Meredith W. Michaels: Cites fundamental Town Meeting flaw

Friday, November 24, 2017
Cites fundamental Town Meeting flaw

Just a brief comment on John Fox’s response to Elizabeth Markovits’ letter about the drawbacks of Amherst’s current iteration of Town Meeting.

I am confident that Professor Markovits knows that women and slaves were not citizens in ancient Athens and hence were not participants in the democratic polis.

If, as she argues, Town Meeting is not representative, it is not due to such categorical exclusion but rather to its failure to inspire the active participation of voters and the accountability of Town Meeting members. Too few people run for Town Meeting and too few voters show up to vote for those who do. As has been ably documented in Charter Commission discussions, voter participation in both of these regards has been increasingly dismal (a notable exception being the new school vote earlier this year).

There are lots of reasons why people might choose not to participate in this hybridized form of Town Meeting, either as voters or as members. The reasons are clearly spelled out in a variety of venues (abetteramherst.org provides a public forum for the exchange of views).

Like Professor Markovits, I am persuaded that tweaking Town Meeting cannot address the fundamental flaw in its constitution: while it aspires to be democratic and representative, it is neither.

Mr. Fox is owed thanks for his dedicated service to the town. But the fact that someone can be a Town Meeting member for three decades is itself a symptom of the problem.

Meredith W. Michaels


The writer is a retired professor of philosophy at Smith College in Northampton.