Student Ambassadors Attend National Campaign Conference at Harvard Institute of Politics
February 08, 2017
The New Hampshire Institute of Politics' Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassadors Cody Aubin, a junior politics major from Manchester, N.H., and Brandon Pratt, a junior politics major from Concord, N.H., attended the annual National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement Conference at the Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP), February 3-5, 2017. The theme of this year's conference was "Reconnecting America."
More than 50 students from 28 schools across the country participate in the National Campaign Conference at Harvard each year. The conference was founded as a way to connect colleges and universities with similar civic engagement initiatives, with the goal of sharing ideas and beginning national conversations around the importance of political activism, particularly among millennials.
Aubin said he enjoyed working with students from all over the U.S. "I found the personal perspectives and experiences on a variety of lifestyles and issues contributed greatly to our discussions on how to reconnect America," he said. "One example was the continual discussions of the urban/rural divide and how students from southern and midwestern states would speak with passion and conviction because of what they have seen."
During the conference, students heard from speakers including Congressman Joseph Kennedy (D-MA), and former Congressman William Delahunt (D-MA). In his opening remarks, Congressman Delahunt encouraged them to use the weekend to make small steps toward building bridges across the country's current divide. Congressman Kennedy echoed similar sentiments, advising the students to start locally by participating in protests or volunteering on an upcoming special election campaign.
Joseph Kearns Goodwin, the Director of the Conference, also spoke about the importance of national service. He is the founder of National Service Now, a nonprofit that promotes volunteering for a year of service. Students viewed his TEDTalk, and then heard him expand on the tenets of his organization: prepare to serve, answer the call, and call to others. He urged them to identify the resources needed to put plans into action and not to be afraid to ask for them.
Students also participated in a Town Hall meeting with John Della Volpe, Director of Polling at Harvard's Institute of Politics, in which the current state of the country and the overall notion of discontent among Americans were addressed. When asked whether they believe the country is heading in the right direction, not a single student raised his or her hand. They then broke into groups to develop action plans on one of three topics: inequality, the media, and citizenship. Della Volpe appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe to discuss the Town Hall.
Afterward, a discussion between author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and former presidential advisor David Gergen was held. They explored historical connections to other tumultuous times in the country's political history, such as the debate over the expansion of slavery in the 1850s and the Industrial Revolution. They reflected on how other presidents handled difficult situations and what President Trump could learn from them.
At the conclusion of the conference, students shared the action plans they had developed. Aubin and Pratt both chose to work on the topic of citizenship, identifying vague voter registration laws, a lack of civics education among K-12 students, and a lack of participating in national service as key issues. Their action items included providing a national database with each state's voter registration laws, hosting civic fairs at middle schools, and lobbying to amend the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. They also created a timeframe for enacting these measures and identified necessary resources.
Pratt felt the weekend was a success. "Working with students from across the country at the Harvard Institute of Politics on how we might best heal our nation's deep partisan wounds was incredibly inspiring and was a much-needed reminder of our collective potential," he said. "I'm looking forward to working on Saint Anselm's campus to implement increased voter registration initiatives and engaging our local community in newly developed citizenship programs."
Aubin agreed, adding: "Overall, I found the experience engaging, empowering, and a step in the right direction. Engaging those who have a stake in the future is the way to start a movement. I left the conference with a renewed sense of optimism about our communities and nation after seeing students like me so willing to become involved and discusses these issues, even in this time of division in our country."
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