Occupy This

Why protests in the Granite State are fewer and farther between.

Illustration by Peter Noonan

To anyone who doesn't remember the Great Depression, the past few years have indeed been scary economically. The housing collapse wiped out billions of American personal wealth. Millions of jobs were lost. Freshly minted college graduates moved back in with parents. The nation's income inequality grew to the largest gap in nearly a century. The national debt is the largest ever.

Fancy economists declared the country's recession over, yet anxiety persists. People are asking when will they find a job or how long they will keep their current one. They want to know when will they get to retire, if ever. They want to know what will happen if they get sick, lose their job and still need health insurance.

Out of this anxiety was born two political movements. In 2009, the Tea Party movement came from the political right blaming government for this anxiety. This year we saw the Occupy Wall Street movement form out of the political left blaming corporations.

They have two things in common: they both wished to take on the establishment and neither really worked as a political force in New Hampshire. The last point says more about New Hampshire's political culture than it does any political movement.

New Hampshire is not fertile ground for major political protest movements. Sure, old-timers can point to older political movements that opposed the construction of the Seabrook power plant or the expansion of Interstate 93 through Franconia Notch as galvanizing issues. Both projects happened.

It isn't that Granite Staters aren't informed or don't have opinions. Granite Staters are known worldwide for being intelligent and outspoken on political issues. The reason why the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street don't have the same impact locally as other places is because New Hampshire has a system to place such feelings.

New Hampshire probably holds more elections per capita than any other state in the country. Our politics are generally local, our elections are generally very cheap to run in and there is significant turnover in office holders.
So any group that wants to rage against the system in New Hampshire finds it's just as easy to be part of the system and work for change.

Other states don't have such an empowered electorate. Politics is something that "other" people participate in. In most states politics is practiced by the rich and by well-connected insiders. In New Hampshire the open system lets anyone try. Seven of the last nine governors weren't from the state originally. Four out of the last five congressmen grew up somewhere else.

So many people serve in the 400-person New Hampshire House making $100 a year with such high turnover, there is a phrase that everyone in our state has either served as a state representative or knows someone who has.

Political movements come and go in this country. People hold signs and flags or camp out in parks. Protest is deeply part of what it means to be American, especially when it may feel like there is nothing else they can do.

In New Hampshire we'll put you on the ballot.

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