AMHERST BULLETIN: Guest Column: You have to listen to lead
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get here using the bus?”
Although I was already a year into my job as executive director of the Amherst Survival Center when I was asked this question by a participant, I didn’t really know how difficult it was to reach our location. So I listened and I asked questions.
The next morning, I filled a few bags with groceries and lugged them down Sunderland Road to the nearest bus stop.
She was right. It was ridiculously difficult on foot. If it was hard for me, I thought, how much harder must it be for older folks, those with young children in tow or people in wheelchairs?
That was the beginning of a strategy to establish a new bus route. Eventually, we succeeded, after in-depth work with PVTA officials, local and state legislators, our own participants, other community members and more. Today, the Amherst Survival Center has a permanent PVTA bus route that lets visitors off right in front of the building.
This common-sense (but surprisingly complex) shift in transit planning has made a huge difference in the lives of those served by the center’s programs, in the health of our community overall and for other pantries in the county who were inspired by our experience to advocate for bus routes of their own.
It all started with listening.
Every good policy begins with a person — and, no, I don’t mean the state representative or policymaker. It starts with someone who has a need that isn’t being met, who doesn’t feel like she’s being heard, whose experience with bureaucracy has been frustrating, or who can’t get a satisfying response from a governmental agency or a public utility.
The best way to truly understand a constituent’s needs is to listen, ask a lot of questions, listen some more, see the world through their eyes, believe them, and begin the hard work of responding. Maybe it takes a phone call to get results, or maybe it takes developing a new policy.
Listening and finding ways to help people will be my first priority as your state representative because I believe that’s how we make government work for everyone. Helping one person can lead to new programs or policies that can help many others. For me, it’s a people-first orientation, where information compels action.
This has been my approach for my entire career, whether I was learning my way through the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York City in the 1980s, helping to build a network of HIV services here in western Massachusetts, implementing overdose prevention tools with drug and alcohol treatment providers, or in my work over the past five years at the Amherst Survival Center. Everything successful I’ve ever done has started by listening to a person who has a need.
We have a lot of pressing needs today. We need new ways to keep our edge in public education. We need to focus more on reducing economic inequality. We need new approaches to funding health care so that everyone can access comprehensive services. We need to expand — not just defend — reproductive rights.
We need to renew our commitment to protecting our environment, and we need to urgently respond to the devastating effects of climate change. We need to actively demonstrate that we are a fair, welcoming, and just community, starting with immigrant rights, criminal justice reform, racial justice and protecting LGBTQI rights.
We need a progressive tax so that we can generate revenue and increase our capacity to support the commonwealth’s residents and our communities to address these needs. And we need to resist a federal administration that is dead-set against these goals while it undermines our efforts.
I am a progressive Democrat who will also work to make the Democratic Party in Massachusetts more progressive.
All of which means we also need proven leadership for our community in the Statehouse. I have three decades of continual experience meeting people’s needs with coalitions, strategic partnerships, advocacy, programs, policies, resources and legislation that have made a measurable difference for people and communities throughout Massachusetts.
I hope to take my experience, skills, and passionate commitment to Boston on behalf of the amazing communities and residents of Amherst, Pelham, and Granby.
As your state representative, I’ll need to hear from you. I’ll be listening and ready to act to drive change with you, just like I’ve been doing for more than 30 years.
Mindy Domb is a Democratic candidate for state representative in the 3rd Hampshire District.