Town Meeting

 

In most of New England, town citizens become legislators for one day a year. They get together in school gyms and town halls and vote in person, and in public. This centuries long practice of towns doing the slow and hard work of disagreeing and arguing and compromising on how to govern themselves—this has a profound impact on a place, and what it means to be from a place.

Sometimes it’s contentious. Sometimes it’s boring. But it’s always the most interesting and authentic and civilized social event of the year. Always.

This is a show about where I live, which is maybe not where you live, but we’re all living through a time of awful division. There aren’t a lot of opportunities anymore to disagree civilly, in public, or to make decisions with people who are hugely different from ourselves. And maybe there should be. So I made this show to inspire us all. And you’ll hear a lot about trash removal.

Credits

Music by Brian Clark. In addition to being a fine musician, he is also a fine woodworker.

Featured photos by Terry J. Allen

Endless thanks to Tobin Anderson, Kelly Green and Amelia Meath for their help on this show.

Susan Clark is the co-author of Slow Democracy, a wonderful book on self governance and rediscovering community.

Thanks to Brattleboro Community TV and Mount Mansfield Community TV for their recordings of town meeting and all the brave people who get up and talk in those meetings

Moderators in this show are: Stephen Magill, Moretown. Paul Doton, Barnard. Gus Seelig, Calais. John McLaughry, Kirby. Bobby Starr, Troy. Susan Clark, Middlesex. Kelly Green, Randolph

Click on images below for better view. Most of the good pictures here are by Terry J. Allen of East Montpelier.

 

11 Comments

  1. Lizabeth Moniz
    Lizabeth Moniz February 7, 2021 at 10:42 am | | Reply

    Thanks for the great show about Vermont town meetings and the reminder that not only is this our right, but I look at is as a responsibility to be informed, ask questions and engage. Our town is what we make it.

  2. Meg Mott
    Meg Mott February 8, 2021 at 12:59 pm | | Reply

    Being reminded of this important institution in Vermont did my Moderator’s heart a world of good. I hope that after hearing this program more Vermonters will understand why voting by Australian ballot diminishes our civic muscles. The interviewees gave us lots of reasons to risk civil disagreements in public.

    1. Julia Donovan
      Julia Donovan February 9, 2021 at 4:22 am | | Reply

      Lovely episode.

      I do hope you’ve seen the viral video of the Handforth Parish Council meeting…

  3. George Putnam
    George Putnam February 13, 2021 at 9:43 pm | | Reply

    What a wonderful episode! Thank you, Erica!! The speaker at 19:35 is not identified, but I can help: it is Selectboard Member Dana Sweet speaking at the 2018 town meeting in Cambridge. Video here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/o0g9UnwRfCw. He is speaking at 4:41:40. I wrote a blog post extolling this podcast, and I explain the context of Dana’s comments there. If interested, see: https://switchelphilosopher.blog/2021/02/07/rumble-strip-town-meeting/.

  4. Tom
    Tom February 14, 2021 at 10:12 pm | | Reply

    Problem is: at least in our township is you have to have Zoom to participate. Our internet service is not capable of supporting Zoom thanks to lack of maintenance or upgrades from Constipated Communications. Hence we are locked out of any kind of participation in the meeting. No say, no comments. You can vote but only after the fact. And your vote will be uninformed. This is highly irregular and very in undemocratic.
    And in spite of years and years of promises from our lying Democrat legislators this problem hasn’t been resolved it is only getting worse!

  5. Annie
    Annie February 19, 2021 at 5:33 pm | | Reply

    Thanks for highlighting the importance of our town meetings! Here in Middlesex, Vermont we have a lively discussion every year over how much taxpayer funding will go to various organizations such as the library, Meals on Wheels, etc. This year, ironically, there is an Article on our COVID-restricted-Australian ballot vs an in-person vote that, if passed, would move : “All Special Articles requesting Town taxpayer funding, except the Annual Municipal Town Budget, to be voted on by Australian ballot.” In a normal year, this Article would be discussed and voted on in town meeting. What a shame it will be if this Article passes.

  6. Tristan
    Tristan February 23, 2021 at 4:57 am | | Reply

    Great show, Erica and townsfolk. As an Australian, I can confirm that the Australian ballot erodes civic participation, community, and faith in government and bureaucracy. I didn’t even know there was a thing called Australian ballot. I mean, what do they call French Fries in France? Turns out it started in Tasmania, a place where there are plenty of secrets,

  7. Anne Lemke
    Anne Lemke February 25, 2021 at 10:45 am | | Reply

    Thank you…although physically limited these days, I flashed back to my in-going impatience in sitting at Town Meetings. Your podcast gave me a new, not even re-newed, appreciation for Town Meetings in VT. Thank You again!!!

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