Saturday, March 10, 2012

Day 10

Today I went to my first town meeting! It was entirely different than anything I’ve attended before, and provided quite a delightful taste of rural New England. Apparently this is the way it’s done here; the majority of significant town business is settled in one day, by a legislature formed by whatever town residents show up. The dress code was whatever was warm enough for a brisk March day—and for most people that meant jeans, overalls, well-worn hoodies, and a few biker jackets. The moderator was a tall fellow with long grey hair and a beard, which he combed out preparatory to taking his official office.

The town business was conducted in proper meeting format, with motions and seconds and ballots, but the discussion about the individual articles was carried on in plain English, such as you would hear at the counter of the one and only local store. When the people were discussing a motion regarding the budget for road maintenance, someone in the back called out, “Does that leave enough for fuel for Frankie?” And Frankie, who is evidently one of the two snowplow drivers, expressed his opinions on that topic and also his concern that his two trucks are both about twenty years old and have needed some repairs. But, he assured us, he has a couple of backup trucks (one of which is twenty-four years old, but “they still run pretty good”) so the townspeople need not fear.

It was a new experience to be among a group of craggy, self-sufficient people, who spoke and voted quite consistently according to common sense. Looking around, I saw a number of war veterans, several local farmers, and lots of people whom I haven’t met, but whose lined faces and calloused hands testified to the fact that they knew a thing or two about hard work. It felt like the scene of Norman Rockwell’s painting, The Freedom of Speech. Or, as one of our fellow townspeople expressed it afterwards, it was like being back in the 19th century, an expression of true democracy, and an opportunity for everyone to be “a legislator for a day.” And that made me realize what a beautiful thing it is to live in a country where such freedom is still protected.

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