During class meetings prior to leaving for New Hampshire, our professor would often tell stories detailing how often past groups had gotten to see the candidates and other notable figures. However, I did not fully comprehend that my class would have the same opportunities until we were actually in New Hampshire and attending events. In just a little over a week I had had the chance to meet and/or hear Chelsea Clinton, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump. By the end of the second week I had meet Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton. I just learned today that I will have the opportunity to see Clinton again next week which will mark the third time I’ve heard her speak.
I believe that a conversation that occurred four days ago accurately represents the whirlwind of information and events that occur in New Hampshire prior to the primary. This past Tuesday I was sitting in the campaign office entering data when I overheard one of the organizers tell a volunteer that Gloria Steinem was coming on Friday. Immediately my curiosity was sparked. I hesitantly walked over to the organizers’ office where they were huddled in a slightly intimidating circle on their laptops and phones. Barely suppressing my excitement I asked whether I had heard correctly that Gloria Steinem would be coming to the office on Friday. They amusedly replied that yes, she would be speaking on Friday in the office. Immediately, in a haze of ecstatic excitement, I spread the news to the other fellows in the office and to my family back home.
I spent the next three days anxiously awaiting Gloria Steinem’s arrival. Realizing that I didn’t have her newest book, or any of her books for that matter, with me I rushed to the nearest Barnes and Noble and picked up My Life on the Road. I received stern instructions from my mother to get it signed no matter what it took and threats from my college roommate to get her Steinem’s signature or else. Finally the day arrived. After spending the morning in class and then canvassing I arrived at the office to find the room already full of volunteers, fellows, organizers, and press. For the next thirty minutes I wandered around giving people campaign stickers and clutching my book as if it would fly away if I loosened my grip. The air in the room was buzzing with anticipation. Suddenly, the air heightened in electricity as Gloria Steinem arrived.
She casually walked into the room as if it was the most natural thing in the world to be surrounded by dozens of women and men breathless with excitement and all holding cameras aimed at her. Sipping her cup of coffee and dressed all in black with the exception of her large silver jewelry, Steinem walked to the front of the room where a short box had been placed for her to stand on. After short introductions from Senator Donna Soucy and a campaign organizer from Derry, Gloria Steinem spoke. Although I was so amazed at being in the same room with Gloria Steinem that I could barely focus on what she was saying, I caught just enough to realize that this was an experience that I would never forget. She spoke of intersectionality, the history of women’s oppression, the battle that is still being fought to secure women’s rights, and of the presidential election.
Following her speech, everyone lined up to meet Steinem. I just happened to be standing near the side of the room where the line was formed so did not have to wait long to meet her. I had planned out in my mind what I would say to her and how I would act but the moment I handed my phone to her assistant and stood face to face with Steinem all of my composure was lost. I believe that other than spelling my name and my roommate’s name for her, all I managed to get out was a dozen thank you’s and multiple nervous, hysterical giggles. However, I was successful in getting a picture with her and having her sign my book and a slip of paper for my roommate.
Leaving the office that night I realized how lucky I am to be in New Hampshire during this time. If someone had told me a month ago that I would meet Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem within a week of each other as well as see many of the other candidates, I would have thought they were joking. Now, I realize that my professor was right all along, this trip is full of unexpected and rare opportunities.
-- Genevieve Akins is a St. Olaf sophomore from Topeka, KS., majoring in Political Science with a concentration in Women and Gender Studies. She is in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf political science class studying the presidential election.