Rachel Maiore: Let’s make it easier for parents to participate in government

Published: 9/1/2019 6:00:08 PM

We are a coalition of current and future city councilors across Massachusetts who believe that access to municipal government is imperative for ensuring that our municipalities represent the actual people who reside within them.

One regularly missing voice in municipal meetings is that of parents and guardians of young children.

For parents and guardians of young children, including members of this coalition, venturing out in the evenings when municipal meetings are traditionally held is too often eclipsed by competing demands of homework, dinner, quality time and bedtime. For single parents or those whose work includes evening or overnight hours, the barriers are even greater.

Public comment periods are among the core ways that elected officials receive feedback from constituents on local issues. A recent study by Boston University researchers that looked at who spoke during the “public comment” section of city meetings in 97 Boston-area municipalities found that commenters were more likely to be older and male than representative of the community as a whole.

Our democracy is dependent upon a diversity of voices at the table, and we all miss out when parents of young children are not represented in the legislative process and public discourse affecting our lives. It is not enough to simply invite people into the process; it is incumbent upon municipal governments to get creative and actively work to mitigate the barriers to participation.

Beyond access to child care, we need to reconsider the traditional evening meeting times of so many municipal meetings and think of including weekend or early evening meetings to allow for greater participation.

Providing child care at municipal meetings is both groundbreaking and common sense. Working to include parents and guardians in municipal government is not only the fair thing to do; all of us benefit when we see children as stakeholders in the future of our democracy, as we work within our communities to raise the next generation of engaged citizens.

If our government is meant to be of the people and for the people, we must ensure that municipal government representation reflects all the people it is designed to serve.

The Coalition to Equitable Access to Government

In addition to Rachel Maiore, a candidate for Northampton City Council, this letter was signed by Karen Foster and Alex Jarrett, Northampton City Council candidates; Alisa Klein and Gina-Louise Sciarra, Northampton city councilors; Jesse Lederman, Springfield City Councilor; Anne Thalheimer, Holyoke City Council candidate; Owen Zaret, Easthampton city councilor; Cara Lisa Berg Powers, a Worcester School Committee candidate; Amanda Linehan, Malden city councilor; Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, Cambridge City Council candidate; and Sam Squailia, a Fitchburg city councilor.

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