Vermont’s Annual Town Meeting Day: Where Every Citizen Is A Legislator (DIRECT DEMOCRACY)

“All extensive governments have a natural tendency to destroy that equality among the people, which was necessary to keep one part of mankind from oppressing the other.”

– Norwich, Vermont farmer Daniel Buck; March 1791

Today – March 4 in the year 1791 – marks the day in which the citizens of the independent Republic of Vermont voted to join the new United States as the 14th state. For 14 years, from 177-1791, Vermonters governed Vermont as an independent country – fielding their own militia, running their own post office, coining their own currency, and governing through local town meetings across the Green Mountains.

And, we suggest, it is time for the state of Vermont to consider independence – a 2nd Vermont Republic – here in the 21st century. We have advanced this case for 13 years here at this web site, in our book, and in our new Plan V – Towards a 2nd Vermont Republic pamphlet – the case for Vermont independence on 5000 words.

Here is an excerpt from our Plan V pamphlet – Norwich, Vermont farmer Daniel Buck speaks in opposition to the Republic of Vermont joining the new United States. How words are MORE prophetic today than they were back in the 18th century.

Here’s the story:

In March 1791, after 14 years as an independent country, Vermonters met to consider the question of whether the independent Vermont republic should join the new United States. After much debate, the majority of Vermonters present cast their votes in favor of union.

One farmer from the town of Norwich, Daniel Buck, cast his vote in opposition, and rose to speak from the floor. His remarks are worth quoting at length as 21st century Vermonters look ahead towards the collapse of the U.S. of Empire.

“It is necessary to consider the original cause of all government,” Buck explained to his fellow Vermonters in spring 1791.

“Government is formed by ‘compact’ in order ‘for a man to enjoy the blessings of society, security of his person, liberty and property.”

“To form a compact creating a government, ‘each individual of the community must necessarily sacrifice a part of his natural liberty, his interests, and his privileges, so as to coincide with the common interests of the whole; yet this sacrifice must be in some measure proportional to the diversity of interest to be found in the several parts of the community – that the sacrifice of the individuals of a small community must be less than those of a large one, where the interest must be supposed more diverse.”

“Vermont has a ‘uniformity of interest,’ it has ‘no mercantile or landed interest,’ ‘lord and tenant were not known.’”

“The affairs of government were managed, as it were, under the eye of the people, and the machine was so small that everyone could look and see how the wheels moved, and for this reason it was observable, that the people were all politicians.”

“In the union, Vermont would ‘would be bound to the interests of the union’ with its greater and clashing interests.”

“A few would benefit, but ‘this number must be but small, while on the other hand the affairs of government being at such a remove from the eye of the people, they could have no knowledge of their transactions, and would naturally degenerate into a state of ignorance.”

“All extensive governments have a natural tendency to destroy that equality among the people, which was necessary to keep one part of mankind from oppressing the other.”

Prophetic words, Mr. Buck. Prophetic words.

To wit.

“The people were all politicians,” and “the machine was so small that everyone could look and see how the wheels moved.”

Small “d” populist participatory democracy fused with Vermont’repreneurialism.

“Small is Beautiful” here in the Green Mountains.

Plan “V.”

And from 4 years ago, here is our argument for “maximum participation with maximum conversation,” and why town meeting as a form of direct democracy matters more than ever.

As a Waitsfield citizen, parent and school board member for more than a decade now, I am writing in support of preserving our annual Vermont town meeting day as the best venue for decision-making about our town’s annual spending decisions. Winter petitions circulated throughout the Mad River Valley urging residents to support a new absentee ballot measure from the town meeting floor this March 4. If passed through a voice vote on March 4, this proposed measure would allow residents unable to attend town meeting day – local “sun bird” retirees wintering in warmer climes, for example – the opportunity to vote on the annual budget without actually attending town meeting. I am not unsympathetic to arguments made by supporters of the absentee ballot, and I’d like to thank fellow Valley’ite Deri Meier, in particular, for thoughtfully bringing them to our collective attention.

The argument in favor of absentee balloting boils down to this – absentee balloting allows more residents to vote. My question is – will absentee voters truly understand what’s at stake when they cast their ballot from afar? In other words, should QUANTITY of participation (more voters) trump QUALITY of participation (an informed understanding by voters of the annual budgeting process and what is at stake)? After extended conversation with many Valley residents on all sides of this issue, I am convinced that absentee balloting will effectively kill our cherished annual town meeting tradition here in Vermont – the one day each year when we gather together as citizens, neighbors, and tax-paying residents to debate, discuss, and deliberate on the issues facing our town. As school boards, we rely on our annual town meeting to publicly explain our budgetary decision-making to the town voters in a community forum that offers time for questions, comments, reflection and discussion. Absentee balloting would suck the life from this vital annual conversation. Instead of absentee balloting, I’d like to propose another solution.

Some context. This year is a particularly difficult budget year for public education in the state of Vermont. Since September 2013, our Waitsfield school board has worked tirelessly with our WWSU colleagues to craft a school budget that offers the best possible education for the highest number of our students for the fewest possible dollars – in the face of a byzantine and complicated statewide funding mechanism, flattening property values (meaning our property taxes must go up in the current funding model), and declining financial support for public education from the Vermont legislature and Governor Shumlin via the General Fund (Several years ago, we property tax payers funded 61% of the school budget – today, we are paying closer to 70%). We are urging our state’s elected officials to take action to re-invent the public school funding mechanism, even as we have worked to streamline costs at both the town and supervisory union level these past several years. At the national level, citizen cynicism with the federal government seems to have reached new heights, and my fear is that our local residents will simply vote on our local school budget without taking the time to educate themselves about the realities of our current fiscal situation at both the local and state level (see above). In short, the need for public discussion about how we spend our resources has never been more pressing – and absentee balloting, while making voting more convenient for some, erodes the importance of this public conversation at a time when we need it the most.

Here’s a solution that may offer the best of both worlds – maximum participation with maximum conversation. I propose that we move our annual town meeting day to a Sunday afternoon in May – this would make it more possible for working residents, “sun bird” retirees, the elderly, and others who are challenged by the current “first Tuesday in March” schedule to attend. Let’s begin the meeting at 12 noon and go to 5:00 pm, with a 30 minute break from 2:30 – 3:00 for snacks and socializing. At 5:00, let’s host a community chicken pot pie supper and a bonfire at the Waitsfield Church. Let’s offer childcare for our children during our meeting – they can play out on our school playground, supervised by our high school students trained in babysitting and first aid through our local schools. In this way, we can continue to foster the vitality of the Vermont town meeting tradition. As fiscal pressures increase at the state and national level, our need for local community discussion and debate will increase, as well – let’s not take away the vitality of our town meeting democracy at a moment when we need it the most. Instead, let’s do what Vermonters do best – adapt town meeting day by making it more inclusive and vibrant for this new century.

See you at town meeting!



2VR is a citizen movement committed to restoring Vermont to an independent republic, free to pursue life, liberty and happiness unimpeded by the demands of an imperial, corrupt and disintegrating United States.

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