Every year in New Hampshire towns renew democracy during their town meetings. Traditionally, town meeting is held the second Tuesday in March. Meeting attendance ranges from 25 to 3,500 people. There are many elected and appointed officials who participate, including selectmen, the road agent, and in Durham, the keeper of the swans. Town meeting, which dates from the 18th century, has been viewed by many as democracy in its purest form. It has survived for more than 200 years because it still works.
A local resident voices his opinion at the Warner town meeting over a proposal to buy a new excavator.
The moderator keeps the meeting running smoothly and keeps the community together. He is expected to be competent and fair. The rules are simple: anyone who wishes to speak may do so and everyone gets a chance to speak once before anyone speaks twice. These are ethical values that nourish democracy.
The issues discussed run the gamut of human activities, from the purchase of equipment such as a fire tuck to a change in zoning which would allow a business to open in a residential area. Every citizen at the meeting pays careful attention, watching each dollar spent like a hawk. The local property tax supports the town and the schools, so citizens can calculate to the penny what their vote will cost them. In a rural town with retirees on fixed income, and increase in taxes might mean that a neighbor has to sell or subdivide his farm, thus changing the character if the town forever. In recent years, town meetings in New Hampshire have had to deal with issues created by the changing environment. For instance, one topic that had to be wrestled with was the placement of communications towers on many of beloved peaks around the state.
For many New Hampshire residents, town meeting is also the major social event of the year and an opportunity for service organizations to raise money through sales of home baked goods and raffles for "dinner for two" at local restaurants.
Having the ability to voice your opinion in a public forum is a treasured American tradition, so participate-register to vote, inform yourself on current issues, and when voting day arrives take the time to vote!
Right: Photographer - A.J. Wolfe, courtesy Concord Monitor