10 Apr 2012

Nantucket Town Meeting

Last weekend, while sitting in a jam-packed auditorium at the Nantucket High School during the annual Nantucket Town Meeting, I felt like I was on an episode of NBC’s blockbuster hit “The Voice.” For those 1-2 of you who have never seen it, it works like this: Contestants are given a brief few minutes to present their version of a popular song, while the 4 celebrity judges sit with their backs to the contestant. This provides the judges an opportunity to base their opinion solely on the raw talent of the contestants, without any undue influence from their appearance or showmanship. If the judges determine the voice they are hearing is a “winner” they push an electronic button on their chair and it spins around bringing the contestant into full view and indicating to the contestant they’ve been “chosen” by the judge to move forward in the contest.

The Nantucket Town Meeting is a bit like this for me. By its design, every registered voter in Nantucket has a “voice” at the meeting. There are dozens of articles included in the warrant for the meeting. Prior to the official start of the business at hand, every voter in attendance is given the chance to “call” an article, meaning that when the time comes to vote on the article, the voter indicates they want the opportunity to offer comments prior to the vote. Once one voter “calls” an article, it opens the floor for every voter in the room to lend their voice to the issue at hand.Even after living on Nantucket year round for a year and a half, there are still many townspeople I don’t know personally. I recognize names and faces, but haven’t had the occasion to meet every resident of the island. There are typically a few “hot button” issues at Town Meeting and this year was no exception. From the wind turbine in Madaket to the Sachem Path housing development, there was no shortage of passionate opinions in the room.

As the microphone was quickly delivered to the raised hands as “called” articles were brought to the floor, I could not see the faces of each person rising to speak, but found myself listening intently to each voice. As voters shared their reasoning and perspective on why they believed the article should be voted up or down, I weighed the information carefully. When it came time to raise my hand to cast a vote for the article, I felt confident I was basing my decision on a diverse presentation of information and opinions that I had not previously considered.

Most importantly, when I attend a Nantucket Town Meeting, I find myself incredibly grateful to live in a community and a nation where everyone has “a voice.” Although sometimes firmly divided in our opinions and final votes on the various issues, there is always a unity in these gatherings that inspires me. We all rise together and proudly recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem as a prelude to the day’s activities. We exchange friendly banter with neighbors seated near us. At the end of the day, we all return to our homes and workplaces knowing that regardless of the outcome, it was an honor to cast our vote.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of being on Nantucket for the annual Town Meeting, I highly encourage you to begin making plans to attend next year. Come hear for yourself the local impassioned perspectives and witness democracy in action. Wherever you live and whatever issues are facing your community, state and our nation, take the opportunity this election year to let your voice be heard.

Speak up!

Shellie Dunlap

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