I have seen Connor O’Hanlon at every social justice gathering I have attended in Doylestown, but did not know the man behind the image nor the degree of good he does with all of his seemingly tireless efforts to make a monumental difference locally, and in the larger world. His progressive politics is built on the importance of voting rights, strengthening the economy in our county, civil rights, reproductive rights, environmental sustainability, and LGBTQ+ protections. He is an advocate and activist who writes, speaks, broadcasts, and wears his values on his sleeve.
Edie Weinstein: What motivated you to become a changemaker?
Connor O’Hanlon: I’ve always had a deep-rooted inspiration to make life better for as many people as I possibly can. Whether it was from growing up with my parents constantly busting their tails to provide for me and my brothers, learning from figures like St. Francis of Assisi or President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or admiring athletes like Derek Jeter who gave back to his community, I always found inspiration in others and the trail they set for me. My goal is to provide the path for others and make it smoother for them to achieve their goals and dreams.
Edie: Did growing up in Bucks County shape your dedication to the community?
Connor: It certainly did. The opportunities afforded to me by growing up in Bucks County have allowed me to become the first in my family to earn a college degree, become a CPA, and become a leader in the community at a very young age. My connection to the schools here runs deep as I went to Groveland, Tohickon, and CB West where I participated in everything from the musicals to being a linebacker for the football team. This is my home and my dedication to the upholding and improvement of it is undeniable.
Edie: What is your vision for the country, as someone on the Executive Board of Bucks County Democrats and Chair of Doylestown Democrats?
Connor: The vision is to make the American Dream a reality again. To connect ourselves with our environment and our communities to provide opportunities for hard-working people across the country. We believe that everybody deserves a fair shot and that we all have a lot more in common than what has been used to divide us. We all want housing we can afford, nutritious food, healthcare for all, and outstanding schools. The Democratic Party as an institution is always changing, but to me the values of our nation like justice, liberty, and equality blended with a 21st century adaptation of the New Deal/Great Society economic approach is what I believe the Democratic Party can represent.
Edie: I am impressed with your generation who have taken it upon themselves to repair the damage done in the world. Do you see it as a trend that will continue?
Connor: I sure hope so. In my 2022 run for State Representative, I highlighted several times that young people have largely been at the forefront of all major political movements in the country. Whether you look at Alexander Hamilton in the American Revolution, President Kennedy in the 1960s, or the activists today in the Sunrise Movement or the March for Our Lives, young people have led the way. My biggest fear is that people my age have been discounted and told to “wait our turn” quite literally as the world burns. This is a sure-fire way to let nihilism fester and hand our collective future away. If we want to engage young people in my generation (Millennials) or Generation Z, then we need to empower young people in the political system and provide them opportunities to lead, rather than chastise them when they try to improve the country as many generations before them have. This is precisely what my upcoming book is about.
Edie: I understand that some of what motivated you to take this path was fascination with history. What would you say to people who want to limit what students are taught about the history of the United States?
Connor: I would say that we all have so much to learn from the past in order to improve our country.
Many answers we are longing for exist in America’s past already. But frankly, even with my stellar education at CB West, there is always so much to learn, so why create such a myopic view of our world? Why limit students’ ability to ask the hard questions? Why lie about history? The harsh truths about slavery, the colonization of Africa and Asia, the Trail of Tears, etc., are just as important to learn about as the glorious moments in US history like the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Union’s triumph in the Civil War, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I am a patriot, but without knowing, understanding, and grappling with the complexities of history, patriotism turns to nationalism and that type of ideology will stifle America’s future a thousand times more than kids reading challenging books.
Edie: What can each of us do to stop the whitewashing of American history?
Connor: We should learn to accept that historical figures are flawed human beings just like every one of us. From Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we need to learn from their lives, their writings/speeches, and take things with context of the times in which people lived in. And as consumers of news and history, we have to be able to take the good with the bad and come to our own personal determinations of how to use information. We can’t boil Dr. King down to one quote and move on, we need to grapple with context and nuance, and we should debate about interpretations of history. But this requires a level of good faith, and it is incumbent upon us to do that. As a progressive, I believe we need to understand that not everyone has read the same books, seen the same news, or listened to the same podcasts as us. And by doing so, we don’t have to treat people we vehemently disagree with as someone who is intentionally utilizing history as a weapon, but rather may have a legitimate different interpretation… or they could also legitimately not know about certain aspects of history. We only fix this by engaging on the subject matter, not banning it.
