I woke up today to the sound of two things; one outside my head and one inside. Outside, there was rain, blessed and beautiful rain falling on the dying garden and the dying plants, and now (2 hours later!) it’s still falling. Inside my head, I was thinking about politics.
I don’t talk too much about politics here for a few reasons, the first of which is that writing about politics (or really any thing else) doesn’t flow as easily for me as writing about food seems to, and I know that on the whole, most of you come for recipes and stories about food, and I love to share them. I also know that we all have food in common, but when it comes to politics, it is entirely possible that we might differ, and even argue, and so on the whole I like to stick to our common ground because it’s the coming together that continues to inspire me.
I know that we all have different views to bring to the conversation. I’m guessing that if I could find a table big enough, we could have a pretty good chat about the issues that are flying around right now, about energy and global warming, gun control, health care, marriage rights, income divides in the country, and women’s reproductive rights. Man oh man, that would be a conversation. And on top of it, we’d eat well. I know that for sure. Because however you feel and I feel, there is always a seat for you at my table. And I’m guessing (and hoping) there might just be a seat for me at yours, too.
I’m just over two years into a three-year term as a selectman in my town, a position that makes me 1/5th of the governing body of the town. I don’t talk about that much either, because I’m an elected official, I have to choose my words carefully (not my greatest strength), and honestly right now, it’s the hardest part of my week. But a couple of days ago I ran into someone, a young mother who moved here a few years ago, and she said that she was thinking about me because just that week she had decided to run for school committee. And I said (with passion in my voice that surprised even me) that I thought it was so good that she had made that decision. I said that in a small town, especially where we are governed by volunteer or near volunteer committees and boards, I think that each person should put their time in, at least once. Whether it’s the selectboard or the school committee or any other office, I think everyone should serve a term. Because it needs to be done, and we need new people to do it. But also because once you start to take responsibility for the system, my hope is that it’s hard to let go of that responsibility.
Every year in May, we have Town Meeting. All important town issues go to Town Meeting, from the budget (directly impacting each resident’s tax rate), to zoning changes, to more philosophical questions like how the town relates to farming or sustainability. Small towns in New England really give Town Meeting the ultimate authority–they can vote up or down on the budget or most major decisions that face the town. On the best and most impressive of years, 10% of registered voters show up at our meeting–but usually less. Most are older, and they’ve gone to Town Meeting forever. There are so many reasons why young people don’t come to Town Meeting–they’ve got little kids and it’s a school night, they don’t know about it, they don’t care about it, they’re just too busy, but at the heart of it all is the truth that those who don’t come are losing the chance to exercise some major power in the community.
I’ve missed Town Meetings, too. Before I was elected to the board, I only went to one or two, and all the above reasons were true for me at some point. But now, whether or not I’m on the selectboard, it will take some extreme circumstances keep me away from Town Meeting. My time so far as taught me that, at least.
This morning, I woke up to news of the shooting in Denver. Joey’s family and so many of our dear friends are there (and Batman fans) and so there’s been some back and forth that has calmed a little, learning that someone was at a concert, or someone else would have gone to a different movie theater for the premier. I was on Facebook, waiting for responses from Denver, and while I was there I noticed that several friends had linked to this article from the latest Rolling Stone, where Bill McKibben writes (again, and just as convincingly as ever) about the extreme dangers of our current path to global warming. It’s an extraordinary article–I urge you to take the time to read it, but there was one sentence that I can’t get out out my head:
Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it’s as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.
No one said this was going to be easy. McKibben gets at that in such a clear way–we are so enmeshed in these issues in a way that makes it hard to know what to do, and how to act. And when I delve into the facts about climate change, when I hear about one more sad person opening fire in a public place, it all starts to feel too big–there is simply too much to work on, and I don’t always feel up for it. Inaction pulls me–it feels safe and quiet and submissive in a way that answers a deep weariness that I think so many people feel.
I’m not making assumptions about what you want. We might stand on opposites sides on some issues, and the same on others, but whoever you support, whatever issues are important to you, and however you feel about this issues, I’m going to ask one thing.
Find a way to engage in your democracy. Sometimes it feels like a joke–honestly when less than ten percent of registered voters show up to make all the decisions in our little town, it feels like we are going through the motions without actually exercising our power. But there are all sorts of ways to do it, whether you’re running for office or simply voting or speaking up about an issue that’s important to you. There are so many of us. Enough to make change. And I fear the quiet–I fear it around me and in me.
Hours later, after all these weeks of dryness, it’s still raining. I’m so thankful for this rain, and… sending thoughts and love to Denver.