MSU Today with Russ White

Hannah Zimmerman is a Stanford undergraduate who balances time between serving as New York's youngest elected official and the founder and director of TICO, The Institute for Civic Organizing. She loves to teach, organize, and research community resilience, domestically and abroad.

Show Notes

And if that first name sounds familiar, Hannah Zimmerman is the great granddaughter of renowned MSU president John Hannah. She's on campus exploring her great grandfather's archives in the MSU library to learn more about his legacy and how it inspires her.

“John Hannah was my great grandfather, and I grew up in his legacy,” Zimmerman says. “I knew growing up about him through the sense that we lived on Hannah land, but I didn't know much about who he was or what he did in his incredible career until later.

“I started a nonprofit, which has now transitioned into a hybrid organization based around ideas of civic engagement and organizing. Part of the work I'm doing here is learning about similar work he did and seeing how I can build on that legacy.

“I took a course on election law at Stanford, and John Hannah's name when he was the commissioner of civil rights was in the cases we were reading. And it was just weird to me to see that this part of my life that I hadn't thought all that much about was really impactful in an arena I would want to go into. As I continue to grow into who I want to be and the issues I'm passionate about, I'm learning how to find inspiration from my great grandfather and the work he did.”

As Zimmerman explores her great grandfather's memoir and archives, she's learning about his dedication to all people and to making room in an organization for everyone.

“One of the things I'm really coming to appreciate is when he had dedication to one issue. Something my mom said to me last summer is ‘The thing about your great grandfather and what made him such a good leader is he understood to be a good leader you have to find a place for everyone in the organization. And that is my piece of advice for you.’ When I started reading his memoir, which is part of why I wanted to come here, he talks about that principle of leadership and communicating. If you have a vision for something, you have to make sure that other people can see it, too.

“He has that famous quote, ‘Only people matter, especially poor people.’ That's something I am trying to live by. And as I read through the folders and see all the people he impacted, you can really see that for him, people are what mattered. And he was someone who really cared about feeding the world. And while my passion for organizing is different than his passion for agriculture, I can still see that he had one passion and followed it through several years in several different capacities. And that's just inspiring.”

Zimmerman is the founder and director of TICO, The Institute for Civic Organizing, and she'll bring the TICO mission to East Lansing next year. She elaborates on the evolution and threefold mission of TICO. She’s optimistic that more of us will become more civically organized in the months and years ahead.

“The metaphor I always like to use with political participation is that it's like the ocean. Scientists say we've only explored about five percent of the ocean and there's 94 percent we haven't seen. And I feel like it's kind of that way with public participation as well. So many people are just not engaging as much with public institutions as I'd like to see. Taking the public and private and combining them, which is what we do at TICO, is my way of forcing the public sector to catch up through private sector activities and learning from what other countries are doing with their civic engagement processes and hopefully seeing what we can bring back and develop here.”

Zimmerman details how she became New York's youngest elected official.

“I really love the opportunities to connect with my neighbors and talk to them about who they're voting for and how to vote. And that work is very important and rewarding and you can see why people stay in public service. And again, I love building things like we do at TICO. I see my role there as building connections that help people vote and vote in an educated way. I'm glad that I can look at things that he did and find inspiration in them. And I'm also proud that that's what came from my family and I'm proud that I'm able to carry on with the work I'm doing. And hopefully in some small way, that'll add to what's going on in the world.”

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870 and streams at WKAR.org. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.

What is MSU Today with Russ White?

MSU Today is a lively look at Michigan State University-related people, places, events and attitudes put into focus by Russ White. The show airs Saturdays at 5 P.M. and Sundays at 5 A.M. on 102.3 FM and AM 870 WKAR, and 8 P.M. on AM 760 WJR.

Russ White 0:00
Hannah Zimmerman is a Stanford undergraduate who balances time between serving as New York's youngest elected official, and the founder and director of TKO, the Institute for civic organizing. She loves to teach, organize, and research community resilience domestically and abroad. And if that first name sounds familiar, Hannah Zimmerman is the great granddaughter of renowned MSU president john Hannah. She's on campus exploring her great grandfather's archives in the MSU library to learn more about his legacy and how it inspires her.

