Here on the Stay Work Play NH blog, we’re celebrating young leaders all over the state — and we have a lot to celebrate! Last fall, New Hampshire saw a boost in young people taking office at the state level. In fact, 42 of our representatives are under 40 years old. You’ll get to meet all of them on this space, but we also want to shine a spotlight on the young people leading their communities at the local level!
Meet Crystal Paradis!
Originally from Portsmouth, Crystal spent some time in Tennessee and Hawaii before adopting Somersworth, NH’s Rainbow City, as her hometown. Crystal loves Somersworth so much, she decided to run for City Council, At-Large – and on November 5, 2019, she won! Councilor-Elect Paradis makes a living via freelance communications work (copywriting, marketing, strategy, grant writing, and digital and social media marketing) and through Feminist Oasis, the experimental, pop-up entity she founded, the mission of which is to cultivate feminist community and explore feminist values in action.
Tell us about your “Path to Politics” — what made you decide to get involved?
It was a path filled with escalations. Roughly 12 years ago, in my late twenties, I got an administrative assistant job in public health — that’s where I learned for the first time that there was this thing called a “social safety net” and local and state representatives who worked on policy to keep that net in place for folks who needed it the most. The explanation by my boss of the impact of one faxed letter (which I’d been asked to fax to the state house to support a bill) escalated my knowledge from zero to entry-level civic engagement. After moving back to NH in 2009, I ended up rounding up folks to join me at a City Council meeting, where there was going to be a hearing regarding putting paid parking meters in the municipal parking lot — the only place where I and fellow downtown minimum-wage baristas and food service workers were able to park for free. That City Council meeting sparked a long-term interest in municipal politics.
The next escalation came when the NH Executive Council defunded Planned Parenthood in 2015 — bringing with it an interest into our unique NH state politics, and I became an outspoken advocate and activist on feminist issues in our state. This led to increased activism and volunteering, eventually for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, where I ended up fully shifting careers and taking a full-time job as a Field Organizer through the rest of the 2016 election cycle. After that 2016 national defeat, I took a well-needed break from national politics and focused instead on local change-making in the private sector. I started an experimental feminist social enterprise, organizing events to build community and explore what feminist values in action looked like in a variety of work settings. Meanwhile, after some history-making electoral wins in 2018, I started thinking about getting back into politics, but locally this time, running for municipal office in my recently adopted hometown of Somersworth. I announced in July 2019, asking folks in the community to step up and join me in getting involved with their city. Six people from our local committee ended up running, and 5 of us won this November!
I’m still on my “Path to Politics” — which I view largely as a path I’m walking alongside my community, listening to them, providing information where I can and leading the way with my colleagues to one small improvement at a time.
What’s the number one thing you hope to accomplish while in office?
I hope that my time on the City Council results in Somersworth community members better understanding how their local government works, and knowing where to find information they need. A large part of that will involve reaching out to previously unengaged parts of the community and inviting them to be a part of the conversation that is happening already in City Hall — about how we can best serve them.
I want more people in my community to know that there is a whole team of people — elected officials and City staff — who are there to serve them, and know how to reach out and share their thoughts.
Local government is better appreciated and more successful in our goals when we make our operating approach and ourselves as representatives more accessible. One way I’ll measure the success of this goal is seeing if we can once again significantly increase voter turnout at the next municipal election.
What advice would you give to another young person interested in getting involved in local politics in NH?
Start by writing notes to elected officials that are doing things you believe in. Making contact with an elected official’s office (or directly with them, if they’re a local official and don’t have a staff) can be a great way to start building relationships with people already in NH politics. So few people reach out — especially with positive feedback! If you’re serious about working in local politics, find a campaign that interests you — either because of a compelling candidate, a constituency you belong to or an office you want to learn more about — and volunteer for it! Whether you want to work in political campaigns or run for office yourself, volunteering is a great way to learn the ropes and make contacts with folks around the region who can expand your network. Finally — and I cannot stress this enough! — if you think you’re even remotely interested in running for office, DO IT! Having a strategic timeline is all well and good, but you’ll probably never feel fully qualified, so just go for it! New Hampshire is a great place to run for local office, and many positions don’t require much fundraising to get started. In some towns, you can file for $5, and with a handful of volunteers, a strong message and some organizing skills, you can run a great campaign you can be proud of.
What advice do you have for citizen advocates?
The most effective skill you can have as an advocate is telling your own story.
Whether you’re deeply affected personally by an issue or you’re a passionate ally, you have a personal connection to whatever you’re fighting for. Think about what compelled you to get involved in the issue, and practice telling, or writing, that story. Data shows that a story is far more memorable than statistics, and the easiest way to tell a great story is to tell the truth. It’s also more sustainable to work an issue in a team, so that you have others to share experiences with, complement your skills and generally build solidarity. Find an existing advocacy team or recruit a friend or two who share your passion. Reflect on your real experiences, do some research to clarify your position, gather your allies and get to truth telling!
Finally, just for fun, tell us something about yourself that will surprise people!
I never finished college! I grew up in a working-class, single-parent home and relied on a combination of financial aid and academic scholarships to fund my first two years of college. I decided to transfer colleges after my sophomore year, but reapplying for financial aid didn’t work the same the second time, so I just kept working. I spent the next decade or so working many jobs, usually two or three at a time, and by the time I was in a position to return to college, I’d worked my way up into enough professional experience that it wasn’t a necessity anymore.
I’d still love to finish my English degree someday (I love writing papers!), but I really love that my non-traditional history demonstrates that there’s no “right” way to find your calling!