Over the course of three days last month, AP Government students from Cape Elizabeth High School attended seminars in Manchester, New Hampshire to learn about the governing processes, as well as to listen to speeches from presidential candidates looking to receive nominations from the Democratic or Republican parties this year.
The candidates included Democrats Bernie Sanders and Howard Dean on behalf of Hillary Clinton, as well as Republicans Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and Ben Carson (via skype). Following the sessions, the audience was invited to ask questions of the candidates.
CEHS senior Hadley Britt took complete advantage of the opportunity by posing multiple questions to the candidates.
“I asked Chris Christie about how he justified defunding Planned Parenthood... [it] was actually pretty interesting because his response made it sound like he believed in universal health care. I asked Ben Carson about where the line should be drawn between religion and politics, and he actually stated that he doesn’t think that religion should play a role in politics, which I found very startling because he’s very very religious. So, [his answer] was very impressive,” Britt says.
She was pleasantly surprised by the responses of these politicians, but this condition didn’t apply to her communications with Fiorina.
One of her more daring question was imposed on Fiorina, in which Britt wondered how Fiorina could call herself a feminist when she was willing to take away the basic human right of what a woman can do with her body (in reference to Fiorina’s pro-life stance). Much of the audience clapped for Britt, but she says that she was met with both positive and negative reactions.
“[The feedback from students] was a little bit of both. A lot of people thanked me for getting up and saying it because either they didn’t have the guts to say it or it was something that they believed in and it was important. And I was also met with a lot of people who... were not happy about it. At all (laughs).”
In fact, some students accused Hadley of being a supporter of “baby killers.”
Britt even had the chance to talk with Fiorina after her question was addressed.
“[Talking to Carly afterwards was] interesting, because I was very genuine about it. I said thank you for answering this, I appreciate your honesty and your immediate response rather than brushing it off,” Britt said.
Britt acknowledges that Fiorina did not interact with equal composure, and that it was clear that she was not pleased with Britt or her question.
“In the moment I thought that [she had] a very good answer. But reading back on it, it wasn’t as strong as I would have liked. I don’t think that she mentioned the word feminist once. And she chose to use anecdotal stories to justify being pro life, which I don’t think is fair.”
Britt continues, “You could tell in her face that she was not happy about it... it felt like a very copy and paste answer. She reacted like a pissed off adult than a politician. I think she rolled her eyes at one point. It felt very high and mighty adult: ‘I’m better than you, you’re a student, you don’t have a say in this,’” Britt remarks.
Though Britt describes how it was nerve wracking to have strangers and frustrated politicians interacting with her, and to be gaining coverage by both the Portland Press Herald and the Boston Globe, it is clear that she has no regrets when it comes to speaking her mind about topics that are important to her: like equality, LGBT rights, education, and social awareness of mental health issues.
Britt says her willingness to voice her opinions can be traced back to how she has been raised.
She says, “My parents own their own public relations firm, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been encouraged to speak up and share what I think is important. I know that if there’s something that I care about, I should speak up.”
Photo Credits: Emma Hindall