By Lynne Wolf
When Jerry and I moved to Bedford 40 plus years ago, we found Town Meeting to be a fascinating way to spend an evening and we went often. It was a great way for us to learn about our new hometown. As time went on, the demands of children, jobs, etc. increased and my attendance decreased and even disappeared for a time. Jerry Wolf was a bit more faithful, but there were years when neither of us got there. When my very dear friend became Town Moderator, I decided it was time for me to go back. She stayed a long time and is in fact still there as Assistant Town Moderator, and I’m still in the habit. A lot older, and a bit wiser, I hope, I have come to see what an enormous privilege it is to have a direct vote in the affairs of our town.
I try to digest the warrant ahead of time if I can; it helpfully puts into layman’s language the results of a “yes” and “no” vote on each article, and it really helps to know what’s going on before you get there. Mostly I just listen at TM. I listen to the articles presented, I watch the power point presentations (now that they are required to be readable from the auditorium seats!), and try to understand the different points of view expressed by the Bedford citizens who come to the microphone. I have gone to the microphone twice in all these years, and although the nature of the first occasion is long lost to me, I seem to recall that my decision to speak was spontaneous. The second time, more recently, I had done a lot of research on the topic of the article, felt very strongly about it, and also knew that my views were definitely in the minority. I said my piece to a packed auditorium, found it less intimidating than I thought it might be, sat down, and watched as the article that I had hoped to see defeated passed easily. It was then that I knew that if I hadn’t summoned the courage to speak, I would not have felt that I had done everything I could have to support a point of view that I held with many others, but not enough, on this article. I’m not always happy with how TM votes come out, but I am always happy to have been there to cast mine.
As you attend Town Meeting on a regular basis, you become more and more comfortable and knowledgeable about it. Yes, it’s a long couple of evenings, but it’s only 2-3 nights a year. Yes, you may have young children, but switch off with your spouse. Yes, it’s sometimes a bit boring, but that’s more than made up for by the times when [the] discussion is interesting and a lot is on the line. And, YOU have a say. Regulars at Town Meeting know that attendance is determined by the perceived importance and/or controversial nature of the articles in the warrant. There’s certainly a parallel here with only 6% of eligible Bedford voters turning out for a town election with only one contested race, no matter how cold the day was. Every year TM votes on the town budget and expenditures for the coming year. It’s your town and it’s your money being spent. YOU have a vote. The Selectmen are not deciding how to spend it; the people of Bedford are, and the Selectmen abide by your decisions. Certainly, not everyone can or will come to TM, but the invitation is sent, addressed to every voter in Bedford, in the form of a Town Meeting Warrant that arrives in the mail. It is an invitation to see the purest, most basic form of democracy in action. The Town Meeting form of government is a rarity in the 21st century, and we should treasure it. As someone said on social media the other day, it all starts here.