Mark Twain said that we have the best government that money can buy. In some ways, this seems true – even in local government. While Manchester hasn’t seen some of the problems that other cities have, such as scandals or major shutdowns, and it doesn’t give the impression that it is “government for hire,” it has experienced city government that is often seen as nonresponsive and that ignores some of the major issues that face it. In recent times, the city has also ignored the needs of residents or has turned a blind-eye to those who are in need of help and resources that our local government should be offering.
The result is a growing number of people who see their elected officials as distant and not caring about the people who elected them. This has led to people not only losing confidence in their elected officials, but also losing their hope and civic pride – the very pride that helped get our city through its darkest times and the pride that can move it forward.
Over the years elected officials have made moves that have caused the people of our city to lose confidence and form the belief that the system doesn’t work for them and that only those who are connected can actually get things done, and that money creates that connection. People also believe that government of all levels only serves those who are chosen. The prevailing opinion is that the old adage of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” rings true in our local government.
I have spoken to many people in Manchester who share this general belief. And this is evident when one looks at recent city-wide election results. For example, turnout in the 2013 municipal general election was a puny 25.26 percent, which translates to 15,451 ballots cast out of 61,176 registered voters. In some instances, the number of blank ballots surpassed the number of actual votes. I have been told that low turnout in municipal elections is the norm, especially for odd-year elections because no state offices are on the ballot. Although this may be true, I see this as people justifying why citizens are not voting or otherwise becoming involved with determining the direction of our city.
The great news is that we can celebrate Manchester regardless of how we view our elected officials. This is because celebrating MHT is about our great city … it is not about who is running it.
A local mayor has said that he believes his greatest accomplishment, even greater than leading the city through a renaissance that has been widely celebrated, is that he restored the hope and pride of every citizen of their great community.
It is my belief that restoring hope to a community will lead to people becoming more engaged and that everything will flow from there. And if the citizens become more engaged true change will happen. I often tell people that change will not happen unless we make it. Making change on the local level is relatively easy, but with less than 26 percent of registered voters casting ballots, it will not happen. (And we’re not even talking about those who are eligible to vote but not registered). Can you imagine the change that we could make if we got more involved? Everything that our elected officials do effects every resident of our city, and in many cases even effects non-residents when they visit. But my standing on a soapbox will not do much because of the lost hope and civic pride of many people in Manchester.
Placing our hope for a better Manchester in our elected officials alone is misplaced hope. There is the hope that our elected officials will do the right thing, which is doing what is best for the city and her people, but our hope needs to be placed in ourselves as well.
We are Manchester!
Elected officials can lead the way by working to make Manchester a stronger city by utilizing the tools that they have and the power that is given to them – by the people, but we need to invest ourselves to the cause as well. Hope and pride was restored in the city I spoke of earlier, but it wasn’t solely placed in government. The mayor helped the people hope and believe in themselves and in the city. Government makes things possible by setting public policy, and sometimes there are visionaries in government, which leads to more openness to new and innovative ideas, but we the citizens need to be active participants
Government has a role
It was our local government working alongside private entities and individuals that brought Manchester back from the ashes. It was this cooperation – this partnership – that restored our great millyard and helped it become the vibrant multi-use area that it is today. It was this coming together of visionaries in the public and private sector and those who could set public policy that led to such things as the Fisher Cats and the Monarchs coming to town; it is this coming together of ideas and the power to make things happen that will continue to move Manchester forward! Government, nonprofits, the private sector, and the people all need to be active participants in order to create an even better Manchester!
I equate our involvement with Manchester’s future to learning in school. As students, it was (or is) our hope that the class leader knows the material and can articulate it, but it is up to us to do the work in order to truly learn. It only works if we participate.
The people have a role
Responding to the hope that Manchester can be even greater will lead us to become engaged in our community. Whether it be volunteering on a political campaign, volunteering at a local nonprofit, or organizing and participating in neighborhood activities such as clean-up days, watch groups, or social activities, our engagement will bring back our civic pride –the very pride that has been lost by so many. This engagement may also lead us to want to participate in making the changes that can only be done in the voting booth. Civic pride is key, but we need to have a responsive government for Manchester to move forward.
Civic pride acts as a propellant and will fuel efforts to help make Manchester even greater. We will see Manchester as our home and not just the place that we live or a city that was once great but has been ruined by those in power. We will want to celebrate our city for what she is regardless of whose “in charge.”
We need to celebrate Manchester, celebrate our history, celebrate our present, and celebrate our future. We need to show our love and passion for Manchester!
It is easy to look at the problems that Manchester has – like so many other cities – and fall into the negativity trap and become separated and non-engaged, not caring what happens. We need to rid ourselves of our negativity and celebrate our city!
Celebrate everything that is Manchester! Celebrate our history! Celebrate the Millyard!
Celebrate the growing vibrancy! Celebrate Downtown! Celebrate the growing arts scene! Celebrate our memories! Celebrate the innovation! Celebrate Manchester’s future! Celebrate Manchester’s diversity! Celebrate MHT!
Many in Manchester have lost their hope in city government as well as their civic pride. We need to realize that it’s about celebrating Manchester for what she is and not for who leads her. We are Manchester … so let’s participate and let’s celebrate MHT!
For the Love of Manchester posts will cover a range of topics with a focus on the author’s vision of Manchester becoming a more vibrant, people-friendly, and economically stable city that honors its history and embraces its identity while building for the future. He believes that anything can be accomplished if people are open to new and different ideas and work together towards a common goal.
About the author: Brian Chicoine is a New Hampshire native who moved to Manchester from Raymond in 1980 at the age of 8. He attended Gossler Park Elementary, Parkside and Southside Junior High, and West High, from which he graduated in 1990. After attending Notre Dame College in Manchester, Brian completed his undergraduate degree at Rhode Island College in Providence. Brian and his wife Jackie then came to Manchester in 2004 and were involved in various outreach organizations. Their two boys were born in Manchester during this time. After his position was eliminated in 2009, Brian and his family returned to Rhode Island. They have been living in Providence since 2010. Brian and his family love Manchester and are planning on returning within the next few months. Brian is currently working at helping the city move forward by connecting with other stakeholders and becoming involved with like-minded groups. Brian is also laying the foundation for an organization that will help strengthen the city and help it move forward.
Brian holds a Bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College and a Master of Public Administration degree from Grand Canyon University. Brian currently works at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is also founder of a Facebook Group, Manchester Forward. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.