February 18, 2020

Volunteer Spotlight: Riley takes on the Maritimes

After moving to Halifax from Coral Springs, Florida, six months ago to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, Riley Nielson-Baker emailed Democrats Abroad, asking, “Hey, is there an active chapter here?” When told there wasn’t, Riley answered, “Well, there’s going to be.” Since the reactivated chapter hosted its first debate watch last August, it’s been all systems go. “There was no shortage of pubs to choose from for a debate watch,” laughs Riley. “Halifax boasts the largest number of pubs per capita in North America!”

Six months in, DA’s Maritimes chapter now numbers 620 members in all four Atlantic provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, and Newfoundland. “We’re all one chapter,” Riley explains, “though most of us are in and around Halifax. We’re working on adding representatives from the other regions.” It’s adding up in terms of participation, too, with high attendance at meetings and new volunteers stepping up in new positions. Riley’s especially encouraged by the “big spike in our chapter’s membership, beginning on New Year’s Day,” and with the response to a panel the chapter held in December at Dalhousie University on political culture under Trump.

For sure, there are hurdles, especially getting on the radar of local media, “getting our voice heard.” Personally, there’s the work/life balance challenge since Riley is not only chapter chair during an election year, but also a full-time grad student and a volunteer for both the national and provincial chapters of the NDP in Halifax. “It’s hard to not do everything.”

What propels Riley is a passion for politics that started as an undergrad studying biochemistry at the University of Florida. But what became more compelling, more inspiring, than this field of study were the people Riley saw being elected to public office. Then came the Parkland shooting. Riley’s younger brother was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the same school Riley had graduated from in 2015. “My former marching band lost two people, my ROTC team lost three. I knew some of the teachers who were killed.” Riley spent the months following the shootings working as a volunteer with band members and ROTC students.

Two years later, Riley’s pouring that formidable energy into Democrats Abroad. “What keeps me going is feeling we don’t do quite enough to find expats. There are so many Americans here. People just don’t know we exist.” Riley and the new Maritimes chapter are turning this around.