Crusaders Become Voice For Change in Negative Political Climate

They're making an impact by getting involved in local politics, creating apps for activism and volunteering in their communities

When Brian Senier ’19 woke up the day after the 2016 American presidential election, he was happy to see a Republican victor, albeit not his chosen candidate. But when he left his dorm room, he was surprised to find a different mood hovering over the Holy Cross campus.

“I was really floored by how somber the campus was, so I went to see Fr. Rogers [Rev. Michael Rogers, S.J., ’02] in the Chaplains’ Office,” Senier recalls. “Fr. Rogers said, ‘I don’t think you understand how people are worried about the policies that this administration might enact, and how it could affect their family members who are undocumented.’”

Fr. Rogers exhorted him to attend the Latin American Student Organization event that night to participate in a discussion about the election results. Both men went, and Senier left with a new understanding of the other side’s perspective. His own opinions hadn’t changed, but his mindset had:

“It made me redouble my efforts to be a voice for the Republican Party who would be civil and engage in discussion in a bipartisan manner, speaking with respect, focusing on the Jesuit and Catholic identity of Holy Cross and upholding the dignity of every person. I don’t want anyone on campus to feel alienated while I am sharing my views.”

Called to Listen to One Another

Anthony Saltarelli ’18 was one of those people who awoke in a somber mood on Nov. 9. He scrolled through a Facebook feed of distraught reactions: people disappointed that their chosen candidate hadn’t won and sharing informal calls to action to attend protests or call government officials.

He was inspired and wanted to participate, but felt like there had to be a more efficient and organized way to communicate this information to people serious about activism. The computer science major turned to what he knows best — coding — and started working on an app that would make it easier for people to participate in political processes.

“Tech is so powerful,” he says. “Especially today, when there are so many things going on, there needs to be some type of engine behind activism.”

Though they come from opposite sides of the political spectrum, both Senier and Saltarelli take a distinctly Holy Cross approach: first engage in thoughtful conversation, then take action.

“We are called to listen carefully to one another, to identify our shared commitments and to discern how best to work together, even when we disagree,” Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., College president, wrote to the campus community in an email that same morning Senier and Saltarelli were grappling with the election results.

And members of the Holy Cross community have answered that call, in more ways than one.

Anthony Saltarelli ’18, Stand Up for Change App

Anthony Saltarelli ’18 built the Stand Up for Change app using a combination of coding knowledge he learned at Holy Cross and self-taught skills. Photo by Tom Rettig

Saltarelli’s coding became a phone app called Stand Up for Change, which aims to make it easier for people to get involved in activism. There are three main sections in the app: events, discussions and calls to action. The events listing includes protests, rallies and demonstrations, and the discussions page lets like-minded people have a conversation about topics and issues that are important to them.

The calls to action page makes it easy for people to take concrete actions: “You can push a button and call your senator, there will be a prewritten tweet and you just push the tweet button, or you can go to a fundraising page for a cause you care about,” Saltarelli says. As of press time, the app has offered 36 separate calls to action, which resulted in 119 individual actions — categorized as anything from a call to a tweet to an email.

Saltarelli first learned to code in his Holy Cross courses Techniques of Programming and Data Structure, and enjoyed it so much that he was determined to learn more programming languages. Using a combination of what he learned in class and some self-taught coding skills, Saltarelli put together the 8,000 lines of code that became Stand Up for Change. This is actually Saltarelli’s second app; the first was Chin Up!, which encourages students on college campuses to share positive messages with their peers.

Partnerships Lead to Growth

A sampling of the calls to action in the Stand Up for Change app, on topics ranging from military spending to the environment. Photo by Tom Rettig

To populate his app with content, Saltarelli partnered with an organization called Action Alliance, a collaboration of call-to-action websites and apps, and the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C. Content from these groups and their partners appears in Stand Up for Change, which is now managed by Saltarelli and a dedicated group of fellow Holy Cross students and alumni: Meaghan Body ’17, Vince LaMonte ’17, Caroline Ambrose ’19, Ed Ryan ’15 and Jon Bachmann ’16.

The biggest partnership for the app to date is with Rise Stronger, a citizen watchdog organization. As of May 2017, Stand Up for Change will become the official app of Rise Stronger. Saltarelli and his team will stay involved, and he would love to work on the app full time after his graduation next year.

Danielle Kane, Chair of the Brookfield Democratic Committee

Danielle Kane leads the March 12 meeting of the Brookfield Democratic Committee. Photo courtesy Jesse Costa / WBUR

Saltarelli says that he wasn’t that politically involved or engaged until this election, and the same could be said for Danielle Kane, associate director for communications for the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture. Witnessing this election cycle inspired her to get involved in the Democratic Party on the local level.

“I actually wasn’t even registered as a Democrat until January, after the election,” Kane says. “I decided I’m taking a stand; I’m going to support this cause.”

