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NH News

How one Winchester resident went from livestreaming selectboard meetings to serving in local government

Natalie Quevedo sits inside Winchester's town hall
Peter Biello
/
NHPR
Natalie Quevedo was sworn in as a new member of the Winchester selectboard in March.

Natalie Quevedo moved to Winchester less than three years ago. Not long after she arrived, a motion passed at the school deliberative session to cut $1.6 million from the budget the school board proposed — and she felt compelled to get involved.

“I really care about children and their educational needs,” she said. “I jumped into action.”

Quevedo tried to mobilize voters to get the town to undo those cuts. Her efforts failed, but she didn’t quit local politics. A few weeks ago, she was sworn in as one of its newest selectboard members — part of a wave of new faces elected across New Hampshire in this year’s town elections.

Part of what helped Quevedo make connections in her new community were her efforts to keep Winchester residents more informed about their town government. After the local school funding fight, she launched a new Facebook group, "The Winchester Exchange," as a forum for people to stay in the loop about town and school decisions.

Quevedo also started live-streaming selectboard meetings on Facebook. Before she started broadcasting, there wasn’t a way for people to follow along remotely. At first, she didn’t get that many viewers. But as she started broadcasting more consistently, more people started tuning in. It seemed like they appreciated the access.

“Most people can’t get to meetings because they have children, they’re cooking dinner, they have other various commitments,” she said. “But they don’t even have to watch when it’s live, they can go back and see what’s happened in real time and what their elected officials were saying.”

Right now, Quevedo’s live streams are still the only regular broadcast of these meetings. But the town passed a warrant article last year to start funding their own recordings, and Quevedo hopes to see that launch in a couple of weeks.

As she transitions from activist to elected official, Quevedo said she wants to develop trust with people in the community. .When she talks with members of the town, in person or online, she said she tries to lead with kindness. She says that commitment is especially important when disagreements occur on social media, since so many other people are watching.

“You may be having a conversation with someone who doesn’t agree with you, but there could be a thousand people in the background who agree with you and they’re glad you have a voice to speak up to them,” she said.

nhpr-winchester-01.JPG
Peter Biello
/
NHPR
Nestled in the southwestern corner of New Hampshire, Winchester is home to about 4,500 people.

Giving Winchester residents more ways to interact with their local government has improved the town, Quevedo said. The school and town budget passed, she said, and more people are getting involved.

"For years, it's been the same people, over and over again,” she said. “We were able to get some new voices in there.”

Quevedo said women’s voices are being elevated in Winchester in a way they weren’t before: More women are now serving on its school board and its selectboard. A 2021 report from the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation found that, at the time, 41 percent of towns had no women on their selectboards.

Quevedo said she and other newly elected officials are also trying to branch out, serving on multiple local boards and committees. For example, Quevedo also serves on the broadband committee, and selectboard member Lindseigh Picard is also on the school board.

As she settles into her work on the selectboard, Quevedo said she’s interested in turning outward, improving Winchester’s reputation. When she first decided to move here, she said her friends were skeptical.

“We’re the butt of every joke,” she said, “and that needs to change.”

When she looks around the community, she sees potential. Just across from town hall sits the two-story New England Sweetwater Farm and Distillery, which offers tours and a tasting room. Quevedo said a winery is going in soon, along with an ice cream store and an event space.

Just as downtown Winchester is changing, Quevedo said it feels like local democracy is changing for the better, too.

“And that is huge,” she said, “because when you’re able to change local democracy, you’re able to build a community back.”

Quevedo said her first selectboard meeting went well, and her pitch to change the community’s image was well-received. The town is now studying the best way to rebrand Winchester and looking for volunteers to help.

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