House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello effectively pulled the plug on a Providence City Council proposal to create a two-tiered property tax structure last summer, but one could argue that Fox Point resident John Goncalves did just as much to stop it. As a children’s book author, teacher, and Diversity Coordinator at the Wheeler School, he might seem an unlikely candidate to derail a plan that had the support of both the City Council President and Finance Chair, but Goncalves knows the power the city’s residents can wield when they act collectively.
“Meaningful impact and pivotal changes always begin bottom-up at the grassroots, not with top-down policies,” he says. “When engaged community members and citizens work together, we can accomplish extraordinary things.”
Providence has 25 official neighborhoods, 15 city council wards, and 19 separate neighborhood associations. As the co-founder and lead organizer of the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations (PCNA), Goncalves is working to point those 19 associations in the same direction and leverage their collective power for the benefit of the whole city. The fight over the tax issue proved that it can be done.
As a board member for not only his own Fox Point Neighborhood Association but also the Downtown and Wayland Square associations, Goncalves is deeply involved at the grassroots level and respected across the city – which made him a natural choice to lead this coalition. City leaders have recognized it too: after the tax proposal stalled in the legislature, the City Council asked him to serve on a special commission to study the property tax structure.
It’s not just taxes that the PCNA will be focused on in 2020. Goncalves sees plenty of common ground across the city, and opportunities for neighborhoods to work together.
“If we can galvanize, not polarize, around our common goals, we can amplify community voices and address some of the looming issues and the underlying political, racial, economic, social, and systemic inequities in our city,” he says. “Together, there is a lot that we can accomplish, especially with our strength in numbers and collective influence.”