Vermont-style politics allow residents to decide their environmental future
Vermonters speak openly, comfortably about wants, needs at annual meeting.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 10:50
COME TOGETHER: Vermont community members sit together in a school gym to vote on town's future. (Photo: redjar/Flickr)
Seeing 200+ adults sit for three hours in a middle school gym may not be something you experience in many states. Having folding chairs positioned toward a moderator, this is exactly what happens in Vermont every first Tuesday in March.
People from different backgrounds and different positions sit together each year on Town Meeting Day in Vermont and vote on matters such as the budget of the town, the ability for the Select Board to do certain jobs, to buy a new ambulance, and other such aspects that directly affect the town they belong to. Visitors and those who do not reside may watch, but cannot cast a vote toward the decision and can't even speak in some cases.
For a class, I had to attend and watch participation. And boy, did people participate. The style in Vemont is one of nonchalance, with people speaking to the whole group for open discussion. The majority of towns cast votes using pencils and paper ballots that are hand counted. In town meeting, it's either "aye" or "nay," with a moderator determining which is louder to see who wins. When this doesn't work, people stand and are counted. The oft-quoted "In Vermont authenticity is all, they do not try to keep it real, they are real" from an unsourced New York Times article is brilliantly displayed in this tradition.
And with this, people can directly speak on environmental issues and community aspects. Deciding where to spend money in this economic time is difficult and everyone can't have all they want, but it's refreshing to see a town decide to finance the construction of paths that can bring the whole community together. These paths lead to beaches and parks, connecting members to nature and away from walking on roads and being completely associated with cars. This focus on environment by members in the community is illustrated throughout the state.
It's nice to see that politics and environmental matters can work together, and that those who are involved in their community care about this connection to nature. Perhaps other states can take this style of discussion and apply it to open forums of discussion on other environmental discussions, such that all can be heard and explained before a decision is made on a local level.