Sunday, May 16, 2010

My Decisive Action to Re-register as an Undeclared Voter

by Sandy Belknap

I remember turning 18 and being very excited to vote in the 1984 Presidential Election.  Voter Registration was held at Nashua High School (there was only one high school in Nashua at the time) and I remember registering as an "Undeclared" voter (aka: Independent).  I remember having to raise my hand to take an oath about being a citizen and having the right to vote. (which I believe is really a priviledge that we have in the United States.)

At that time, my party affiliation choice was because I was young and grew up in a household that was more liberal vs. conservative and I was indecisive about for which party I really wanted to hang my hat.  Since the Primary happened before I turned 18, I was able to vote in the November election without having to change my affiliation. I voted for Ronald Reagan.

But, over the years, I've voted more often for the Democrats, which my voter registration has been reflecting during the past few elections.

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to stop by Nashua's City Hall to change my registration back to "Undeclared."   This change is not because I am indecisive.

It is because I am actually very decisive!  I don't feel that I personally have a strong connection to either of the mainstream parties.  I believe that being "Undeclared"  is more truthful than keeping aligned with a party just because it's easier to not make a change.   (BTW - I also don't connect at all to the Tea-Party movement, so my very liberal friends can all breathe a sigh of relief!) :-)

I am also not impressed with the behaviors of some the members of both parties, including some in NH, for whom I would typically cast my vote.  Specifically, a few months ago, I received an email from a Senate campaign where the headline encouraged recipients to vote online to "...Participate in Republican Idol and Vote for the Most Outrageous Quotation and Rationale." 

I was so disappointed in this type of negative (and childish) communication that I immediately asked the campaign to remove me from their email subscription list AND I called the office of the Congressional representative in D.C. that is running for the Senate seat.  I called because wanted to share my feelings that I thought such negativity is a poor reflection on this man's character and was definitely a turn-off to me, as a voter (and at the time, a supporter.)   I think that a stronger communications platform for this candidate would have been to share his purpose for running for the Senate seat that will be vacated soon and the value that he would bring to this office (including what he will do for me, one of his constituents.)

Multiply this one example by many more of the same type of behaviors that we are seeing across the country by our elected "leaders" right now, and I wonder how many other voters like me, are questioning their party affiliation.

And,  for those who are asking questions, I wonder what they are going to do in the weeks and months ahead?  Will any actions, like mine, change the attitudes of our representatives in D.C. who are supposed to be working for us, vs. working against each other?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Monied 'Burb vs. Boom Town - Both Face Similar Issues

by Sandy Belknap

I spent last week in Las Vegas for a business event.  At first, Vegas didn't appear to be much different from the last time that I was there - 10 years ago.  But then I talked to the people who live there.  Mostly the service workers that tend to run the city.

Every single person that I talked to told me how terrible things have been over the past two years.  People have been losing their jobs and their homes due to the weak economy.  Million + dollar valued properties are now selling for $250-300K.   On my way to the airport, the driver told me, "Things are really slow."   I asked him if he's seeing a little bit of improvement over the past few months as we hear about a slowly improving economy and he said, flat-out, "No!"

That made me think about home.  Home in Nashua, NH.  I was thankful that things are better compared to where I had spent the past week.  I was wrong.  Things are not as good as I thought.

Within an hour of being home, I heard of a friend in Nashua who is losing her home. The family has to be out of their home by July 1st.  This friend is a hard-worker, has two jobs, is reasonable and practical and is so disappointed in the response she has been getting from her bank (basically no response!)

It's the reality of the very many stories we see on the news every night.  But I never thought this would happen to someone whom I know and see almost every day.

I wonder what is going to happen to her and her home. 

Where will her children go to school and will they have to acclimate to a whole new environment?  What will happen to her pets?  Will this be another foreclosed home, sitting empty with an overgrown lawn in my neighborhood to bring down the value of my own property?  Will someone purchase this home and turn it into another Section 8- government subsidized rental that we're seeing more and more of in my neighborhood? 

When I think back to my discussion in Vegas with the driver on my way to the airport yesterday morning, I have determined that no matter how you 'label' a segment of Americans, whether by geography or other demographic, such as  'Monied Burb' or 'Boomtown', we are all seeing the same stories play out in our own neighborhoods.  It's very concerning and I really wonder what it will take for things to really change for the better.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Glimpses into the Future of Nashua

by Sandy Belknap

The past several months of blogging from Nashua for the Patchwork Nation project has forced me to think a lot about my community.   When I accepted the opportunity to be one of the bloggers for this project, I immediately had a long list of topics that I intended to cover.  Some of them have made it to this blog, others are still on the back burner as I gather insights and anecdotes from members of my community to ensure that I represent Nashua well.

