Letter: Advocacy Is Democratic

Photo: Blue Diamond Gallery. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The following letter appeared previously in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

I recently participated as a delegate from Amherst in the 2022 MassDems Nominating Convention at which Democratic candidates for state-wide office are chosen to be on the ballot for the September primary election. 

In the weeks and months leading up to the June 4 convention, I received many texts and emails urging me to choose one candidate or another for the five contested offices. Ultimately, the decisions were my own, but many individuals tried to sway my vote through legal means of advocacy. Each contact and piece of information was one element in my decision making. I did my own research on the candidates and considered many elements before coming to my decisions. 

This process is a great analogy for what is happening in Amherst right now, with a big decision in front of the Elementary School Building Committee (ESBC). The ESBC, made up of elected and appointed officials, educators, design and facilities professionals, and community members, is tasked with choosing a site for the building project (among many other important decisions). 

Committee members have spent hours in meetings and discussions, and have pored over hundreds of pages of documents about the two sites (Wildwood and Fort River). They have also asked for and received input from constituents such as school families, voters, and community members. 

After the ESBC chooses a site and the project moves forward, Amherst voters will decide the fate of the project in a town election this coming spring, when we will decide whether or not to raise our property taxes to fund the project. The ESBC’s site decision is like the nominating convention – deciding which site will be on the ballot, so to speak. 

And just as people tried to influence my vote leading up to the nominating convention by sharing information and opinions about why they think their candidate should win, so too have community members shared information and opinions with the ESBC advocating for one site over the other.

There are some in our community who have publicly stated that this type of advocacy is unwarranted. In my opinion, advocacy through legal means (such as texts, emails, blog posts, letters, and community organizing) is a key element of democracy. 

Calls for less advocacy, and statements that advocacy is unwarranted, are anti-democratic and, quite frankly, shocking. Input from community members and constituents is something decision-makers should value and appreciate. 

Jennifer Shiao

Jennifer Shiao is a member of the Amherst School Committee

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