A couple of weeks ago I took part in a long standing New England tradition – the annual Town Meeting, a tradition that began here in the 17th century, with Dorchester, Mass recording the first gathering of voters in 1633.
I remember going to Town Meetings with my father, a Town Meeting member, when I was in high school in Lexington, Mass. I would take my knitting, knowing it would probably take hours to get through all the articles to be considered and voted on, with debates becoming heated at times.
In New Hampshire Town Meeting takes place on the second Tuesday of March. In Whitefield we voted by holding up a half sheet of yellow paper to signify “yea” or “nay.” Since it was my first time at Town Meeting here, I didn’t know about the yellow paper, but I learned that it’s how eligible voters are identified, after being put on the checklist, so I made sure to get my piece of paper. It was no surprise to find that there were outspoken members of the audience who had come prepared to challenge some of the articles they didn’t want to see passed. I found it informative and entertaining to listen to the back and forth between the various townspeople and the selectmen (one of whom is a woman, but she is still a “selectman“) and it was gratifying to see that at least one intelligent argument against a controversial article influenced the townspeople to vote it down.
I may have provided some entertainment as well, because I had brought my knitting with me, and at one point when we had to get up for a special vote at the ballot boxes on an amendment, I set my knitting on the empty chair next to me but forgot that the ball of yarn was still in a little bag I had over my shoulder. I was trailing the yarn behind me when I got out of my seat but fortunately the man behind me kindly called it to my attention – good thing I didn’t get very far!
It felt good to take part in some of the decision making that will affect my town in the coming year, and to be part of a centuries old tradition that still allows for anyone in a town to have their say in some of the issues that will affect them. It’s one of the many things I love about living in New England.