Andrew Lewis: Town Meeting

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At an old-fashioned Vermont town meeting, Andrew Lewis experiences the kind of politics where winning and losing isn’t the only thing that matters.

I recently stumbled upon an anguished fight on social media between two friends. What are we becoming, I wondered? It’s as if some diabolical sorcerer had turned everyone in this country against one another.

Years ago, when my wife and I lived in Vermont, we looked forward to that venerable expression of American democracy Town Meeting Day. On the first Tuesday of March, folks gather in churches and school cafeterias to discuss matters of importance. The town budgets are read and each line item is discussed. Votes on referendums are done by a show of hands. You see where your neighbors stand, as they see you.

One year our town debated a land trust tax. The third generation dairy farmer who had been preserving land his whole damn life was not going to pay an additional $92. The wealthy newcomer from Texas whispered to his wife that he could pay the whole amount and wouldn’t even notice. And the progressive families begged us to tithe so that their children would have a future.

The conversation grew angry and heated.


Then, in the back of the hall, a town member raised his hand. Larry, you might say, was a man of child-like thoughts. We all watched as he clomped up to the front in his boots and flannel and stood uncomfortably before us.

Larry looked about and stuttered. Tears welled in his eyes. The tension was palpable. Then, in a broken voice, he began to sing.

“We all live together … we have to love one another."

And so it went until he finished.

We sat in stunned silence.

"Thank you, Larry," the moderator said.

In the final tally the tax failed by one vote. Andy Palmer, the wood worker, smiled, “I liked that one," he said. "It’s always fun when it’s close.” And then we gathered at the long tables, lunch was served, and together we broke bread.

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

Andrew Lewis lives in Sebastopol.