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Organizing community responses to regressive legislation in New Hampshire

Maggie Fogarty marching at a New Hampshire rally
Photo: AFSC

Pressure to balance the budget has put at risk many services and policies that protect New Hampshire’s most vulnerable residents—as well as the health of its relatively strong economy.

But Arnie Alpert and Maggie Fogarty, AFSC’s program coordinators in New Hampshire, have worked relentlessly to not only defend economic rights, but also empower the state’s residents to know when and how to take a stand.

And it’s worked. In the last two years alone, they have helped hold the line on bargaining rights for public and private sector workers, keep affordable housing policies in place, stop the re-legalization of predatory “payday” loans, and preserve as much of the state’s already thin safety net as possible.

Among the tools they have used to mobilize allies for direct and grassroots lobbying is a weekly e-newsletter, State House Watch, to which hundreds of look for legislative updates and alerts. Distributed on Fridays since 2010, it has quickly become a trusted source of timely information.

“Each week we report on the latest outrages and victories, but also give readers details about upcoming public hearings and votes so that they can make their voices heard,” says Arnie, who also writes opinion articles for state newspapers and makes frequent appearances on radio and television. “We aim to pass the ‘Goldilocks Test’ in each issue [by including] just the right amount of detail.”

Arnie points to their nonpartisan approach as another reason for this success. Refusing to write off any legislator or other elected official based on political affiliation has helped them build coalitions with nontraditional allies and find opportunities to work within the system.

“New Hampshire has a distinctly open form of government, which makes it possible for faith-based activists and other social justice advocates to get a hearing, even when the overall mood is hostile to what we stand for,” he says. “We strive to be consistent with our Quaker testimony of looking for that of God in everyone and not demonizing adversaries. And we believe that’s made the difference.”

For example, local police chiefs have joined the effort against mandatory police involvement in immigration enforcement. And major business groups have supported affordable housing policies and joined opposition to mandatory immigration status checks by employers.

The three-to-one Republican majority in both houses of the legislature makes it challenging to mobilize a nonpartisan response at times, but it’s a challenge that can be addressed with the right approach.

“We find common ground across the aisles,” says Maggie. “We are not a partisan organization.”

Facing regressive legislation in their own states, other AFSC programs have also found success—in Arizona, standing in the way of the expanding private prison industry, and in Ohio, defending workers’ right to organize.