Hannah Zimmerman 0:38
Yeah. John Hannah was my great grandfather. And I grew up in his legacy, not in the way that I knew much about him. But in the way that when he was president at Michigan State University, he was paid in it, or somehow he got a bunch of land in northern Michigan, in the tunnel of trees, good heart area. And my family still lives on that land to this day. And so I knew sort of growing up about him through the sense that we lived on handle land. But I didn't know much about who he was or what he did. In his incredible career until later, how I came to know about all the work that he did was twofold. The first was when I was 16, I started doing my own political stuff. I got really involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign ended up becoming national campaign staff. And then and I'm proud of this, but his youngest ever delegation member to the DNC, since 1828. So I was 16. And they, you know, let me and I don't know how or why, but it was really cool. I stayed active, ran for local office in New York, which I still hold. Then I started a nonprofit, which has now transitioned into like a hybrid organization, based around ideas of civic engagement and organizing. So part of the work I'm doing here was learning about similar work he did and seeing how I can kind of build on that legacy. But how I learned about him was my sophomore year of college, really started to appreciate it. I started growing on Stanford campus and getting nominated for different awards, which was really cool. And I let one of my family members know about it. And they said that your grandparents as an Mike and Mary Khoisan, would be really proud of you for following in your great grandfather's footsteps. And I took a course on Election Law at Stanford. And john had his name when, when he was the Commissioner of civil rights was in the cases we were reading. And it was just weird to me to see that, you know, this part of my life that you know, I hadn't thought all that much about was really impactful in an arena, I would want to go into so in the sense that I got into public service through Bernie, not john Hannah. But as I continue to grow into who I want to be and the issues I'm passionate about, I'm learning how to find inspiration from my great grandfather. And the work he did.

Russ White 3:01
Han is named after her famous great grandfather, sort of,

Hannah Zimmerman 3:06
so I actually spoke with my mom about this. But she said, I was named after both of my great grandmother's Hannah occurs. And on my dad's side, and Sarah Shah, Hannah. So I am named after him in the sense that the last name is what and that came from him. So that's, that's the connection. It's definitely interesting. When it's like when I was you know, people would say, Oh, she's a Hannah, but her name is also Hannah. So she's both

Russ White 3:34
as Zimmerman explores her great grandfather's memoir and archives, she's learning about his dedication to all people, and to making room and an organization for everyone. He was ahead of his time and practicing diversity, equity and inclusion.

Hannah Zimmerman 3:50
I think one of the things I'm really coming to appreciate was when he had dedication to like one issue. And something my mom said to me last summer, when I was, again, like, I started an organization, and I was really struggling with it last summer, and my mom said something to me, about john Hannah. And I was surprised since I, you know, not heard her talk about him that much during my life. And she said, the thing about your grandfather, what made him such a good leader is he understood, you know, to be a good leader, you have to find a place for everyone in the organization. And that is my piece of advice for you. And again, when I started reading this memoir, which is part of I want to come here, he talks about that sort of that principle of leadership of, you know, communicating, if you even if you have a vision for something, making sure that other people can see it. And also just, you know, the principles of people. You know, he has that famous quote, only people matter, especially poor people, and that's something I am trying to live by. And, as as I read through the folders, Then see all the people he impacted, you can really see that for him, people are what mattered. And he was someone who really cared about feeding the world. And, you know, while my issue, so to speak is different than agriculture, I can still see that he had one passion and followed it through several years in several different capacities. And that's just inspiring spending time on the handle land near Goodhart, Michigan, inspired Zimmerman to come to MSU. To learn more about her great grandfather, I started this project when I moved in, during COVID-19. I was in Alaska, right before COVID-19 happened doing research on you know, vulnerable communities in Alaska. And then I got the news that, oh, you have to go home. Everything's shutting down. So I moved back in with my mom, then, in May, my mom was like, I'm not, I don't want you to stay in my apartment alone. I don't think it's good for you. So we're going to get heart, which is, as I previously mentioned, land, john Hanna's land in northern Michigan. And she was like, so you're probably need to come with me. And I was, you know, in such a COVID funk that I was like, Yeah, okay. And it was terrifying for me, because I hadn't been to get hurt and years. And my family's relationship with each other is complicated. And so when I went back up, I was kind of hanging on to my mom. And then I got up there. And I started noticing things about her and the way she interacted the family members in the traits that she showed. And I started wondering where things came from. And again, like, I'll never be able to get into the mind of my mom or john Hannah, or my grandmother, Mary, Mary Hannah Khoisan, because you can't in some ways can't do that. And, you know, john Hannah died before I was born. But I can see him in traits that are expressed in my grandmother and my mom and now me, or traits that are expressed later. And that was sort of the primary goal was exploring intergenerational transmission in my family. So I did this, I'm doing similar work on my dad's side as well. In Abington, Pennsylvania, we long line of blue collar working class men and the family, Laura's they were passions who came over during the Revolutionary War. But it's definitely a different contrast to have that, you know, blue collar background on my dad's side and john Han on my mom's side. So I'm sort of reconciling those two parts of me has been really important.

Russ White 7:37
What interesting things are you finding as you explore the john Hannah archives at the MSU library, several

Hannah Zimmerman 7:43
different things, they have scrapbooks from my grandparents growing up, they're all of his correspondences with different political figures, presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, you know, there's a bunch of stuff, documents from his travels around the world pictures, really just like treasure chests full of different things he did. And some of them are private, and some of them are public.

