LivableMHT is proud to bring you the first issue in a new, ongoing series, MHT Forward, written by Manchester native Brian Chicoine. Brian is a Manchester native, who also writes a weekly column for Manchester Ink Link, and recently founded the Facebook group Manchester Forward, which is dedicated to celebrating the Queen City and advocating for an even more vibrant, people-focused, and financially stable community that honors its history and embraces its identity as it builds for the future.
Lost Civic Pride
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%, 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% 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.