When New Hampshire State Representative Suzanne Harvey (D-Nashua) unseated a seven-term Republican incumbent with a grassroots door-knocking campaign in 2004, her victory was seen as an upset.
But the real shift in her political career happened a few years later, when she met her future Buddhist teacher, Lama Willa Miller of the Natural Dharma Fellowship, and started on the path to becoming a Buddhist.
New Hampshire prides itself on being the first state to hold a presidential primary as well as on its “citizen legislature,” which compensates its 400 elected representatives with a whopping $100 a year. Low pay notwithstanding, Harvey has been able to advocate significantly for issues that she’s passionate about, such as promoting clean energy and preventing human trafficking.
“I am very conscious of bringing my practice into the State House with me and trying to be the best reactor to what is actually happening,” Harvey says. The most memorable intersection of practice and politics actually happened during a four-year gap in her political tenure, when she showed up at the State House for the results of a vote (she can’t remember if it was about Medicaid or education, just that her “side” lost). Afterward, when a controversial member of the opposition emerged from the chambers, a disappointed crowd started yelling, “Shame on you!”
Harvey found herself swept up in the wave of anger toward a man the crowd felt was “not good for the state”— but amid the shouting had an insight: this wasn’t what she was practicing for.
“I realized that I didn’t want to be yelling at another human being, someone I don’t really know, who somewhere in there has buddhanature,” Harvey recalled. “I just stopped cold and walked away.”
After a decade of service and an increasing divisiveness in the Republican-controlled house (which led to an increase in her mantra recitations during marathon debates), Harvey is ready for the next chapter of her life. She is not seeking reelection when her fifth term ends this December.
But Harvey, who has worked in publishing and spent years volunteering for campaigns before she started her political career, wants to inspire other Buddhists to run for public office at the local, state, and national levels.
“As Buddhists we haven’t made our voices heard in the public arena. . . . I think it could really change the conversation,” Harvey says. “Pick your issue or two and get out there and make a difference.”
Connect with Harvey and other Buddhists who are activists or hold public office on the private Facebook page “Buddhists in Politics.”
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