It’s time for the talk.
Maybe you’ve experienced it. Maybe you’ve just heard about it from your overzealous friends. Whether one has experienced it first- or second-hand, there’s no doubt it’s one’s chance to go deep into what matters – one’s loved ones.
So let’s talk about town meetings.
A town meeting sounds like a business meeting: lots of suits and serious people throwing around numbers and getting mad. That may be true of town meetings in larger towns, but rural town meetings are something else. The smaller the better.
There’s a sense of community that gradually and sometimes painfully emerges from town meeting interaction, like a baby being born, with all the gruesome beauty of that act, and all the elation that follows. It’s one of the most delightful displays of American democracy, as genuine as national politics aren’t.
A town meeting is like a gang assembly – a gang comprised of ordinary folks who normally might not give two shits about what’s going on around them, on account of having problems of their own. It’s not a meeting with the Overlords but a morning get-together with pals, the kind of get-together where you have an assignment due soon, a big one, and you’ve procrastinated, so you grab a big pot of coffee (the machine at the last town meeting I attended stood four feet tall) and some grub (donuts, bean stew – pick your poison) and resolve to get shit done. And you do – and you have a good time doing it.
It’s also a chance to see some magical juxtapositions. A hundred middle-aged people gathered in a small gymnasium lined with children’s artwork, a moose head mounted on the far wall. A three-hundred-pound logger with worn flannel and a cup of sickly coffee gliding through figures and subdivisions and appropriations with balletic grace. A man wearing three-dozen wires and filming the proceedings voting along with the rest of the crowd. Glancing at the inexplicably lit scoreboard during a heated argument, and noticing it reads “00” to “00.”
Town meeting rocks. Not just because of its easy intimacy, or its strange and wondrous contradictions, but because it’s proof that this country is graced with fantastic, hidden wonderlands where no one is just a statistic or even just a face. Everyone is someone, and everyone else knows just who that someone is.
Chances are a lot of JSC students come from small towns, towns ripe for delirious town meetings. If you can’t stand the people in your town, or if it’s vice versa and it bothers you, skip to the next town over. It’s the first Tuesday every March. It might not be your cup of tea, but if you give it a chance, it just might be your thermos of spiritual coffee.
– Tom Benton