Breakfast with Hillary: The Art of Listening


First of all, I want to say, this picture is pure hard proof of my commitment to engaging with candidates and grabbing every moment I can to talk to them about what matters most to me. That’s how I get these awesome, in-between-sentence faces. Would it kill me to just shut up, smile, take the picture, and then get back to talking about how many Americans are at risk of falling into or deeper into poverty if Congress allows key provisions to the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to expire (that’ll be 16 million people, including 8 million children, by the way) and that we need to create a nation where opportunity is available for all and not just for some? Ah. Vanity for another day.

This was another in the WMUR Candidate Cafe series, and I was grateful to see yet another candidate in such a unique setting. I was surrounded by folks I have seen continuously on the campaign trail, all engaged or curious for a variety of reasons, but I think one particularly great lady next to me said it best today, “Hey, I could be sitting next to the future President of the United States!” True. I can’t front on that. It is very cool. What’s even better is that, in addition to sitting next to them, you can actually have a great conversation as well. And in any good conversation, many things large and small can be revealing.

As always, this is in no way an endorsement for a candidate. I think everyone should talk to, and listen to, everyone who is running. Let me know if you want to come with me next time, I’ll drive if you buy me a poptart. 

So here’s a few things that struck me:

  1. STORIES MATTER. Have you heard me say this before? Yes. Do I really believe it requires all caps all the time? Yes. There were many stories told this morning, many were from Hillary’s own life, but many were a retelling of stories she had heard in her work as a First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. I like to ask candidates point blank if they think constituent stories matter, and truth be told, I can’t imagine someone who is running for office and being filmed, saying no to that question. So, a bit of a softball. That being said, it’s one thing to say, yeah of course stories matter, but it’s another to demonstrate the how and why. Hillary recounted the difficulties of getting Putin to talk about anything, needing to find an approach to open him up. She asked about his passion for tigers and she remembered his eyes lighting up and there it was. An inroad to real communication was found. She also retold the story of Putin’s mother – it was one of the most incredible stories I have ever heard, so I do not want to dilute it by trying to recount it here (it is apparently in her book and undisputed by the Russians) it apparently gave her (and me after hearing it!) tremendous insight into who he is as a human being, and why he responds to things the way he does. That, to me, is diplomacy. And excellent therapy. More importantly, that is evidence stories matter and that stories can move things forward. I also just got the impression that Hillary is listening and wants to know about us. When asked if she ever gets nervous, she said yes, of course. She’s nervous before debates. But she gets most nervous when she hears stories from everyday people about their lives and what they struggle with, knowing she has a responsibility to contribute to the solutions. I really believe stories matter to her.
  2. I was ecstatic when Hillary herself brought up unfairness in our tax code – WMUR does a great job of making these series a platform to get to know the candidates a bit more personally, and I certainly like the tone that sets, but there are some things that are just too damn important to avoid talking about in favor of finding out what candidates put in their coffee. They’re just like us! They use creamers! One of those things is the upside down tax system in this country, so I asked Hillary, if she was elected, would she urge Congress to save key provisions in the EITC/CTC to help lift millions of people out of poverty, rather than letting them expire and throwing 16 million more into or deeper into poverty – and how would she do the urging in regards to folks that don’t see the atrocity in that? She reiterated that the EITC/CTC are successful programs and that she would stand her ground in supporting them, asking others to reflect on what kind of society they want to live in, to understand that we need to live in one where we are creating ladders of opportunities for all so we can make the most out of our “god-given potential.” That’d be great! Super into that.
  3. I love RESULTS. When I went to get my handshake and picture with Hillary, she started by thanking me for “being so smart about the EITC” – if you had told me a few years ago that First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would be thanking ME for talking to her not entirely incoherently about taxes I would have told you to promptly see a doctor to get a head x-ray. MMK? RESULTS has shown me that I am capable and can learn new, complicated things (taxes, y’all) and then – actually do something about it!! In RESULTS, I’ve found a really large group of people that care about the things I care about. I’ve met Senators. I’ve met Tavis Smiley (woo!). I’ve found mentors and made lifelong friends. I’m a part of a movement that is changing the world for the better. I’ve heard stories from some of the most powerful people I have ever known (thank you, Experts on Poverty, you get me up out of bed everyday, truly). I’ve finally found my voice. After (and during) a few awkward photos, I thanked Hillary for being with us and talking about the importance of stories…because my story makes me feel like I matter.

So who have you met out there on the trail?



1 Comment

  1. Pamelawallace · November 11, 2015 Reply

    Stories do matter, and we need more gathered from much deeper wells.

    So thanks for always going there, and coming back with yours. We need your voice!

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