering for a wide range of democratic candidates. In 2017 the summer before my sophomore year of high school, Jon and I joined forces and began canvassing together across Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx for candidates fighting to uplift struggling communities with progressive policies.

Jon and I first volunteered for Julia Salazar’s campaign to represent New York’s 18th district in the State Senate. We were excited about her promises to protect tenant rights, introduce much needed criminal justice and immigration reform, and help provide equal protection for women. Interacting with residents across Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsburg, as well as parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, it was encouraging to see New Yorkers as excited about her plans as we were. After a dynamic campaign, Julia Salazar was elected in 2018 to the New York State Senate as the youngest woman in the history of that body, a landmark moment in NY state politics Jon and I were proud to be apart of.

After working for a diverse array of Democratic candidates over the years in NY, the importance of the 2020 Presidential election loomed large in our minds. New Hampshire, the home of the first primary after the Iowa Caucus since 1920, has always been an important state to win in the early stages of the long ascent to the Presidency. Recognizing the importance of the moment, the five hour drive through New York, onto Massachusetts, and finally to New Hampshire felt like a small sacrifice to make to be able to participate in such a crucial moment in the fight to regain our democracy.

I arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at around 11:30 at night, welcomed by temperatures below freezing. I stretched my legs and finally made my way off the bus that had held me captive for the previous five hours, finding Jon and his friend from his days at UPenn Law, Ebenezer Gyasi (Eb), waiting expectantly for me in the dark parking lot. For the next few days, we three would discuss the electability of the 2020 democratic candidates, the feasibility of their plans for the future, and the effectiveness of their rhetoric after hearing them speak, in addition to debating the same hot-button issues the candidates were hashing out on stage.

After driving through the NH darkness and catching up, we finally arrived at Jon’s beach house where we watched the Democratic Debate into the early hours of the morning. The next day we attended the New Hampshire Democratic Party Dinner, giving Jackie Weatherspoon a ride to the event. It was an honor to be able to speak with Ms. Weatherspoon, as she has done such great work throughout her political career while also supporting other women seeking to run for public office. Ms. Weatherspoon was a state representative for New Hampshire, a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission, and part of three U.S. delegations with First Lady Hillary Clinton in Iceland, Estonia, and Lithuania while working for the State Department. After an engaging conversation about the best ways to bring jobs and young people back to New Hampshire, we entered the SNHU arena hosting the Democratic Dinner.

The crowd buzzed with the anticipation of hundreds of excited Democrats, proudly showing their support for their favorite candidates with their apparel. Supporters of Elizabeth Warren wore light up bracelets and green t-shirts, while supporters of Mayor Pete Buttigieg were decked out in yellow t-shirts. Andrew Yang supporters donned ‘Math’ pins, mirroring his own.

We sat down amidst the sea of excited Granite staters, their faces awash in blue from the floodlights on the ceiling, taking in the patriotic scene. A number of New Hampshire Senators and Congressmen spoke, in addition to Raymond Buckley, the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, who prepared the audience for the impending speeches of the Presidential candidates.

Senator Maggie Hassan used the majority of her speaking time to target Mitch Mcconnell, unabashedly calling him the “Legislative grim reaper.” I think that it’s about time politicians start calling out Mitch Mcconnell because he has put party over country time and time again and used the power of his office not to protect his constituents, but to deny them basic safety. For example, after a week of school shooting massacres in California, Texas and Ohio, he refused to bring the Senate back from its August recess to vote on any form of common-sense gun control. That includes “taking away guns from dangerously mentally ill people (red-flag laws), reducing the size of high-capacity magazines, making military-style assault weapons illegal, buying back unwanted guns or requiring tougher background checks,” (Common Dreams). I applaud Senator Hassan for using the majority of the time on stage to call attention to the unpatriotic political disaster that is Senator Mitch Mcconnell.

Sanders and Warren were welcomed to the stage by huge cheering sections, and Biden jogged up to the mic with the comfortable charisma of a career politician. In addition, Yang’s humor is a strength and his political future in the Democratic party is undoubtedly bright if he chooses to continue working in politics. Tom Steyer has the fiery rhetoric of a preacher warning his congregation of the presence of the devil (Trump) in American politics and the necessity to remove him. But out of all the speeches, Buttigieg’s careful argumentation and Klobuchar’s powerful story resonated with me the most.

