Protest? No Thanks

Political activism is passing New Hampshire by
illustration by peter noonan

The year 2017 may go down in US history as the time when political activism reached levels not witnessed in decades. For the first time, there was a groundswell of protestors from both the right and the left, who gave money to political candidates and followed the news in ways they never have before.

Around the country, this new level of activism led to concrete results. In New Hampshire, however, nothing has really lasted. While time is never wasted being an active citizen, the truth is that all this talk has neither led to action nor the appearance of forthcoming action — at least not as is happening around the country.

Nationwide, there have been significant large-scale rallies on the right and the left on matters ranging from science to women’s rights to immigration policies. People have taken to the streets about repealing Obamacare or honoring police or even protecting so-called white identity.

All of these causes have had real organizers, real money put into the events and real crowds. All apparently grew organically from the grassroots without relying on a political party or candidate. And, at the national level, they’ve managed to get results. A record number of candidates have already signed up to run for Congress in 2018, and they are collecting record amounts of money. The pro-choice women’s candidate fund EMILY’s List reports that a record 10,000 women contacted them in the months after the 2016 election about running for some type of office — 10 times more than contacted the group in the two years that led up to the election.

But here in New Hampshire, once the activists put down their signs and go home, politics pretty much remain the same. Sure, a healthy crop of Republican candidates is preparing to run against the state’s pair of Democratic US representatives, but it is not eye-popping. A handful of liberal activist groups have formed around the state under the name Indivisible, but their biggest action items so far seem to simply be meetings with themselves. And, yes, Democrats have won a few surprise special elections for the Legislature — notably in Republican strongholds Wolfeboro and Hooksett — but that could have been more a function of candidates and tactics than some new wave of political energy. Remember, the only major Republican incumbent on the ballot next year, Governor Chris Sununu, has only one Democrat running against him.

There are a few reasons that might explain this disparity. First, most of the real passion nationally has come from the political left in response to President Trump and Republican politics as a whole — but, in New Hampshire, the entire delegation to Washington is already composed of Democrats. Second, the Granite State already had a culture of political activism, so the new groups that have formed don’t exactly shake up the system. Third, it might just be part of the traditional Yankee stoicism that, while some tend to get worked up for this item or that cause, most just go along living their lives.

New Hampshire will likely continue to be a low-tax state with little government involvement. It will continue to cling tightly to a “Live Free or Die” mindset. And if some people want to go to the Statehouse steps and act out of their First Amendment right, well, that’s fine, as long as they don’t expect everyone else to join them.