Progressive activists greatly outnumbered Republicans on the Dartmouth Green in the hours before the GOP debate at Dartmouth College Tuesday evening. Groups devoted to saving Social Security, sending a message to Wall Street, combating AIDS, and reversing climate change each had contingents in the dozens, while candidates Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, and Jon Huntsman had only a few sign holders each. (Huntsman had the most, numbering about ten.) Local and national media roamed the crowd, as well.
The campaign to save Social Security attracted about 60 people from as far away as Manchester and Keene, organized by the Granite State Organizing Project, United Valley Interfaith Project, NH Citizens Alliance for Action, Working Families Win, the Alliance for Retired Americans, and the National Campaign to Protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Members of these groups have already been successful at forcing candidates to address retirement and health care concerns.
One of the more boisterous groups was organized in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests. They sang songs adapted from the civil rights movement and waved homemade signs. Organized by Dartmouth students, this contingent attracted a multi-generational mix of local progressive activists as well.
Both the GOP and progressive activists were herded into a “Campaign Visibility Area,” fenced in by metal barricades. According to a set of “guidelines” passed out by campus security guards, “The intent of the Campaign Visibility Area is to provide campaigns and other groups with an area to express their free speech rights.” According to the guidelines, no one was free to speak outside the barricades.
It is typical at events like this for campaigns to show their muscle by turning out supporters to wave signs and chant their candidate’s name. The small number of “troops” turned out by the GOP campaigns came as a surprise, but not being privy to the campaign plans of GOP candidates, I
can’t say if the low turnout is a matter of design.. Olivia Zink, a veteran Primary organizer now with NH Citizens Alliance for Action, said she has observed that New Hampshire voters are “not energized by the Republican candidates in the way people were energized four years ago by both parties.”
Just before the debate got underway, local Democrats also had the chance to hear from Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee. With a second home in Newbury, the Florida Congresswoman is no stranger to the Granite State. She commiserated with the locals about the “heavy burden” they face from having so many Republicans paying us visits. Mostly she gave a pep talk for President Obama’s re-election. In case you wondered, she said “Obama is on the side of the Wall Street protesters.”