Growing up in Topeka, KS, I’m not used to people openly discussing or displaying their political beliefs. This was due in large part to people assuming, usually correctly, that most people in Kansas are conservative Republicans. In my experience, if politics were brought up the conversation was inevitably awkward, each participant overly cautious in the fear of offending the other. Because of this, it was hard growing up to become satisfactorily involved in politics. Therefore, when I discovered that my college, St. Olaf, offered the opportunity to come to New Hampshire for a month to study the primary St. Olaf, I was thrilled. I’ve always been interested in politics and this would enable me to observe the election process first hand. Prior to arriving I looked through my course books, hoping to better understand the importance of the New Hampshire primary. What I learned from the reading is that the people of New Hampshire are not just interested in the primary, they are actively engaged in the process. New Hampshirites want to talk about the candidates, they want to be well-informed voters, and they have a history of participating in the campaigns.
Today I had the opportunity to experience the enthusiasm of New Hampshire voters firsthand when I attended a meet-and-greet with Chelsea Clinton. A group of fellow students from St. Olaf and I arrived roughly an hour early to the event which was held at the Millyard Museum in Manchester. The museum is housed in a renovated mill which was formerly owned by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. We walked downstairs to join the line of people already gathered in a hallway outside of the meet-and-greet room. The walls were covered in wallpaper featuring blown up photos of when the mill was in use and featured display cases inside of which were old bobbins and other machinery once used in the mill. There was a general air of excitement as we waited in quickly growing line. Standing in front of us was an older woman who cheerfully introduced herself to us. Until the doors opened we talked to her about our time in New Hampshire, all 48 hours of it, and about her experiences with the current primary and past primaries. After living in New Hampshire for twenty years she has been to dozens of campaign events and was more than willing to tell us stories about them.
Once the doors opened the line efficiently entered into the meet-and-greet room and swiftly filled the chairs leaving standing room only. Strands of lightbulbs were hung from wall to wall above the “stage,” a small area at the front of the room clear of chairs where Chelsea Clinton would take questions, and other ceiling lights softly illuminated the large display cases lining the walls. Like the hallway, the display cases were filled with artifacts from the mill’s time period while the walls were wallpapered with large photos as well as painted to depict various building and attractions around town. Pop music played as the crowd waited for the event to start, people all around began conversations with their neighbors, and the press got their cameras ready. Two other students and I were lucky enough to be seated next to a friendly man who is a retired postal worker and Vietnam veteran. Like the woman we talked to prior to being seated, this man was more than willing to talk with us about his experiences. Married with three grown children, he is passionate about investing in education as he believes that a good education is key to economic security which in turn is passed down through the family. It was fascinating to hear his point of view on issues and learn more about what it means to live in such a vibrant political community.
After the approximately hour long meet-and-greet, during which Chelsea Clinton fielded questions ranging from education to working mothers to foreign affairs, we left the Millyard Museum by way of a creaky wooden spiral staircase, another remnant of the old days. It had been an interesting few hours. It was amazing to actually attend a political event in New Hampshire and witness firsthand the passion of the people of New Hampshire. The openness of every person I met was refreshing. It was incredible to be able to realize that what I had read about before arriving in Manchester was true, the voters here are eager to participate, love to talk about the issues they are passionate about, and actively seek information about the candidates.
-- 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.