Years ago, my wife and I lived in a small town. It had a paper that came out once a week that was similar in composition to The Town Common. I had no idea who were the political players in town, what were the issues or even what was happening. To me the local rag was filled with bean suppers and rummage sales and the latest excitement down at the library. I could recite every major state-wide or national issue there was and at that time was a newshound scarfing the slightest tidbit. Locally though, I knew nothing. I know I probably should have but I just didn’t care.
And I know I wasn’t the only one. The first and only time I walked into the local town hall was to obtain a marriage license. Period.
Coming back to the situation now, Newburyport prides itself in being very political but the question remains, how do you reach the vast majority who have no concern locally.
It’s a serious situation because you can receive a lot of false signals from the community. When the bicycle lines were drawn out on High Street, there were public hearings after public hearings. The times were posted clearly in the Daily News. The hearings were well attended, too. Mary Eaton has indicated that far too many High Street residences just don’t care about local happenings. She was right in this incident. City Hall felt confident from the many hearings that the lines would go down and we would have largely no negative feedback.
Then the firestorm as residences along the bike path woke up one morning and found their cherished parking spaces were gone! Cries of "We weren’t told!" rose up. Others demanded how dare the Planning Office do this arbitrarily. And this is not the only incident. Whether its wind turbines or road work or school issues, the cries rise sharply, "Why weren’t we told!?!"
I assure you that City Hall has its wind taken out of its sails when they do everything right only to be told they had it wrong. As I have said before, in small communities like ours, "those who show up, decide the agenda."
If anyone is to get the attention of clueless locals, you have to meet them face-to-face and use every media available. Don’t fall for those who say, "Hey, we posted a press release in the paper, its enough!" or, "We put it on the cable studio’s bulletin board" The fact is that short of grabbing them and sticking your face into theirs, it is difficult to reach the majority of Newburyporters. We may be in the 21st century but our local candidates still need to go door-to-door. I know both our local mayoral candidates know this to be true.
Reaching into the hearts and minds of the majority of Newburyporters requires very hard work but the rewards are great! Look at CEB. They sent out volunteers getting signatures and passing flyers door-to-door and CPA was passed. If any group wishes to make a real change in our city, it is out there on the street where success lies.
I would like to see groups that have great projects to promote door-to-door with flyers or speaking with the residents; Groups like the Preservation Trust on the Local Historic Distric ordinance or the Save our Stadium group raising funds. It will make a difference.