Rebel With a (Common) Cause
To look at her, one would not think that this gentle woman was a rebel. Her resume of academic achievements and legislative activity speak more of someone who found her way into a comfortable career path in order to establish a predictable lifestyle. But when you peel back the veneer of titles and positions, you will find a real rebel.
Claire Snyder-Hall is well-known in the Rehoboth Beach area, and currently serves as Executive Director of Common Cause Delaware. Getting to this place was not an easy path.
Any time one runs a political campaign for a state or federal post, that person knows they have to put their heart and soul—and all waking time—into it. While Snyder-Hall lost her bid for a Delaware State Senate seat in 2014, she remains a respected voice for good governing in Delaware politics.
Snyder-Hall is also an author. Her recent book is entitled Battling the Prince: A Woman Fights for Democracy. She describes her book as “an auto-ethnographic study that analyzes her grassroots campaign for [Delaware] state senate in 2014, her eight years as leader in the Democratic Party, her work as a lobbyist for democracy reform in the state legislature, and her experiences with progressive social movements and community-building.” So, do you sense that there may be a rebel here?
Taking a deeper dive into Battling the Prince, Snyder-Hall refers to it as her political memoir, recounting her unsuccessful run for state senate, showing how she became a political activist, and making the case that we are in dire need of a democratic culture. “Prince” is a metaphor for authoritarian politicians who feel entitled to rule. The imagery also refers to “the prince inside our heads” that tells us to bow down before the powers that be in order to get along in the political world. This would create a dynamic of power and deference instead of equality.
Underlying her political beliefs and strategies is the famous work of Niccolo Machiavelli. His treatise, The Prince, is the foundation upon which Snyder-Hall builds. As she “battles the prince,” Snyder-Hall attempts to break through the barriers and obstacles of ill-informed and unproductive governing in order to create a democracy that values its resources, particularly the human ones.
Claire Snyder-Hall finds her fulfillment by being in what she calls the “democracy space,” and strives to bring the rest of the world with her to that place. The democracy space is where organizations and institutions work to try to strengthen democracy itself. One example is “service learning,” a pedagogical approach weaving together the classroom lessons in academia with street experiences reinforcing those lessons. For instance, if the lesson is on poverty, the students would spend time in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter to experience firsthand the classroom instruction.
Lest one think otherwise, Snyder-Hall is not confined to abstract debate or ethereal deliberations. She has had her feet on the ground for years. For 12 years, she was on the faculty at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia. It was there that she established herself as a serious contender in the academic and political worlds.
Snyder-Hall met and married the love of her life, Mikki Snyder-Hall; they were religiously wed on November 18, 2006. This duo served as Lobby Day Captains for Equality Maryland, advocating for same-sex marriage. For Claire, marriage is the highest form of monogamy, and everyone should have access to it, regardless of their sexual orientation. In Claire’s view, the political battle for same-sex marriage is more a constitutional issue than a religious issue.
The first phrase of the First Amendment of the US Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....” For Claire Snyder-Hall, same-sex marriage is a given, regardless of one’s religious views. “The government needs to treat everyone equally,” she states firmly. Venturing into the Bible, she notes that even Jesus Christ said nothing about homosexuality. The vitriol and condemnation of gays today by many who claim to be religious is in stark contrast to how Jesus addressed it—or to be precise, did not address it.
Following a four-year move to Florida in 2017, Snyder-Hall moved back to the town she claims as her own—Rehoboth Beach. Starting as interim director, she is now Executive Director of Common Cause Delaware. She had previously worked with this group in 2015 and 2016. Common Cause began in 1970, founded by John Gardner, a Republican. It is non-partisan and seeks to bring our nation to a position of “good government.”
Is Claire Snyder-Hall a rebel? It depends on whether one sees her political beliefs and advocacy as rebellious. This calm, confident, and compelling woman may have a rebellious streak hidden behind her engaging smile, but it sets expectations of better governing ahead. ▼
David Garrett, a CAMP Rehoboth Board member, is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult trans daughter. Email David Garrett at email@example.com.