One topic that seems very connected to the demographics focus of the Patchwork Nation project is the changing 'face' of Nashua.  I'm looking forward to the results of the 2010 Census that is currently underway to see if my own observations align well with data that is officially collected.

Until recently Nashua, a monied 'burb, had not been a very diverse community. But I've caught a few glimpses into the future of the city over the past several months just by keeping my eyes and mind open.

In November, while at the local elementary school on election day, I stopped to look at all of the class photos hanging on the wall to the entrance of the school.  These classes looked more like the classes that I attended in Southern Florida and Washington DC in the 70s and 80s. (In some cases, I was the only white or caucasian child in my class -- especially while attending junior high in the nation's capital.)

As this new generation of Nashua children grow up and if they choose to stay in the Nashua area, the city will look very different in 10 -15 years.    I've noticed this same change in the diversity of Nashua's youth during a recent visit to 'Discovery Hour' at the Nashua Boys and Girls Club.   It looked nothing like the Nashua I moved to when I was 13 years old, and definitely not the Nashua that where my mother was raised over 50 years ago.

In the past, Nashua's diversity was not as much about race, but more about ethnicity - you were either French-Canadian, Polish, Greek, Lithuanian, etc. (You can still see signs us this with some of the names of sections and places in the city.  There's the Polish Club and French Hill, but those names don't matter anymore.)    Over the past few years, Nashua has seen a huge increase in the population of Asian Indians as well as Hispanics in the area.  This change is especially evident as you drive thru the southern part of the city and Nashua's inner-city streets.

Personally, I love the added diversity to the city - especially after growing up near larger metropolitan cities like Miami and Washington, DC.  And city officials are engaged with the changing community.  They work with the more diverse neighborhoods to hold block parties and cultural events.

The challenge that I'm seeing in Nashua now,  is that some members of the community that have been born and raised in this city are skeptical that the changing population is a good thing. The funny thing is that I remember my grandfather once told me that the same thing happened many years ago when Polish people moved into neighborhoods abutting French Hill or married outside of their own ethnicity.

We've come a long way, baby.  Or have we?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Consumer Confidence Decline

As of right now, the need to spend has increased so much for necessary items that I haven't given a single thought to buy something simply for pleasure. A recent article in Business Week discussed how consumer confidence is dropping, a contradiction against all the predictions of the recovering economy. I can sympathize with this and so can many of my classmates.

When money is so hard to get right now, either by their own job or through  parents then of course confidence levels will go down. Right now the only expenses that I will be taking on are my standarized test registration costs and my daily routine costs like lunch.

While retailers are feeling more optimistic, the malls of Nashua can still be seen as fairly empty on a Friday night. It is apparent that while some say consumer spending has gone up greatly others can definitely disagree. 

Until my necessary costs go down there is no chance of me being a confident consumer. The nation is feeling a decline in consumer confidence and so am I.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

President Obama: Behind the Scenes

Just a few days ago the President of the United States of America was standing not even 100 feet away from me. During President Obama’s trip to Nashua for a Town Hall Meeting, I was a student chosen to go see him deliver his speech. What I found most fascinating about the actual event was not the speech but rather the behind the scenes look I was able to get. As a member of the student newspaper I was given the opportunity of attending the event with the press.
Arriving two hours before his speech I was given plenty of time to understand the planning and explore the scene before he arrives. Set up in the way back of the gym were bleachers for the presses’ cameras as well as tables behind them for laptops. In the back there was a separate entrance for the press with a security dog sniffing around. There were two different places for press, they had local press and then they had the national press team that follows Obama in a separate room. With my special press pass I wasn’t able to leave the small box that we were enclosed in, yet there were plenty of interesting people to meet.

I met with the White House Event Planner, who was in charge of handling all of President Obama’s trips such as this one. He was in charge of picking the location, contacting local contractors for the light and stage, and coming a week before to scope the location. Seven days prior to the actual town hall meeting his team check out the location and keep an eye out for any precautions needed to be taken. He brings the podium as well as the teleprompter. When the music plays as President Obama is leaving, he is the one to play it. As I spoke to him he sounded almost bored with his job description. Yet for me, this was all new and particularly exciting

Later I met with some of local press and who their views on the event. One thing I noticed in particular is that there wasn’t much excitement. This is understandable considering the press have heard the President talk about the same issues numerous times. The feeling behind the bleachers was simply one of extreme boredom it seemed like. Personally, I found it to be intriguing yet at the same time these people simply had to wait for hours for the President to arrive. It is understandable why by that point they are not as excited as they would have been in the beginning of the President’s journey. From a behind the scenes perspective there was extremely tight security and Secret Service members everywhere. When asked for a few questions they promptly but politely declined. Even student volunteers were given training and were unable to say anything.

