I have attended Bedford’s Annual Town Meeting twice now – in 2022 and 2023. Each time, I didn’t come as a registered voter, but as a high school student who was there to provide tech support.
At first, I didn’t know anything about Town Meetings and I wasn’t expecting much, but it turned out to be an eye-opening experience and taught me a lot about how our local government works. With that in mind, I have written this reflection on my experiences as a student.
Before last year, I didn’t know that Town Meeting existed. I had no idea that Bedford elected a Moderator, Select Board, Planning Board, or any other public office. I didn’t understand how to read a warrant or interpret any of its articles (honestly, I’m still confused on the ins-and-outs of the whole thing). I was totally unfamiliar with what Town Meeting was. All that I was focused on was controlling microphones.
But as I sat in the tech booth, unmuting microphones and listening to various arguments, I gained a new knowledge of our town’s democracy. Although I was not an eligible voter, I found out that some issues had a direct impact on my life, such as funding for Bedford Public Schools in the Capital Expenditure Report. On the other hand, some issues had nothing to do with me, such as building affordable housing for senior citizens.
Regardless of whether and how – or not – it affected me, though, I thought that it was interesting how Town Meeting is the way in which important decisions are made for – and by – the people of Bedford. It truly is democracy in action. For me, the best part was that these decisions were not taking place in some far-away, out-of-touch place, but were happening right here, right now. That’s pretty special!
The one thing that I disliked was some of the language and attitudes from residents. In both of these Town meetings, I heard more than a few rants and personal attacks. As a student, I found this especially disappointing. At Bedford High School, I am taught to act with kindness, to value other students, and to respect our differences. Unfortunately, these values were not always reflected by the adults at Town Meeting.
Overall, Town Meeting is something unique and special in Bedford, and it is an opportunity for residents to make their voices heard. While there is definitely room for improvement, I believe that the general structure – meeting in the BHS auditorium on Monday nights, for example – has served us well. Indeed, the results of the Town Meeting Survey indicate that most are happy with the current system, and besides a few suggestions, favor keeping things the same.
On a personal note, I apologize for the technical issues that occurred during the 2023 Town Meeting. I did not expect all four microphones to run out of batteries, and I’m sorry to those whose remarks were suddenly cut off. I also thank everyone for their patience, understanding, and flexibility while we worked to fix those issues. We really appreciate it.
Over the past two years, my experience of Town Meeting has grown from not knowing anything to attending twice. As a student, it has exposed me to central parts of our local government that I previously did not know, and I want others to have the same opportunity.
My hope is that more residents will become familiar with and participate in future Town Meetings for the benefit of Bedford’s democracy.
Andrew Lum is a student at Bedford High School.