Paige Wierikko, our Program Intern here at the Center for an Agricultural Economy, wrote a narrative earlier this month when she attended her first Town Meeting in Vermont.
Although Paige was there to observe the tradition of "direct democracy", her essay for us reflects on the community - the people, the conversations and the connections. It is refreshing to see the familiar world through the eyes of another.
-Elena Gustavson, Program Director
by Paige Wierikko
As an outsider looking in, town meeting was as much educational as it was entertaining. I say “outsider” because I wasn’t a registered voter. Feeling slightly like Hester may have when I was made to stand and show all that I, Paige Wierikko am not allowed anywhere near the voting box, and if I were to get the itch to push my luck, I should be tackled on-spot. Okay, so the last part was not specified but if it had, people would have been talking about the 2012 town meeting indefinitely.
My outsider status also comes from my Wisconsin roots. I just moved to Vermont in July of 2011. But I must say that as I looked out into the crowd, I didn’t feel like a stranger. Walking into the Craftsbury Academy gym quite possibly for the last time before it’s torn down and rebuilt into a regulation size gym was slightly sad. My spirits were lifted immediately when I was greeted with a benevolent, “Paaaaige” at a very generous decibel level from Jay Wright. I picked a spot high up in the bleachers next to my buddy Ethan Morrison but only after I was embraced in a great big bear hug from Willie Ryan, shot a big smile at Bob Twiss, said a friendly hello to Pete Johnson, waved to all the Sterling students, and asked Harry Miller about his day.
I was in complete awe of how smoothly the meeting went. A very memorable moment that could have easily turned awkward happened when the vote for the Lamoille Solid Waste District Supervisor came up. Adrian Owens, the incumbent, stood and introduced himself. He then invited anyone who would like to take on this position to do so because it offered a limitless learning experience. The crowd got a nice chuckle but that laughter grew when the next person to raise her hand nominated Adrian again for that position. ..a second was quick to follow. In spite of his community throwing him under the bus, he good-naturedly sat back down and took one (well, more accurately, two years) for the team. This was the reigning attitude of the day, and surely dissolved potential for any greater conflict.
I skimmed the crowd and there sat Max and Nancy whom I met just a month ago while attending a Super Bowl party at Lou’s house. Sitting just behind them was Anne, an extremely compassionate lady who looks after Neil and Kristin Urie’s four amazing children. I spotted Princess, Annie, Tim, Bruce, Sarah, Adam, Joe, Elena, Jeremiah, another Annie, another Tim, another Joe, but not another Princess.
Eventually another paper vote comes up and I am able to stretch my legs and mingle with the people I have “I spied.” During a paper vote, everyone who would like to vote on the current article writes on a sheet of paper a “yes” or “no” and deposits it in a single box in the front of the gym. There is a last call and the ballots are counted. This process can take a while, but gives adequate time for socializing. I meet up with Tule, the Craftsbury Schools art teacher, who introduced me to the lady that makes Vermont Bee Balm, the lip balm I had put on my lips just minutes prior to our meeting. As I walked back to my spot on the bleachers I ran into Mansosoi and Kate Tagai. I am indebted to Kate for helping me find my first job milking sheep at Bonnieview when I first moved to Vermont. I also thank Mansosoi every day that he agrees to participate in the Sterling volleyball team that plays every Monday night at the IROC, the new recreational facility thirty minutes north in Newport. Now free for all Craftsbury youth 18 and younger, a motion the town was happy to support.
I not only got to see a gym full of all the memorable people I’ve come to know in Vermont since my move from Wisconsin, I also got to witness the purest form of democratic governing. Craftsbury taxpayers get the unique opportunity to voice their opinions and hear those of their neighbors, possibly louder than desired. In those few short hours, important decisions were made and citizens walked away feeling like they were an important voice and were able to personally represent their best interests. I am inspired to register to vote in the state of Vermont, not just because of the prideful “I voted” sticker whose absence on me seemed to emblazon a badge of humiliation across my chest, but because I want to be an active participant in the process that shapes the community I live in.