Lowell, MA: Political Capital
Who influences community decisions? Who has access to resources within and outside of a community? Who are the main decision-makers, and what are they prioritizing? All these questions have to do with political capital, which looks at power, influence, and decision-making at the local level. Political actors don’t always hold formal positions–to identify these actors, we look at who influences the distribution of resources within a community.
Often times, wealthy members of the community hold informal positions of power. Such is the case for Lowell, MA. Though Lowell boasts a diverse population, the city’s power is concentrated among the white upper-class; more specifically, a neighborhood called Belvidere. As Ted Siefer points out in a recent piece titled “Why Whites Control Lowell City Government”, Belvidere is a small section of the city that does not represent the rest of the population, which is about 40% minority (Siefer, 2016). However, the employed upper-class tends to have more voter turnout. The 2013 elections were dominated by Belvidere, which was home to 33% of total voters. (Hayes, 2015)
Instead of a ward-based system, which many cities use, Lowell’s council positions are awarded to whomever receives the most votes regardless of their residence within the city. The result is a government that represents the handful of upper-class whites in Lowell, and fails to identify with the large non-white, non-rich population. The wealth gap has created a problematic divide in power. The city celebrates its large Cambodian population, but fails to represent it in a political sense.
One CBO working to connect the disadvantaged population with the city is the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association. According to its website, the organizations’ mission is to “improve the quality of life for Cambodian Americans and other minorities and economically disadvantaged persons in Lowell through educational, cultural, economic and social programs.” (CMAA Lowell, 2016) CMAA gives citizens resources to get involved in political capital through programs like English classes and translation services. Furthermore, the organization builds social capital within the city’s Cambodian community, which can in turn encourage them to work towards more political representation.
CMAA Lowell. (2016) CMAA Home. Retrieved from http://www.cmaalowell.org/wp/
Hayes, Christopher. (2015) An “Impressionist” Snapshot of Lowell’s 2012-2014 Turnout. [slideshow] Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/feliciamsullivan/voting-trends-in-lowell-ma
Siefer, Ted. (2016) Why Whites Control Lowell City Government. CommonWealth. Retrieved fromhttp://commonwealthmagazine.org/politics/why-whites-control-lowell-city-government/