Denise Barberet: Town Meeting democracy at work

Thursday, February 22, 2018
Town Meeting democracy at work

As a long-time Town Meeting member, it’s amusing to read Amherst for All’s constant rhetoric about how Town Meeting seems to consist of those who are old, white, rich and determined to hang onto the enormous power and privilege we enjoy in this role.

It is also amusing to observe that those who ascribe such characteristics to Town Meeting members appear themselves to fit neatly within those apparently unfit demographics, or lurk on their outskirts.

It is less amusing to consider the logic-defying argument that a radically reduced governmental body that will assume the powers currently held by both the executive branch — the Select Board — and the legislative branch — Town Meeting — will miraculously be much more diverse than the oligarchy Amherst for All believes to be responsible for so many problems in town.

Yes, there are many older, white, well-off members of Town Meeting. But that does not mean that Town Meeting lacks diversity. Members range in age from 22 to 93. We are students, professors, lawyers, the disabled, renters, the unemployed, teachers, homemakers, dentists, firefighters, nurses, scientists, songwriters, business owners, farmers, social workers ... the list goes on.

We are not in Town Meeting for the power, and we’re certainly not in it for the pay. The majority of us believe in the process, imperfect as it may be, that allows 240 individuals with all their knowledge, experience and integrity to come together, to listen, to debate, and finally to decide what the majority feels is in the best interests of the town in which we all live.

Perhaps our decisions do not reflect your point of view. That does not mean that we are not accountable, especially in a town that is deeply divided on many major issues. If you are unhappy with decisions taken by Town Meeting, you too have the ability and power to influence those votes by participating directly in the democratic process.

Yes, it takes time, and it can be infuriating. But that is how democracy works. Do we really want to give up this privilege, especially in this new American order?

Denise Barberet


The writer is a Town Meeting member from Precinct 9.