I haven’t been spending much time with my garden, woodpile and compost heaps this month. I haven’t been baking bread, listening to birds, or writing blog posts as much as I would like. I have lost some of the serenity that’s central to simple living.
When I retired from newspaper work three years ago, after 32 years of immersion in the intense politics of the town where I live, I vowed to leave it behind. In all those years of staying neutral about local politics, I was aware that our town’s governmental system didn’t function as well as it could.
When someone close to me said he was disillusioned with town government and suggested that we try to change it, I was skeptical. Our town went through a divisive battle over this just 15 years ago, I told him, and it takes a gargantuan effort to collect 3,500 signatures, just to start the process.
Last summer, a group of people did start a campaign to reform our system, and I went to one of their meetings. Next thing you know, I was passing around petitions in my neighborhood and in front of supermarkets. Amazingly, we collected those 3,500 signatures without much trouble. In collecting 180 of them, I encountered a lot of complaints about the status quo.
But I didn’t think I would become a candidate for the commission that would consider alternative forms of government. I’ve already attended a lifetime’s worth of Town Hall meetings, and my brain functions better in the morning than in the evening, when the commission would meet. I didn’t have a strong preference for an alternative, and I feared that the contentiousness would disturb my peace of mind.
Gradually, I became aware that I felt a responsibility to put my name forward, despite my misgivings. First, because I’m retired, I have the time and energy to devote to the task. Second, I have knowledge of the process and historical perspective that could prove valuable. Both times our town has gone through this soul-searching before, I have been deeply involved in reporting on it and refereeing letters to the editor. Third, I did some research and found that citizen involvement in the current system is shockingly low, and declining.
On Feb. 19, I wrote in my notebook, “Retaining my composure and not demonizing my political opponents is more important to me than winning this election.” A week or so ago, I realized that I wasn’t paying close enough attention to this. So I cut back on my social media participation and started looking for common ground with those who don’t see the town’s problems the same way I do.
On Tuesday, I will find out whether our town will go through the process of considering alternative forms of government once again, and whether voters have chosen me to be member of the commission. If I’m elected, I’ll try to find the right balance between advocacy, consensus-building and promoting peace between the factions. Whatever happens, I’ll be glad the campaign is over and look forward to concentrating on gardens, woodpiles and compost heaps once again.
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