Edie: Are there books you can recommend?
Connor: Some of the most challenging or mind-altering books I have read are listed below. I read a lot of philosophy as well, so anything that is considered foundational to the Stoic philosophy is intriguing to me and the origins of political ideologies are fascinating. I am always looking for more suggestions.
- The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
- Can’t Hurt Me, by David Goggins
- White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X
- 1984, by George Orwell
- The Assassination of Fred Hampton, by Jeffrey Haas
- The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein
- The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli
- Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again, by Johann Hari
- How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future, by Steven Levitsky
Edie: There are two organizations that seem to be dear to your heart, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and The Bucks County Housing Group. What would you like readers to know about them and why you are involved?
Connor: I serve on the Board of Directors for both organizations now, but I was inspired by the work these non-profits do by materially impacting the lives of our neighbors. NAMI is filling a void that so many people allude to as a problem, but we are actually taking action. By providing services and programming for those who live with a mental illness we are working to ensure that nobody in our community is overlooked or cast aside. As someone who lives with anxiety, it is important to me that the people in our community get the help they need. I am also proud of the work of the Bucks County Housing Group which strives to combat homelessness and food insecurity in Bucks County. Housing continues to be such a struggle to afford for millions of Americans, and it is something that can sometimes be overlooked in an affluent area like Bucks County. The same goes for food insecurity, but what I love about Bucks County Housing Group most is that we have recently put much more emphasis on providing healthy and nutritious food to those who utilize the pantries by creating new, expansive community gardens. This also provides residents and volunteers with an opportunity to learn how to grow their own food, which I find to be extremely fulfilling (especially when you see the first signs of growth). I encourage everyone to check out both organizations and try to volunteer or donate if you can.
Edie: With a full-time job as a CPA, how do you find time to do the activism work as well?
Connor: Sometimes folks ask me if I ever sleep, which I take as a huge compliment! I serve on both BODs discussed above, the Board of the Bucks County Community College, Chair of the Doylestown Democrats, and as Director of Candidate Development for the Bucks County Democratic Committee while I am also earning my Master’s degree at UPenn’s Fels Institute of Government. While this can sometimes be overwhelming, these are the things I genuinely want to do. I put my time and effort into my passions and when those times get tough, time management and prioritization are necessary. Luckily, I am surrounded by people in all of these organizations that take on significant roles and for the ones that I am in charge of, I am able to delegate which goes back to my original points about empowering others. It is an honor to serve my community, and I hope to do so for the rest of my life in whatever capacity I can.
Edie: Please tell us about The Greater Society Podcast.
Connor: I created the Greater Society Podcast in 2022 to offer a platform to progressives to engage and discuss current events, politics, and history. While many weeks I provide my opinions and interpretations of the news, I also bring on people I find have an interesting perspective on an issue or serve in government themselves. I have had guests that range from student activists to candidate for Auditor General and current State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta. What is most fun about my show is that I do it live every Wednesday night on YouTube so viewers can engage directly with me while I am recording and impact how the show goes. The show is also available in audio versions on pretty much all podcast platforms.
Edie: What are the crucial issues that you feel we are facing as a nation?
Connor: Protecting our environment from global climate change is by far the greatest threat we face today as humans. I also feel that wealth inequality that has been exacerbated since 1980 by tax cuts for the rich, stagnant real wages, and the undermining of labor unions has proven to be disastrous for our nation. As I said before, the average American just wants a fair shot at the American Dream, but without a decent wage and basic labor protections that won’t happen. When looking at Democratic primaries though, my biggest voting issue that differentiates progressives in races is healthcare. America is the only modernized country in the world to not guarantee healthcare for all people despite the fact that we pay more on healthcare than any other nation. To me, creating an intersectional implementation of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights that guarantees the right to a good-paying job, housing, healthcare, and a quality education to all Americans should be the goal. It most certainly is my goal to make these policy priorities a reality.
Edie: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Connor: I am currently working on getting my first book published. The manuscript is written but I am looking for an agent/publisher. Working title is “Building a Greater Society: A Guide to Political Revolution for Millennials and Generation Z”.