Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier Offers a Lesson About Civility and Democracy

By: George Deluca – (Lowell2020.com) April 2013

Lowell Mayor Rita MercierOn Tuesday night, about 100 people crammed into the Lowell City Council Chambers to participate in a discussion about a motion to clear the air on Mayor Murphy’s erratic behavior and actions over the past 15 months. The motion was prepared by City Councilor Rita Mercier.

Mayor Murphy had issued a letter of apology which found its way onto the City Councilor’s desks that night.

I regularly attend City Council meetings on Tuesday nights as I don’t have a TV, nor a reliable computer, no internet connection, and no smart phone. What I’ve discovered is that none of these devices can adequately substitute for being in the hallowed City Council Chambers LIVE. It’s what you don’t see on LTC Channel 99, that makes the experience so special, clear and true. As a spectator, you are a participant. You literally become part of the democratic process.

It was terrific to see so many people come out to witness and/or speak on a motion put forth by a City Councilor. It was wonderful to see and hear so many engaged in the discussion about the motion. It was interesting to be in the balcony among a throng of people, when most times I’m one of a few, and on several occasions have been the only person in the audience.

Let’s talk about democracy.

Motions are made every City Council meeting. If you’re a Lowell resident, you have an opportunity to participate in developing policy. Yet, how many of those in the room on Tuesday take advantage of that democratic right?

How many of those who were in attendance participate in their neighborhood group meetings?

How many are registered to vote? How many don’t vote in City elections?

How many go to functions and events held by our cultural communities?

How many attended the Master Plan Update meetings, or Tanner Street or Rourke Bridge meetings, or meetings to protect the Pawtucket Falls Dam? How many have honestly toiled over such issues?

How many are on a City Board or Commission?

How many actively work in any capacity to make Lowell a better place?

How many went to Tuesday’s meeting just to witness a spectacle?

How many will never see the inside of the Council Chambers again?

How many volunteer their time to help under-served residents of Lowell?

How many knock on doors to talk about public policies, or engage people in the street or otherwise encourage others to register and vote?

How many go to the Lowell Senior Center to make sure that our senior citizens, many disabled, are being taken care of and to find out what they need day in day out? How many act as care givers for such people?

How many regularly help the poor in Lowell?

How many help people with disabilities who try to navigate Downtown Lowell streets? How many even say hello?

It’s safe to say that very few of those who attended can answer affirmatively to a majority of these questions. Those who can, know who they are and might be embarrassed by any special recognition. So besides the Greek contingent who were there to defend the honor of their culture and heritage, what did the majority of those who attended expect to achieve by their presence on Tuesday?

If you were one of the ones who attended the meeting to criticize City Councilor Rita Mercier, then perhaps it’s you who needs to reflect within. Is that really the best you can do? What purpose is served by criticizing people with spirit and enthusiasm who work tirelessly day in and day out to make your City a better place? Why not invest your efforts by rolling up your sleeves and helping out in some way?

An old colleague of mine, Len Gengle, once told me that in politics “Things get done by those who show up.” If you’re a no show, then what gives you the right to speak at all? Oh, right … that would be democracy, as City Councilor Rita Mercier so eloquently expressed at the meeting.

Sometimes things happen and someone’s stature rises or falls as a result. City Councilor Rita Mercier is a courageous human being who I don’t really know that well except to say hello, but who I’ve admired for years for her unbridled dedication and service to Lowell. In that regard, she stands head and shoulders above all who were in the peanut gallery that evening. She’s a true Lowellian.

Although I didn’t agree with all of his comments, I gave City Councilor Vesna Nuon a standing ovation after his speech because he acknowledged that his participation on the council was made possible by the work of Mayor Patrick Murphy. It was an emotional moment. How many who were in the audience fully understood the relevance?

How many inspired by Councilor Nuon’s comments will now work with the Latino, Indian, African and/or other immigrant communities to help give them a leg up politically, as Councilor/Mayor Murphy did for the South East Asian community? This has perhaps been his most significant accomplishment to date in his service to his City.

“New Lowell” vs. “Old Lowell”? If the meeting on Tuesday was a demonstration by the so called “New Lowellians” then count me out. “New Lowellian” is just another name for the disgruntled and now defunct “Blowellian” group, who scurried off and hid as they were flushed out. If “Old Lowell” is the top down elitists who try to steer the City into the future without the input of Lowell residents … that’s not me. I’m just a Lowellian. And if you live in the City of Lowell, then you are too.

PS: Dick Howe, Jr. didn’t honor the contributions of current City Councilor and former Mayor Rita Mercier in his new book “Legendary Locals of Lowell.” I have a copy of the book and perhaps a more appropriate name would be “People of Lowell who I admire, and a cursory outline of some of Lowell’s History” by Richard P. Howe, Jr. and Chaim Rosenberg.

George DeLuca is a blogger at Lowell2020.Wordpress.com and ComeToLowell.com