Town meeting is a form of very localized government that began in Massachusetts during the colonial era. Residents of small towns would meet annually to address the issues of importance to the town. Schools, sanitation, epidemics, roads (both building and maintenance) and the town budget and taxes. In Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and some small towns in Massachusetts, town meeting is still an annual event. In Vermont town meeting is held on the first Tuesday of March.
Town meeting is when towns vote on the annual budget, and make decisions about funding infrastructure projects. Town meeting is also when candidates for town office are voted in. All voters have a say, and are welcome to participate in town meeting. Every article on the warrant (the list of issues that will be discussed) is subject to debate and amendment. The meeting is run by a moderator (also an elected official), and most moderators use a combination of Robert's Rules and their own. Forgive me for getting nerdy, I live in NH, and I'm something of a town meeting geek.
In any case, today in Vermont, voters in many towns will be voting on the resolution to amend the Constitution. From The Nation:
Communities across the Green Mountain State will go on record—“In light of the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that equates money with speech and gives corporations rights constitutionally intended for natural persons…”—“to urge the Vermont Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Congress to propose a U.S. Constitutional amendment for the States’ consideration which provides that money is not speech, and that corporations are not persons under the U.S. Constitution…”
The Vermont communities that move to amend the Constitution will not be the first in the country to do so. A year ago, Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison and surrounding Dane County voted overwhelmingly to support proposals to amend the Constitution so that the money power does not overwhelm democracy.
Since then, legislatures in two states (Hawaii and New Mexico) and counties, cities, villages and towns across the country have endorsed amendment proposals. Members of Congress, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have begun to propose such amendments.
This seems to be turning into a movement.
According to a new poll by the Castleton Polling Institute, 76 percent of Vermonters favor amending the Constitutional to limit spending on political campaigns. Notably 57 percent of Vermonters who identify as Republicans support such an amendment.
It's easy to write Vermont off as a small state full of Volvo driving, Birkenstock wearing, latte drinking liberals, but that's not the case. There are plenty of old-school Republican yankees populating the state. That over half of the state's Republicans support the amendment is important. This is an issue of crucial importance to our democracy - and to that end, it's fitting that Vermonters are using the oldest US form of government to decide to propel it forward.
For more on town meeting: VT town meeting guide from the VT Secretary of State.
cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org