Experiencing the Power of Town Meeting for the First Time

Do long-time Bedford residents appreciate the full effect that the town-meeting experience can have on someone who has never seen it before? I moved to Bedford a year ago, and so went to my first town meeting in March.

As a lifelong American citizen, I have voted at every opportunity since I turned 18 many years ago, so I thought I had a robust understanding of democracy. But simply filling in ovals on ballots didn’t prepare me for the sense of power I experienced at town meeting.

As we reviewed the proposed budget, it was simultaneously exhilarating and frightening to realize that if I simply said “Hold,” in a few minutes, the whole meeting would stop and turn its attention to the item I had picked out. At that point, I would be able to request (and expect to receive) an explanation of the schedule for replacing police cars, or why the middle school needed a new boiler.

Even more amazing was why I could wield this prerogative: not because I am anything special in terms of wealth or fame, and not because I hold some impressive title or office, but simply because I am a citizen of Bedford.

As a newcomer with only a limited understanding of the issues under discussion, I lacked the temerity to exercise these strange new citizen powers, at least not then. But I make no promises about future meetings.

Editor’s Note: Test the power for yourself at Special Town Meeting. It begins at 7 pm on Monday, November 4 in the Bedford High School Auditorium

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