Pete Buttigieg spoke first, confidently taking the stage with the air and smile of a seasoned politician. Buttigieg argued that his position as mayor of a small rural town uniquely qualifies him to be President of the United States “because Americans in small rural towns, in industrial communities and, yes, in pockets of our country’s biggest cities, are tired of being reduced to a punchline by Washington politicians and ready to take their voice to the American capital.” His remarks were met with chants of “BOOT-EDGE-EDGE,” from his supporters. I agree with the idea that America is composed of small towns and industrial communities, as places like California and New York don’t represent the experiences of the majority of American citizens living in the midwest and south. I also think that he makes a good point, that he not only understands the constituents living in those parts of the country, but having received an ivy league education, he is also welcomed into the ranks of the highly educated liberal elite. He does not belong to one class of Americans, but a variety.

Buttigieg further argued that as Trump is a representative of the wealthy, he is ready to call him out in front of the American people as someone who lives in a middle class neighborhood in the American midwest. I like the idea of someone from a completely different background, as a representative of the majority of the American people, calling out the President for favoring the wealthy.

He then went on to employ his religious talking point, promising to remind Trump that “God does belong to a political party.” I find it interesting that Buttigieg has embraced religion, considering that as a gay man, his sexuality is forbidden in the bible and considered sinful. Buttigieg then went on to highlight his background as a war veteran, contrasting it with how Trump has pardoned war criminals, attacked war heroes, and avoided the draft because of his debilitating ‘bone spurs.’ Buttigieg then promised to use his office, if elected, to finally “end endless wars.” He also promised to select a Secretary of Education who “believes in public education.” I believe these causes are noble and necessary to pursue considering how many human lives have been lost to senseless wars that shouldn’t have been waged in the first place which have further radicalized major parts of the world against us and destabilized the Middle East. In addition, it is about time a President increased funding for public schools, as the rampant inequality and lack of opportunity there has never been properly addressed. Overall, Mayor Pete delivered a very strong monologue.

Klobuchar began her speech by attacking the President, calling him the “divider in chief,” in contrast, in her opinion, to the mission of the Democratic party “that brings people with us instead of shutting them out.” Klobuchar then highlighted her background as the granddaughter of an iron ore miner, the daughter of a teacher and a newspaper man, and notably the first woman elected to the US Senate from the state of Minnesota. Klobuchar believes her success comes from being brought up here in the US: “because we live in a country of shared dreams, that no matter where you come from or who you know, or where you worship or you who love, that you can make it in the United States of America.” I admire Klobuchar for believing in a country like this, but meritocracy is unfortunately only an aspiration at the moment.

Klobuchar, addressing the millions of Americans that exist in a state of struggle, promised that she would represent their interests as President: “If you’re having trouble filling your prescription, I know you and I will fight for you. If you can’t decide between long term care for your parents or child care for your kids, I know you and I will fight for you. If you can’t decide if you’re going to be able to stretch your paycheck to pay the rent, I know you and I will fight for you.” I think this was an incredibly powerful moment because Klobuchar wasn’t just broadly discussing the difficulties Americans face, but speaking to those Americans directly and actually promising to fight to better their situations.

Not only that, but Klobuchar explained her own experiences of struggling, making her a qualified representative of those in difficult positions: “What I’ve got is grit… the grit you get from spending your life overcoming adversity. The grit you get when you don’t have that perfect birth when your daughter’s born and you get kicked out of the hospital while she’s in intensive care and your first political moment is to pass one of the first bills in the country guaranteeing new moms and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay. That is grit. That is grit. And that is what I bring to this ticket... I ask for your vote.”

Overall, the NH Primary made it clear why each democratic candidate is in this race: to beat the President, and because of different aspects of their background that qualify them to do so. It is unclear who will clinch the democratic nomination this early in the race, but Buttigieg and Klobuchar are hot on Bernie’s heels wielding powerful messages of grit and patriotism.

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