Russ White 8:08
Zimmerman is the founder and director

Hannah Zimmerman 8:10
of tiko, the Institute for civic organizing, and she'll bring the Tikal mission to East Lansing next year. So the Institute for civic organizing is hybrid organization, I've been running for 1818 months now a little over that. And well, we sort of serve as a hub for the political process, in the sense that we like to assess sort of the state of civic engagement, and then, like, find innovative solutions to bring people and political institutions closer together. So similar to what my grandfather said, Only people matter. So sort of bringing people together through different ways. So civic organizing is a coin I termed based on research I did in northern Michigan, it is essentially a form of the political process that we think will be most impactful for making sure that people stay engaged with public institutions. And they can keep evolving in the sense that they keep meeting the needs of constituents. So similar to sort of what I'm doing here. And the work that john Hanna did with Michigan State, he never saw it as a done, he always saw that there was different ways you can improve it and make it fit more with what people need. And that's kind of the approach we're taking. And again, I supervise 12 people, and about half of them have been with me for over a year now. And I'm just really proud that, you know, they trusted my leadership enough to stay. And that, you know, people want to be there. And one of the cool things about where we're at is we're, you know, about to start testing our civic engagement and civic organizing products. And we're doing our civic development tour next fall, or we're going to 10 places in the United States to sort of see how people react and also to measure the state of the political process. And each there are civic Development Report, which is like imagine a civic engagement census, we had votes about where we want to go And I picked East Lansing because of my heritage,

Russ White 10:02
what is the mission of Chico, the Institute for civic organizing.

Hannah Zimmerman 10:07
So our process is threefold. We provide standardized materials that do sort of form an educational role. And a sense that they can be taught at community centers and clubs, in classrooms by Professor, they're super flexible materials, in the sense that education is constantly evolving, and where people do or don't want to be educated, you know, is changing. So we have our materials reflect that. We also have been working with engineers to have the courses available online for a certificate. And they're based around sort of, again, like these skills that would help people and help people interact with their public institutions. And they're built in such a way that it's not so much awesome doctrine, aiding people, as you know, giving skills that people can take with them and then build upon in their own communities. And our second is clients and collaborations, where we take on clients and collaborate with different organizations to sort of help them develop the mechanisms I have related to the political process, which has been really cool to work with organizations all over the world. We have a call with someone in Uganda next week. That's, you know, exciting to learn more about the Ugandan political process. And the third sector is our social impact Research Division, which is our nonprofit wing that focuses on enhancing the public knowledge of civic engagement and civic development,

Russ White 11:24
Zimmerman is optimistic that more of us will become more civically organized in the months and years ahead.

Hannah Zimmerman 11:30
The metaphor I always like to use with political participation is, it's like the ocean and the scientists say like, we've only explored like, 5% of the ocean, and there's like, 94%, we haven't seen. And I feel like it's kind of that way with, you know, public participation as well, that so many things the United States have been privatized, that, you know, so many people are just not engaging as much as public institutions, as I'd like to see. So sort of taking sort of the public and private and combining them, which is what we do at Chico is my way of sort of, you know, forcing the public sector to catch up through private sector activities, and learning from what other countries are doing and sort of their civic engagement processes. And hopefully seeing what we can bring back and develop here.

Russ White 12:16
Hannah Zimmerman is New York's youngest elected official,

Hannah Zimmerman 12:20
yeah, I was in New York, and I was 17. And the campaign kind of packed up and laughed. And I was like, Well, what do I do now? You know, I just fell in love so much of the campaign, and I just, you know, was bitten by the political bug and didn't know what was next. And so I was talking to the Manhattan young Democrats, and they were like, have you considered running for a county position? And I was like, me. And they were like, yeah, have you heard of county Committee, which is our lowest form of elected government, and volunteer, you know, super sexy. And I was like, sure. And they started telling about the position, and you do a lot of like, you know, endorsing of people and you know, connecting with constituents and informing them about, essentially civic engagement. And I love people going back to only people matter. And I love the neighborhood, I grew up in Tribeca. And so I was like, Well, if this isn't a super big commitment, and you know, it's a chance for me to connect with my neighborhood and represent them, then that sounds really cool. And then I was 17. So I wasn't actually old enough to run for office. So what happened is, I had to petition the board of elections to let me run, and I'm, like, 17, standing up in front of all of these, like, super important officials, and I'm like, why would I wear sneakers, but um, so they, they heard me out, and they voted yes, to lower the age you can run for office. So that was how I became the youngest elected was I lowered the age to run, and then I ran and ran unopposed. And I won. So I'm in my third term, and no one's run against me. And I really love the opportunities to connect with my neighbors and talk to them about who they're voting for, and how to vote. And that work is very important. And you know, is very rewarding. And you can see why people stay in public service. And, again, like I love building things like we do at t go. So I sort of see my role there, as well as you know, building connections that help people vote and vote in an educated way. I'm glad that I can look at things that he did and find inspiration of them. And I'm also proud that that's what came from my family. And I'm proud that I'm able to carry on with the work I'm doing, and hopefully in some small way, that'll add to what's going on in the world.

Russ White 14:45
That's Hannah Zimmerman, Stanford undergraduate, New York's youngest elected official and the founder and director of tiko, the Institute for civic organizing. Learn more at tiko. org. That org Ti c o o r g.org I'm Russ white for MSU today

Transcribed by https://otter.ai