Stories from Our Community

Champion of Democracy Aims for D.C. Return

From South Sudan to Afghanistan, Christina Hartman, ESIA BA ’99, has worked for 15 years to strengthen democracy and build community in some of the world’s most troubled nations. Now she is running for U.S. Congress, seeking to represent Pennsylvania’s 16th District.

A marathon runner who spent her early years just outside Lancaster, Penn., Hartman views political office as the natural next step in her career. “I grew up in a place where making sure that people in the community have a voice is a value,” she says. Does she anticipate that building community spirit on Capitol Hill will present a challenge?

Maybe, but Hartman isn’t short on ideas for how to overcome the challenge. “It’s about really understanding people and building those relationships,” she says. “Look for the things you have in common; meet with people; have coffee with people. Maybe start a supper club.”

Public service has been part of Hartman’s life since she was young. Her mother taught her “we are all valuable and we all have something to offer.” Throughout elementary and high school, Hartman volunteered at car washes and bake sales to raise money for organizations she believed in. After her junior year in high school, she signed up for service work overseas through People to People International.

Enter GW. To prepare for the trip, Hartman and her fellow students first journeyed to Washington, where they were briefed by government experts. A GW residence hall within walking distance of the State Department was their temporary home. This experience, combined with travel and work in seven nations, convinced Hartman she wanted to study international affairs at the Elliott School.

Her undergraduate years were framed by Professor Henry Nau’s introductory course on international affairs and a senior-year class on globalization. For an advanced language course, she read de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America—in the original French.

The classic, which lauds America’s democratic society while predicting future challenges to the system, cemented Hartman’s commitment to working to strengthen democracy worldwide. Hartman credits her GW internships with showing her how her goal might play out in real life. “The other important piece of a GW education is the opportunity to work internships during the school year,” she says.

By 2003, Hartman was in Belgrade, Serbia, working with Freedom House to champion democracy and freedom. Kazakhstan came next, then Uzbekistan, then projects focused on several African nations.

In 2014, after advocating for human rights internationally for more than a decade, Hartman returned to the Pennsylvania community that shaped her career. For the past two years, she has provided strategic advice to nonprofits, helping them plan and implement social-justice initiatives.

Hartman takes the rigors of political campaigning in stride, fortified by a familial can-do outlook, the sense of community she developed growing up outside Lancaster, and a hardiness that stems from character and has been honed by experience. Over the years, she has learned to stay calm in challenging situations.

“Many places I’ve worked have been highly politically-charged.” Hartman says. “I have trained myself to feel as comfortable as possible and to convey [empathy] to others.” Hartman believes that Congress and her constituents need “people who can sit down around the table and come to consensus.”

In the coming months, Hartman will be busy speaking with—and, more important, she says, listening to—people across the 16th District. As Election Day approaches, she plans to go door-to-door to make sure voters come to the polls on November 8.

Amy Aldrich