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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Neil MacInnes-Barker Understands the Value of Each Vote

Neil MacInnes-Barker squatted with his smartphone outstretched, flipping through a list of Massachusetts state representatives. His new app makes contacting representatives in government easy. 
“I try to teach people about this great gift that they have,” Barker said. “The most valuable, sacred, honorable thing that you have is to vote, but also to be engaged. You have a tremendous amount of power, far more power than corporations with a lot of money . . . people don’t understand their value.” 
The goal of the app is to make it easier for people to engage in democracy. Open it up, type in your district, and you see all of your representatives. Click on one, and you have three options. You can email, call or send your politician a video. 
“Your story is important. It’s valuable. People will listen to you,” Barker said. “You don’t have to dress up fancy. You don’t have to speak fancy. You’re yourself, and that’s the best way to communicate because it’s human to human.” 
The app catalogues the videos by topic, so people can find others with similar concerns to form advocacy groups. Barker spends a lot of time at the state house talking with representatives about his own interests, and he wants others to do the same. 
“They want to hear from their constituents,” Barker said. “They get this glisten in their eye when I talk about this app. They’re like, ‘I’m up there fighting for stuff that I’m assuming my constituents want, and I’m also getting a lot of people talking in my ear who do have time, lawyers, lobbyists, and it’s not that fulfilling. I’d listen to a kid from my district first.’”
Behind Barker, in the corner of his home-office, a duel-screened computer littered with open windows, shows a video timeline for a new film: At War With Peace. It will be Barker’s second documentary. His first is called is called No Place Like Home, and it’s about youth homelessness in Boston. 
Barker’s idealism “awakened,” he said, when he was a student at UMass Boston, and President of the Undergraduate Student Government. 
“I wouldn’t have been doing everything I am doing now with my company, IPC, and this app without UMass Boston,” he says. 
Moving back to Massachusetts from New Hampshire, Barker matriculated into UMass Boston mainly because of its location. 
“I wanted to be in the city at a state school and I grew up loving the ocean. That’s basically it.”
“It was challenging to go back to school later in life, but I found that in that environment I felt confident to get involved. I felt supported by the administration at UMass. There was a very personal student approach. I felt valued as a student there.” 
Barker dove whole heartedly into student life, and got elected Student President. 
“I feel, as a non-traditional student, being between the age of traditional students and faculty and staff, I could be a goof-ball with 18/19 year-olds and then I could go sit with executive staff who were not that much older than me, and bridge the connection. I was also vice-chairman of the Student Advisory Council for the state. I was member of the Vets Center, MASSPIRG, and so many boards and committees. It was a tremendously rich experience.” 
Doing Campus Connect as a Student Senator, a two week process of gathering information from the faculty, staff and students about changes that they wanted to see on campus, inspired Barker’s app. 
“That informed my belief with how government works, that you’re supposed to hear directly from the people that you’re representing, and you’re supposed to carry out the actions that they want to the best of your ability.” 
His favorite classes were the ones he took in the Earth Environment and Ocean Sciences classes. 
“I could spend many more hours being immersed in the benthos of the ocean and the minerals of the earth. Any class that delivered the chance to ride in a boat or wade around in water had to be the best. I liked playing piano and my ASL classes a lot too.” 
Barker spent time all over the campus, often in the Campus Center, but also swimming in the Athletic Center, studying in the library, and eating quiet lunches in Quinn cafe. 
“Part of it was that experience of being so involved, I learned the value of community, how to listen, negotiate, collaborate. Aside from all of the stuff I learned in classes the biggest things were from all of the leadership experience that I had. Those extracurricular activities lead me to be reawakened, to do what I do now. The understanding of what people can do together on a large level all came from what I did as the Student President.”
“I knew everybody. It sounds corny and contrived, but it does feel like a family. There’s a lot about UMass Boston that I think is really valuable. I really enjoyed my experience there.” 
“I keep saying awakening. I feel like a born again Christian. I’m a born again advocate. Chancellor Motley came around the corner and he slapped me on the forehead and I saw the light. I was awakened my commitment to public service.”
Because UMB is a state school, reliant on the state government, Barker found reasons to stay involved in government and to influence public policy. 
“That brought me to where I am today in how I am involved at the state level. One of the things about UMass Boston that’s different from all of the other campuses, it’s very involved in the community and very involved at the political level. I think that is something I wouldn’t have got from somewhere else. Then, having the opportunity to step out of meetings or classes and go look at the water to me is very valuable. I love looking at the water.” 
Barker also loves the fact that UMB gets involved in local issues, continuing its mission of raising up the community around it.
“It’s right in an urban environment where there are a lot of people who are financially struggling. So I would wish for the university that it continues to work toward that goal of being an internationally renowned quality institution, but not leave behind the people in the community who cannot afford to go there, or who struggle to go there. So, happy birthday UMass Boston. Good luck where you’re going. Don’t forget where you’ve come from.”

About the Contributor
Caleb Nelson served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years: Editor-in-Chief: Fall 2010; 2010-2011; Fall 2011 News Editor: Spring 2009; 2009-2010