Thoughts on Local Politics
They say town meetings are the last vestige of true direct democracy in the United States. Those looking to make a difference in national politics often get drowned out in the sea of white noise. While there’s power in numbers, it’s difficult to make an impact as an individual. At the local level, the scale is much smaller so your voice has a better chance of being heard.
In the Norman Rockwell painting Freedom of Speech, a lone blue-collar man has the opportunity to stand up, make a well-reasoned argument, and persuade the whole group. There’s something inspirational about that. Watching the Annual Town Meeting in East Bridgewater, MA on May 8, 2017 left me with a few takeaways about our local politics.
Those who show up have power.
The town of East Bridgewater has a population of around 14,000 yet only 382 registered voters showed up. That’s only 3% of the people making decisions for the other 97%! Take the by-law prohibiting all types of recreational marijuana establishments from East Bridgewater, which passed with a narrow majority. Proponents of the by-law said it would lead to further addiction, opponents said it would help bring in badly needed tax revenue. If the stoners only got up off their couches, assembled a group, and showed up, it could have easily passed.
Those who participate have even more power.
Here’s my favorite moment from the meeting. Someone tried to slip in an article in the middle of the town warrant requesting $11,775 for 15 new computers for committee members at $785 a piece, probably hoping no one would notice. One person stood up and asked why they can’t use their own computers and Google Drive to share documents amongst themselves. He didn’t have an answer. The article was defeated in a collective and resounding no voice vote. All it took was one person to make a difference and curb wasteful spending in a time of budget issues. If no one spoke up, it probably would have passed without anyone batting an eye.
People play fast and loose with other people’s money.
The IT director requested $83,899 for a fiber install to wire the senior center and a few other places to town hall when a virtual network over existing infrastructure would do the job at a much lower cost. It passed. The library director requested $5,500 for a new book drop when we have a wood shop at the high school that’s equipped to make one with free student labor. It passed. If they had any skin in the game, I guarantee they would make more of an effort to come up with more economical solutions.