|Sen. Welch Meets Supporters in Springfield (Facebook)|
Last night at Samuel's at the Basketball Hall of Fame a fairly common event for politicians took place, but there was, for Springfield, an uncommon element to it. Senator James Welch, who is in his freshman year as a State Senator, chatted with area politicos and members of the Young Professionals Society of Springfield. However, none of them were called or received an invitation in the mail. The event was organized entirely on Facebook.
There is absolutely nothing new about Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools' impact on politics. However, the Springfield area, and this extends beyond the city itself, has largely lagged behind the times with regard to the march of technology. The political and democratic infrastructure in the area is rusted over and ossified. The effect may be partly seen in the disinterest in the city's ward races the rarity of challenges to incumbent legislators either in primaries or in generals. With the march of this new technology and communication techniques, the reliance on the old means of voter communications have only furthered disaffection among younger voters.
While many members of the YPS are about Welch's age, 35, and therefore came to maturity well before Mark Zuckerberg withdrew from Harvard or before tweets were anything more than bird noises, many are fairly savvy with social media. Indeed a diverse swath of old guard politicians from Kateri Walsh to Ben Swan are on Facebook, but largely just as individual people. There is little, if any, utilization of social media beyond this. Half of the Northampton City Council has active twitter accounts, no members of the Springfield City Council do, Jose Tosado excluded, whose account went active when campaign season began.
The relative success of the fundraiser--about 25 people showed up, filling up the small reserved room--held in an off-year, suggests that future events and fundraisers may rely on Facebook at least as much if not more than traditional mailers and calls. As the fundraiser also drew some who were not necessarily the typical Valley political hangers-on, use of such social media to organize events may help liberate some idealistic officials from pandering to the same pools of donors that expect access and results.
It is too early to tell what or whether this is the beginning of a trend, but it is an encouraging sign for the Springfield area's democracy in that some are seeking more creative ways to engage the public. Voter apathy and fatigue are rampant throughout our society, further assisted by outright disenfranchisement that threatens people's access to the polls. However, the problem has been particularly pronounced in Springfield as compared to Northampton or Boston. Correcting it could be a step in the right direction in improving the regions economy and civic life.