Obama’s speech itself covered a myriad of topics and discussed the problems found to be most prevalent in our community. President Obama discussed the need to make unpopular decisions in order to help the financial crisis. He spoke of our need for new development in green energy and new jobs for 2010. He also managed to answer a few questions from the crowd, including a student who attends Nashua High School South. The questions ranged from healthcare to education and then to greener energy. Overall Obama was able to touch upon the issues that are worrying the residents of Nashua the most right, mainly jobs and unemployment. Overall the experience was one of a lifetime. The President opened up to Nashua with future plans, now we must wait on his actions regarding them.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wine Train Gets More Investment than Education?

By Sandy Belknap

President Obama held a Town Hall meeting in Nashua this week. 

I appreciated the overall messages that he shared during his speech and Q&A during his hour long visit to Nashua High North.  He talked about more focus on Jobs and Small Business as well as a continued focus on Healthcare Reform.   I was especially glad to hear him acknowledge how 'hard' it is to drive so much CHANGE during such a difficult period for so many people across the country.  And, it was good to hear that he realizes that we ("the people") want our leaders in Washington "to worry less about their jobs and more about [our] jobs."   

A few hours after the President's visit, the issue of the multi-million dollar cuts that are needed in Nashua's school system were discussed at a public meeting.  The cuts proposed include teaching jobs.

Ironic how Obama's messages sounded so good in his speech, but then the reality of day-to-day life in Nashua returned quickly after his visit.

Over the past five years, there have been numerous issues with leadership within the Nashua school system, and unfortunately, those issues have resulted in budget deficits requiring cut after cut after cut.  Right now, there is a need to close a gap of over $3 million.

Obama talked about the need to 'invest in innovation' and that we need to focus on education to ensure that the US is not second to any other country in the world.  Great stuff to say in a speech, but the reality is that if we can't invest in our students and schools, then innovation is going to stop.

Then I heard about the story of the Napa Valley Wine Train.  Over $50M in 'Stimulus' money has gone to a project in California to do work on the rails for the Napa Valley Wine Train.  WHAT?!?!  I've been on that train and paid over $100 for that tourist experience.   It was OK, but it's not on the top of my list as far as great experiences in the Napa Valley.

Over 50 million 'stimulus' dollars are going into the Wine Train project.  But, we can't find $3 million to save the jobs of our local teachers?  Isn't education the key tool that will enable us to innovate (and create jobs)?

There is a serious gap in the priorities that are being decided with regard to how 'stimulus' money is being spent.  And in retrospect, the promising speech delivered by the President on Tuesday is now overshadowed with the reality of what is happening day-to-day.

In this case, actions speak much louder than words.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Change We Can Believe In" Needs to be Properly Managed

By Sandy Belknap

During the 2008 Presidential Election, I was concerned about the constant use of the word CHANGE.  With NH being the First in the Nation Primary state, we had a lot of candidates come to Nashua to talk about CHANGE for almost two years leading up to the actual election.

As a communications professional in the corporate world, I've seen over and over again that CHANGE is hard.   Whether it's the introduction of new leadership in a business organization, a redefined corporate strategy or anything else that makes things different,  the need to manage CHANGE is critical.  (I often refer to Prosci's ADKAR model when I'm working on a CHANGE related business plan.)

Why is CHANGE hard?  Resistance.
One word that can stop CHANGE from actually happening.
One word that is often forgotten when talking about the promise that a CHANGE will bring.

So, here we are in 2010.  Americans are getting angry and showing resistance.  They aren't feeling the 'good things' that the promised CHANGE was supposed to bring when President Obama took his oath of office a year ago.   

I'm not one bit surprised....because there was never a truly open discussion about the challenges we'd be facing and how long it would take for CHANGE to actually happen.

Considering the magnitude of CHANGE that our country is expecting, I hope that someone is working behind the scenes with the President to map out the CHANGE plan and proactively engage with both the supporters and resisters of the CHANGE.  

Sure sounds like there's a need for bi-partisan engagement to me.  Now, THAT is a CHANGE I can believe in (or at least hope for!)