Mimi Parseghian shares her observations on how the Lowell High debate is changing the political process in Lowell.
Political Consequences of the Lowell High Debate
By Mimi Parseghian
The “high school decision” is going to make or break some political lives. The City of Lowell has not seen this kind of grass roots mobilization, anger, frustration and machination since the days of the debates regarding the construction of the arena and stadium.
I may have been naïve but until a couple of months ago, I thought the decision was in effect made: we are renovating the old school. The eminent domain issue regarding the doctor’s office was the only point of contention. I was wrong.
Thursday night’s meeting was the culmination of a month of discussion in municipal meetings, the press and, more importantly, on social media. That forum has given an opportunity to those who usually do not get involved in city affairs to organize, speak up and impact the course of the discussion and perhaps the decision.
Unlike in the past, when old media controlled the means of dispensing information, social media has made it possible for information to be disseminated in real time with little or no filter. The exchange of data as well as the verification and validation of commentary have transformed the City Council “public hearing” to a 24 hour conversation. At times, the loud dialogue is creating a divisive atmosphere.
The decision makers had to make sure that everyone understood and agreed that the process was fair and open. Thursday’s 11th hour wrench now has made this impossible. The flip-flop of Skanska (project manager) and Perkins Eastman (architects) in answering questions added to the atmosphere of mistrust.
Will the decision on the high school have a minor or major impact on the November City Council election? There is going to a significant group that will be dissatisfied. Who they will support will become evident as we approach the decision. It may even impact next year’s State Rep and State Senate race. They have been put in a position to help bring back a level field. Will they attempt to do so? Will they succeed? All four of them were present at last Thursday’s meeting.
At the end of this combative process, a new generation of local activists will emerge and that is good.