Zaman: Han-Over This?

Did you see any #StopKavanaugh rallies in Hanover? Me neither.

by Raniyan Zaman | 10/19/18 12:15am

 A few weeks ago, in the midst of the outrage surrounding alleged rapist turned Supreme Court Justice (yes, in that order) Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, people across the country took to the streets to protest, pressure their senators to vote against him and support sexual assault survivors.

Wait, scratch that. People across the country travelled to New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and a few other select metropolises, only then taking the streets to protest Kavanaugh’s confirmation. There’s no doubt that Dartmouth students were among those who boarded buses to urban hubs along the East Coast to participate in sit-ins and marches. And by now, it’s second nature to scroll through Facebook or Instagram looking at crowds holding posters on Fifth Avenue, or with the Capitol in the backdrop. But one has to wonder why all these people are buying plane tickets to preach to the choir — particularly when an on-the-fence audience might already be waiting in their home states, ready to be persuaded.

As a native New Yorker, I get the appeal of an urban protest — the energy, the unity, the breathtaking fervor and almost-palpable electricity. But beneath it all lies an underlying current of frustration that often comes in knowing that we operate in a broken political system, one that effectively assigns more political power to citizens based on where they live. The vote of a resident of New York, California or Massachusetts holds much less weight than one in Florida, or Iowa, or even New Hampshire. The inequality in the significance of these votes is exacerbated when keeping in mind that voters in small states elect politicians who make decisions not just for that state, but for the entire nation. This builds up until the rest of the country has to live with the consequences of the decisions of a Supreme Court Justice whose confirmation was contingent upon the elected officials of Alaska, Arizona, Maine and West Virginia. The combined population of these states is less than that of New York alone.

Rectifying America’s political system so that every vote holds equal weight is a top priority, but to my knowledge there’s no way for ordinary citizens to accomplish this in time for the midterms on Nov 6. Not all hope is lost, though; Dartmouth students can instead capitalize upon this uneven power distribution by fully exercising their political agency right outside of their residence halls.

Dartmouth is a college in the middle of the woods. On Friday nights, this is merely annoying. But it also uniquely positions students, and all college students who go to school in rural areas, for opportunities to make a bigger political impact than most would have had a chance to in their home states. This isn’t just limited to having the chance to vote in a swing state (which everyone should take advantage of, by the way). This extends to all forms of political activism: phone-banking, canvassing, campaigning and yes, protesting.

It’s true that in the specific case of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, demonstrations would have had little effect since both New Hampshire senators opposed his confirmation as expected. But the mere fact of New Hampshire’s swing-statehood suggests that one can’t ever count on blue or red to be the norm here, and efforts to minimize college students’ voting rights are already under way. Consider Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who just recently signed into law a voter residency requirement that will make it more difficult for out-of-state college students to vote, essentially translating into disenfranchisement and the silencing of a younger and more diverse demographic for political gain.

As Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College notes, Hanover is probably already the most liberal town in New Hampshire. I have no illusions of a blue wave in a place that is already as blue as it gets. But this isn’t just about the isolated efforts of Dartmouth students. This is about the combined efforts of the often-overlooked demographics of college students in rural regions and small towns, bringing a wave of activism ripple outward instead of letting it carry us into metropolitan areas where these political efforts wouldn’t reverberate.

I want to see posters on the Green, crowds on North Main Street, rallies in the Upper Valley, buses that transport throngs of demonstrators into Lebanon, Lyme and Canaan. Demonstrations over local and national issues in rural areas might not be as glamorous as the Women’s March in Washington D.C., and a voice crying out in the wilderness is lonelier than many voices crying out in Washington Square Park. But that’s exactly what students come here to do.