Normally I find Steve Pappas’ editorials well reasoned and sensitive to the local conversation. So I was quite surprised at his argument that the town meeting is an inefficient relic of a past age in need of replacement with the Australian ballot.
I fear Mr. Pappas has become a victim of the cult of efficiency that has ravaged our national financial, educational and political systems. In so doing, he has missed much of the less-recognized social research which highlights the crucial capacity of community to provide social and economic resilience.
In answer to Pappas’ complaint, I have but one word: “Irene.”
The bonds of community in Vermont were the key ingredient in our collective resilient response to that disaster. People’s trust and care for each other, born of their collective struggles to find answers to shared problems, created a deep and lasting bond. That bond was, in turn, the motive force in the way our communities turned out to heal and rebuild.
We may not agree with each other on the issues facing our towns, but we have the knowledge that real people like us are struggling to find answers to our shared challenges. Such struggle, in turn, keeps a human face to our problems, which cannot be seen in an impersonal ballot. Then, when disaster strikes, we have a different feeling about the people affected than we do about the abstract “voter.”
We have been assured by the climate scientists that myriad disasters await us in the future. We are going to need every ounce of social strength to meet and overcome those looming challenges.
The last thing we need to do right now is hide from our neighbors in the safety of a voting booth when tough decisions loom. We need this constant practice in struggling with difficult issues because the issues are going to get worse. The town meeting is a way of keeping our social capital in shape to meet the demands of a difficult future.
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