On a lovely evening with clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 70’s, twenty volunteers assemble at the Exeter Town Hall. Outside there is a community-sponsored bike race through downtown and despite this inviting event, volunteers have come to learn how to interview business owners as part of our Business Engagement and Retention Program. Similar meetings in North Hampton, Milton and Northfield are happening in order to keep and grow local businesses. This is the summer of 2018 and people are working in Alton on community visioning and in Farmington, new volunteers are interviewing community members to begin downtown revitalization. Volunteers travel to other towns, as the folks in Pittsfield and Tilton have done, for community assessments through our First Impression Program.
Typically, community volunteers working to strengthen their community step aside for the summer months, to enjoy the NH weather and the opportunities for recreation, travel and enjoying our natural beauty. Something is different this summer. People are actively participating in democracy and decision-making at the local level.
An important component of democracy is the active participation of its citizens in civic life. There has been a lot in our media and around the dinner table about the state of democracy given our national politics. Those not involved locally assume that the incivility and strong divisiveness we see portrayed on television and online are happening at the local level and it is actually just the opposite. We are seeing a strong commitment to listening, respect for differing ideas and working together in NH communities. The work is inclusive and respectful, with politics set aside for the sake of making positive change for a collective benefit. New volunteers are joining those who have a long history of participation. There is real interest in going out to fellow citizens and talking with them. Volunteers are eager to engage a wider range of people and have enthusiastically received our training on interview techniques, using Collector, a mobile data collection application for downtown assessments and thin engagement tools such as moveable posters around town.
People are volunteering their time, rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work of community improvement. I get a strong sense that people want to demonstrate that democracy works and are doing this by participating in their local community. Our state will reap the benefits as we see businesses grow, main streets come alive and new leaders emerging. Democracy in action is amazing – check it out and consider volunteering in your city or town.