MANCHESTER, NH — The Brookside Congregational Church is at least 150 miles outside the U.S. Senate district Bernie Sanders hopes to retain through the general election Tuesday, but the once (and future?) presidential candidate made the trip for an event Sunday afternoon — with a pit stop at UNH-Durham — to encourage attendees to get others to vote.
It was a refrain oft-echoed at the gathering, organized by Rights & Democracy New Hampshire.
“Take someone with you [to the polls],” said the Rev. Eric Jackson, Brookside’s pastor, when it was his turn to speak. “Bring a friend.”
Rights & Democracy (RAD) is a nonprofit created to “[build] a popular movement to advance rights and build a real democracy,” according to its mission statement. Like Sanders, RAD got its start in Vermont. The New Hampshire office is on Hanover Street, where, among other things, it organizes get-out-the-vote canvassing, phone-banking, and “come-along voting,” said Barb Hynes, RAD’s education-justice project organizer.
The group also encourages people to run for office and trains them up with the skills they need to do so. Jordan Thompson, 20, of Nashua, ran for a State Senate seat last year. He did not win but said he was so grateful for the training RAD offered that he joined the organization. He served as emcee of Sunday’s event.
Nicolette Gala-Grano of Salisbury had a similar story. Gala-Grano, mother of two, is a community activist and works with RAD from home, using a phone-app called Hustle to encourage people to vote.
“I feel empowered,” she said. Gala-Grano also spoke at the event, a rare experience before such a large audience. “I’ve definitely been getting cheerleading messages all day.”
In all, nearly 900 people turned out for the speeches, filling Brookside Congregational near to capacity. Organizers said they knew they had a good thing going when they had to open the church’s gallery, previously reserved for members of the press, to the public. By a rough estimate, 20 percent of attendees were under age 30. One of the youngest, Delilah Guzman of Laconia, attended with her mother Victoria. Delilah, age 8, carried a sign that read, “Future Voter ‘I’ll Be Back.’”
Another common theme among the speakers was voter-suppression. Griffin Sinclair-Wingate, a member of the RAD board and representative of the New Hampshire Youth Movement, recounted a meeting he had with Gov. Chris Sununu about HB-372, a bill (now a law) that requires out-of-state students attending New Hampshire colleges to get in-state driver’s licenses and register their cars locally before they can vote. Sununu, during the meeting, said he was against the bill but later signed it.
“It doesn’t go into effect until 2019,” Sinclair-Wingate said, “so there is still time to vote in an administration that will overturn it.”
Sanders talked about voter-suppression efforts in Georgia, North Dakota, and Florida.“If you don’t have the guts to run in an open, free-and-fair election,” Sanders said, “get out of politics and get a new job.”
Sanders ran as a Democrat for the 2016 Presidential Nomination, but he’s back to running as an Independent for the U.S. Senate. During his speech at Brookside, he criticized President Donald Trump and offered a laundry list of policy goals: legalization of marijuana, Medicare for all, closure of the economic gap, climate-change intervention, reforms of the penal system and immigration policy, and an end to assault-weapon sales, among other things.
“These are not fringe issues,” he said.
Sanders supporters hoping for hints about a possible 2020 presidential run came away from the event empty-handed. The senator, who would turn 79 during such a campaign, made no mention of it during his speech — which you can listen to, below, via SoundCloud.