This is a re-run of a show but it’s TOWN MEETING DAY SO I’M RUNNING IT AGAIN! LONG LIVE 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.
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.
Every year we watch as democracy slips further and further out of our reach. And every year we go through this ritual paean in Vermont about Town Meeting serving as our bastion of democracy. In fact about all towns get to decide on is the equipment or features of their town park or common. This is a Dillon’s Rule state, one of the few left in the US. The legislature has almost total control. Basically towns are like the children of the family. They have to go out and earn a little money to pay for a few little things that they want, like a teenager mowing lawns to buy a new video game or bicycle. “In town meeting the people talk about the business that they want to transact.” But the Selectboard wrote the agenda! But, you say, the Selectboard is the voice of the people. Is it? There is an illuminating discussion of this by Joe Sherman in his book about Vermont: Fast Lane on a Dirt Road.
Here is a suggestion for a future show. Or an entire series of them because each show will raise ten more questions as you yourself begin learning about democracy. What is democracy? What does one see “on the ground,” or what is life like in a democracy? Does life in Vermont reflect a well functioning democracy? After you have begun to gather some understanding of democracy go into the legislature and do some interviews. It’s exceedingly interesting just to hear how people supposedly leading the practice of democracy react to being asked to describe or define the principles upon which they are basing their decisions. What are your feelings at this very moment as I ask these questions?
The comfortable and well placed assure us at every opportunity that there is nothing we can do about our suffering so keep your mouth shut and don’t ask questions. “It disturbs the white man in his sleep.” (the pithy analysis of the increasing black restiveness in South Africa under apartheid). Questions are divisive, aren’t they? Questioners are just bitter spoilers, aren’t they? Only a curmudgeon would ask, on Christmas Day, if there really can be, given the way we live, peace on earth.