I met Ruth Hardy when I was three years old and attended the Middlebury Cooperative Nursery School; words such as democracy, politics and social justice were not yet in my lexicon. My biggest concern at the time was getting a good swing at recess, while Ruth was already concerned about advocating for strong schools, affordable childcare and protecting the environment. Fast-forward sixteen years to January 2018 when I began looking for a summer internship, and I immediately thought of Ruth Hardy. Her issues are now my issues, and as a voter, engaged citizen, and aspiring political science major, I applied to intern with Ruth Hardy and her campaign for state senate because I knew that it would be nothing short of a transformative experience.
During my work on Ruth’s campaign I learned a lot about the day-to-day operation of a campaign, but it was during canvassing that I learned the most. In our tumultuous political climate, it was inspiring to meet Vermonters who remain optimistic and work hard to uphold the values of their communities and local and state government. “I want Vermont to still be Vermont” answered a teacher from New Haven when asked about what issues are important to him, and after engaging in hundreds of conversations with voters across Addison County, I have no doubt that this statement will hold true. Our shared goal and common desire to create a better Vermont overshadows our many but smaller differences.
Unlike the immense national partisan divide, Vermonters still seek out bipartisanship and don’t have too much pride to reach across the aisle; many times it’s their neighbor with whom they are trying to forge consensus. Thoughtful conversations and respectful confrontation go a long way with Vermonters and I am continuously heartened by Vermont voters. “I would crawl to the polls if I had to” said a 92-year-old voter with two prosthetic legs or “I just registered and I am so excited to vote for my first time” said an 18-year-old new voter. “People over party” is another theme I heard time and again at campaign events, while knocking on doors, meeting voters at the fair, or marching in a parade. Civility, respect and kindness are fundamentally what matter to many Vermont voters.
While my formal internship on Ruth Hardy’s campaign is over, I will be cheering and supporting Ruth from afar. Working on Ruth’s campaign confirmed what I already knew about her; she has a ferocious work ethic, is unapologetic about the issues she is passionate about, and listens well. It is these qualities that have defined her success with public service thus far and will make her an even more successful senator. “Will you be a fierce legislator?” a Huntington man asks as his young daughter stands by his side. While I, of course, immediately know the answer, I love watching the girl’s eyes widen as Ruth speaks and recognize that she sees what I see in Ruth: a role model for women in politics. While Senator Claire Ayer leaves very big shoes to fill, I am very confident that Ruth Hardy will fill them with her immense love of Vermont, her advocacy for education, healthcare, community, and the environment; all while wearing her fierce cowboy boots!
Abigail Benz grew up in Middlebury and now attends Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.