She revived the Democratic town committee in her town of Brookfield, Massachusetts, and now serves as its chair. Each town in the commonwealth of Massachusetts can have a town committee from either party, and these committees serve their party at the state level.

“Working on the party platform is our role this year, because it is a non-election year,” Kane says. “There is a convention in June, and we will vote on the party platform for the next four-year cycle. In election years, of course, we support candidates.”

Delegates from each town in Massachusetts will attend the state Democratic convention in June, and Kane will represent Brookfield. Though there is less attention on conventions outside of election years, she says that this is the time to put in work that will, hopefully, be rewarded in an election year.

Encouraging Involvement

“Our town is focused on refugees and immigration, health care, the environment and local legislation and election priorities,” she says. “Since I’ve been in this position, another committee formed in our neighboring town of North Brookfield, and they want to work with us and join forces, so that’s great. We have a couple people from other towns and Sturbridge, as well, is trying to coordinate with us, so I think if we get a regional coalition of people, we will have a greater voice representing central Massachusetts.”

The word is already getting out: Kane and her Brookfield committee were featured in a segment on WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate, in March. “I feel humbled by it, but I have to tell myself not to turn down these opportunities,” she says. “Part of why I am doing this is to build more awareness and support of the groups that are out there and to inspire other people to get involved.”

Brian Senier ’19, Republican Political Editor of Campus Journal

Brian Senier ’19 is committed to being a civil voice for the Republican Party at Holy Cross. Photo by Tom Rettig

Senier, a member of the opposite party, felt a similar desire to build awareness after the election. He is on the executive board of the College Republicans and is the Republican political editor of a new, nonpartisan College journal called “A Contest of Ideas.”

With sections on politics, the economy, the environment, philosophy and religion, “A Contest of Ideas” seeks to “create a robust discussion on campus about the problems we face as a world, as a nation, as a local community and as individuals,” according to the journal’s website. Created by Billy Ford ’19 and Connor Hennessey ’19, the online journal launched in the second semester of the 2016-17 academic year. Ford asked Senier to come on board with the publication in the planning stages, during the summer of 2016 and in the midst of the primary campaign.

“As a result of certain things that then-candidate Donald Trump had said about Mexicans and prisoners of war and a variety of other offensive comments, I knew that it was important for others to know that, at the College of the Holy Cross, there are articulate Republicans engaging in heated but civil political debate and not demagoguing certain groups in order to lift others up,” Senier says.

Inclusive Conversations

In addition to his work on “A Contest of Ideas,” Senier is also part of the Charles Carroll Program, an initiative that offers lectures and conferences to study the major themes of the American political tradition. The program hosted four lecture events leading up to the election, discussing the role of party elites in determining presidential nominations, Donald Trump’s assertion that “I alone can fix it,” candidate debate preparations and how campaign finance laws have been used to restrict political discourse in America.

“Our events played a crucial role in helping frame the narrative on campus during the election, and, most importantly — whether students were conservative or Republicans who supported Donald Trump, or did not support Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton supporters, or progressives supporting Bernie Sanders — everyone would be able to voice his or her views without feeling that theirs would not be welcomed,” Senier says.

Jodi Rymer, Winter Clothing Drive

Jodi Rymer collected donations of hats, gloves and scarves to hand out at the Worcester Public Library during the cold New England winter. Photo by Tom Rettig

Jodi Rymer, lecturer and director of biology labs in the Department of Biology, shares Senier’s hopes of creating more civil and respectful conversations. Rymer, who has taught at Holy Cross since 2009, was distressed by the discourse throughout the election and in the days since.

“People are directing so much hate and incivility at each other. I feel that disrespect and name-calling are being normalized, when they most definitely should not be,” Rymer says. “So I decided to do something, because civic engagement is a positive force. My community is Worcester, my friends, my neighbors, my fellow citizens.”

As the winter months set in and Rymer thought about what this community might use most, she decided to organize donations of gloves, hats and scarves for those in need.

On eight Sundays from December to March, Rymer could be found in the entrance area of the main branch of the Worcester Public Library in Salem Square, handing out these winter necessities. She gave out nearly 500 items this year, and has plans to continue the drive next year.

Rymer is humble and downplays her contributions, pointing out that many people at Holy Cross and in the Worcester community reach out and help their neighbors. And many of these people helped with her project. Her Tuesday night knitting group made scarves for the giveaway and her book club (including Holy Cross economics professors and some of their spouses) made some donations. Another faculty member saw Rymer knitting at a workshop and the next week brought five scarves to donate to Rymer’s project. Amit Taneja, associate dean for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at the College, also knit a few items.

“I think people should just make their immediate worlds as nice as possible,” Rymer says. “I just want us all to be nice to each other, to start. That’s just the way we should be.”

Written by Maura Sullivan Hill for the Summer 2017 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

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