Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Trying to participate in the democratic process

As is true with many adult obligations, I find Annual Town Meeting to be a little tedious. But I try to show up anyway. And as is also true in quite a lot of situations I encounter day in and day out in adult life, at Town Meeting, everyone else seems smarter and more well-versed on the issues than I am, and everyone clearly has better-formed opinions.

But I try to show up anyway. And like just about everything that gets scheduled after 4 p.m. these days, when it comes time to get ready to go, I’d much rather stay home.

But much of democracy – yet again, like much of adulthood -- is about showing up and putting in your time trying to be a useful participant. The reality is that I’m not much good when it comes to influencing opinion or offering insights into complicated municipal issues, whether it’s what to do about a historic and beautiful but dysfunctional town building or whether affordable housing would be better suited to the edge of a soccer field or a quiet thickly wooded neighborhood.

So I do what I can. As a designated Town Meeting officer, I get to register people as they arrive and hand out copies of the warrant booklet. I greet them and tell them where their spouses have saved seats for them. Mostly, I thank them for taking the time to be there. Because I may not have many insights on how to best run the town, but fortunately, lots of other people do.

There’s a popular dichotomy that divides up those who lead and those who follow. I always feel there should be a third category, perhaps not as valuable as the leaders but not without value, either: those who report. My vocation, my core competency, and, I sometimes feel, my only useful skill in life, is to communicate what’s going on to other people. That’s why I’m a journalist, and that may be the best purpose I can serve at Town Meeting or just about anywhere else. 

I’m neither much of a leader nor a follower, but if I can help people to better understand what the leaders have executed and what the followers have complied with -- and if I can be present to bear witness to how it all unfolded -- I like to think I’m serving some small purpose.

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