Newburyport, Local Political Activism

I became involved in local politics in 1999 when the Massachusetts Highway Department wanted to upgrade/destroy High Street by taking down all the trees, widening and straightening the roadway, in most simplistic terms, making High Street look like a strip mall. (For detailed information see High Street’s website.)

I called my long time friend Frank Schaeffer, a very successful political activist across the river in Salisbury, and asked him if he would take on the project. Frank said he would, but he was going out of the country for two weeks and there were a couple of things I could get going on and a few things I should know.

1) Get a petition going that anyone could sign. (We did that and ended up getting 2,000 signatures in 3 weeks.)
2) Write a short “Highlight Sheet” that people could look at and understand the issues immediately. Put the Highlight Sheet, along with the petition, all over town.
3) Organize a large meeting, invite everyone from the Mayor, to the City Council, the State Representative and MassHighway. They wouldn’t all come, but invite them anyway.
4) Write Letters to the Editor, making sure that people knew about the meeting, when, what time and where.
5) People read the obituaries first in the local paper and then the Letters to the Editor, before or if they read anything else. Letters to the Editor were very important.
6) People get “meeting fatigue”, so only expect them to come to one or at the most two meetings. The first big meeting was the most important one.

When Frank got back two weeks later he told me that I was doing a great job and that I didn’t need him at all. That’s how I became a political activist.

(I’ve passed Frank Schaeffer’s “to do” list onto people all over the state who have contacted me and it always works.)

Many people had been working on High Street for almost a year, especially the City Council and the Newburyport Historic Commission. I happened to come along at the “right time.”

A meeting was scheduled on Feb 4, 1999, hosted by two City Councilors and the Newburyport Historic Commission. 450 people showed up, packing City Hall. High Street had a chance of remaining a beautiful historic roadway.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport