THIS PAST WEEKEND would have marked the 35th Annual “Top o’ the Hill” Holiday Party in my hometown of Somersworth. It’s a tradition, started by neighbors and carried on by my parents, with a simple premise. Flyer every house, every door, in the neighborhood. No matter which street, or apartment complex, everyone was invited to this potluck holiday hootenanny.
This is the first year in my lifetime that there will be no party.
Yet the previous weekend I spent two days doing something I do every year, which was strange given the circumstances: I walked my entire neighborhood handing out paper invitations to a holiday party that isn’t happening. This got me thinking about another party of mine, the Democratic Party, and how little we’re celebrating this year.
Sure, the Democratic Party nationally has a lot to celebrate. But I’m not just a Democrat, I’m a New Hampshire Democrat — and while we wrestle with our losses in the state Senate, the House of Representatives and the Executive Council, and our lost opportunity to retake the governor’s office, this proud townie is feeling like our party is losing something bigger than an election.
It isn’t just that the Republicans won control of the entire state government during a redistricting year, which will make it harder for Democrats to win at the ballot box in the years ahead. There’s something deeper that this election revealed: the New Hampshire Democratic Party is losing its connection to local communities across the state.
If our party boasts the values of lifting up communities, helping those less fortunate thrive, and ensuring liberty and justice for all Granite Staters, then we should be the party that helps people connect and find strength in their community, no matter where they live.
It’s this same belief that had me walking the seven hills of Somersworth, handing out over 400 paper invitations to an event that isn’t happening this year, but a promise that it will continue. Because this party has transformed my community — in part because it ties folks together of all backgrounds, ages, and income levels with nothing other than living near each other in New Hampshire’s smallest city.
What I’ve loved most about it over the years is the way it brings new people, new neighbors, into the fold. There’s no welcome wagon when you rent an apartment in Somersworth, but if you live anywhere on or near “the Hill,” you will get a welcome invitation to gather during the holidays. Some folks have been coming since before I was born. Others received an invitation for years before coming for the first time — now they’re holiday party regulars. There’s something magical in this humble tradition of inviting everyone, every year, no matter what and it pays dividends to our community, both economically and socially, long after the New Year.
When our community is connected, we are all better off. Even receiving this year’s “non-invites” lets folks know that their community is persisting through the pandemic. It tells them we still have so much to look forward to, and that this party is for all of us.
Our state party has neglected to keep up with the invites.
The Democratic Party hasn’t invited enough folks or reached out to enough communities on a regular basis. We too easily write off a lack of engagement from voters as a lack of interest in the values that we stand for. Instead, our party, perhaps from the pressure of First in the Nation or to impress donors, has calculated with surgical precision a plan for who gets a door knock, a mail piece, a call — and who does not.
Some folks only get an invitation in the lead-up to a major election, some don’t get them at all anymore, or never have. This surgical precision is supposed to equal electoral success, but the premise is deeply flawed. When a model that starts by excluding a majority of Granite Staters based on where they live or the shape of their district or their history of showing up, then we’re signaling that the invitation is contingent on an outdated list of criteria for how likely you are to change the outcome of the next race. Doesn’t sound like a very democratic party.
Too often, the organizing principle of our state party is to ask, “How does this activity help us connect with voters?” when we should be asking “How does this activity help voters connect with each other?”
If we believe that our party has the platform and the values that help most Granite Staters thrive — as I believe we do — then we should trust that when Granite Staters feel connected they will support Democratic values in the voting booth. So isn’t it time we invite everyone to the party?