by Abigail McIntosh

Disappointment Won't Keep Benjamin Kremer Down — He's Too Busy Helping Young People Vote

Benjamin Kremer of the New Hampshire Youth Movement is a recipient of the 2019 MTV Leaders for Change grant

By Lauren Rearick

Benjamin Kremer isn’t afraid to demand more of his elected officials.

As an organizer with the New Hampshire Youth Movement (NHYM), Kremer made headlines in December 2017 when he confronted New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and asked him not to sign HB 1264 — legislation that makes voting in New Hampshire considerably more restrictive. Under the bill, an out-of-state resident would be required to secure a New Hampshire driver’s license in order to vote and be considered a resident, New Hampshire Public Radio reported. (Previously, new or temporary residents were able to use other means of identification to vote.) The ACLU raised issue with the proposed law, as students attending college in New Hampshire would be required to pay any fees associated with a driver’s license in order to vote.

At the time of Kremer’s confrontation, Governor Sununu pledged he wouldn’t support the law, but later went back on that promise and signed the bill in 2017; New Hampshire Union Leader reported that state Democrats have since continued their efforts to repeal HB 1264.

Kremer, who joined the NHYM in 2014 and is a recipient of the 2019 MTV Leaders for Change grant, is among the activists supporting the repeal effort. The organization is comprised of multiple groups of young people fighting to gain the recognition of their elected officials and engages with thousands of potential young voters. They also have eyes on an upcoming 2020 presidential candidate forum. And according to Kremer, the fight leading up to 2020 begins with mobilizing more young voters overall.

“Every single young person needs to vote in this upcoming election because it’s the most important election of our lifetime,” he told MTV News. “Young people are the biggest voting block in this country, and we know that the grand challenges of our generation — climate change, healthcare, student loan debt — are on this ballot.”

Youth voting rates increased in past elections, and Kremer and his fellow NHYM organizers wholeheartedly believe that political change can and does start with the state’s youngest voters. “When we organize, work collectively, and leverage our power in a uniform way, we can bring about change,” he said.

In a recent phone interview, Kremer shared with MTV News what it was like to experience disappointment at the hands of an elected official, how the New Hampshire Youth Movement intends to do everything in its power to get young people to vote, and why their work is particularly crucial ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

by Eden Suoth

MTV News: What does NHYM do and why is the work important?

Kremer: The movement was started by seven kids that were either in college or have already graduated from college. We were just a group of friends already organizing in the same circles, and we felt we needed to do something different. We got together and realized we could be more effectively organizing young people in New Hampshire. We knew it needed to happen.

I think stories like ours are really powerful, and if someone wants to do something like this in their state and effect real political change by organizing people, you can do it. It’s really easy and just takes getting your friends together to do something. There are so many places and resources out there that will support you.

MTV News: What inspired you to challenge Governor Sununu? How did you feel when he went back on what he told you?

Kremer: The whole thing was motivated by the fact that it should be easier for the people of New Hampshire to vote, not harder. We want to bring people into our community and allow them to participate in the election process through voting.

The governor went back on his word to everyone. When we talked about that bill, I felt it was an honest, genuine conversation where I expressed some legitimate concerns. It seemed like he heard me, and that he was on our side, and that’s what he said. Lo and behold, some time later, he went back on that. That didn’t feel great, especially when we spend a lot of our time talking to politicians and telling them our concerns. Rarely, does it feel as if they’re truly hearing you and they’re on your side.

His decision is really emblematic of that fact that he doesn’t support young people, and that he would be more willing to not rock the boat with his party, or that he caved to some sort of outside influence, whatever the case may be.

MTV News: Based on what happened with the Governor, what’s NHYM’s understanding of how voting might now be impacted?

Kremer: Things are still very much in flux. There’s a lot still to be determined, and it’s not yet known how this [HB 1264] will impact voters on election day. Things continue to happen, and it remains to be seen whether the process will change again. It’s frustrating to just wait and see, but whatever happens, we have a number of contingencies still in place to get young people out to vote.

MTV News: What impact do you want your future work to have on the political landscape of New Hampshire? 

Kremer: Based on who gets elected in 2020, things could go a number of different ways in the world, for better or for worse. Our work is going to include doing everything possible to get young people out to vote in New Hampshire.

We’re planning on getting thousands of young people out to the polls, and we also want to engage with young people, getting them to volunteer with voting organizations, getting their friends out to vote, and keeping the momentum for this movement going. We’re really hopeful for an incredible voter turnout, and for lots of people to be out there, speaking with their peers about why this election is important.

MTV News: How do you hope securing the MTV Leaders for Change grant will help the organization and its future work?

Kremer: This money would go directly to supporting our plan, and supporting our fellows. We have fellows that spend all of their time getting young people out to vote.

We have the plans and the material needed, we just need funding to keep it going. We know that the work that we do, and the ways that we do it are super effective at getting thousands of new voters to the polls. We need the money to be able to give our employees a stipend, to pay for their housing, and to print materials for voter pledge cards and candidate scorecards. It’s really exciting to be in a place where funding is the final piece needed.

MTV News: For residents in other states, and young people across the nation, why do you feel that they too should vote in the 2020 election?

Kremer: That’s the million dollar question. Every single young person needs to vote in this election because it’s the most important election of our lifetime. If young people effectively leverage their political power, they could decide this election. You need to get out there and vote, but not only should you be voting, you should be encouraging people to vote with you. When we organize, work collectively, and leverage our power in a uniform way, we can bring about change.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Leaders for Change is an MTV grant program that invests in young people doing extraordinary work at the local level to advance voting access. From getting polling places on college campuses across Michigan to registering voters in Chicago jails to providing rides to the polls in Georgia, these young leaders are breaking down the barriers that make it hard to vote in their communities.