Attend And Be Heard

Guest Post by Michael Chambers (guest posts are moderated, but not approved or endorsed by the CCA Steering Committee)
This weekend many Americans will be focused on their television sets enjoying one of the best promotional events in the history of broadcasting – the Super Bowl. Fans will cheer for their side and complain when things go against them and they won’t even have to leave their easy chairs. Today people are allowed the vicarious thrill of attending the Super Bowl without actually being there. But, as in many sporting events, there remain those who feel that there is more to be experienced by the real excitement of the crowds, the physical elements of the day, the feeling of camaraderie or opposition, i.e., the feel of the game, the crowd, and the interplay of those elements not shown through the camera’s eye.

It got me thinking about the last few meetings of the Town Council. So few people attend either because they have no interest in the topics on the agenda or because they sit at home and watch the proceedings on Clerk Base. This latter aspect is one of the drawbacks to effective meetings in his town. I can understand the benefits of telecasting the proceedings, especially for those people who have trouble getting from one place to another, or have other more important issues to deal with at the time. However, it makes it easy for the political dilettantes of Charlestown to snipe at people who speak at the meetings without discussing the issues face to face. This is the advantage of the “Monday Morning Quarterback” (MMQ) but I have yet to see these talking heads play in the game. People who whine and bellyache about meeting outcomes have little room to complain if they do not think it is worth attending the meetings and participating in open discussions. They will write letters or articles to imply that they have a stake in the issues, but it is more for the sake of reaching a readership and remaining invisible.

Town Council meetings, open to the general public, promote openness and transparency and enhance community engagement and outreach. The recent meeting with residents affected by the operation of a quarry on the town line is a good example of engagement and outreach. At the Town Council meetings any resident of Charlestown may speak. Attendance at these meetings expands the understanding of the issues by allowing the participants to read body language, gestures that convey the depth of feeling of those in attendance. Side conversations not picked up by the camera or microphone are often more meaningful than the prepared statements of the speakers. Clerk Base offers a narrow experience whereas attendance broadens that experience and therefore enhances understanding. This is something the MMQ misses and makes complaining and bellyaching insufferable. Face to face discussions outweigh the convenience of political voyeurism of the MMQ and traditional meetings allow individuals to facilitate discussion and interaction, allowing the participants to express their opinions freely.

If you have something to add to the discussion on local issues, attend the Town Council meetings and make an effort to participate.