Here we are: March in New Hampshire. It’s a time when the late-in-the-season snowstorms arrive with sickeningly consistent regularity, interspersed with those occasional alluring and absolutely seductive fleeting hours of balmy spring warmth that make you want to run around outside among the melting puddles of soft snow nearly naked. Well, that might just be me.
Anyway. March also means the arrival of one of New England’s coolest and most quaint traditions: Town and School Meetings. It’s a rare exercise in direct democracy, a way for you to stand up and state your piece — and be honest, sometimes that piece is a really long one — before casting your vote yea or nay for the 47,000 items that appear on your town or school district warrant. So in case you are a newcomer or have otherwise blocked out last year’s Meeting season, here are some helpful tips that will have you breezing through Town Meeting season like a pro.
Patriotism. Be prepared for a small bit of patriotism at any meeting you attend. In the old days, it was customary for the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited at most town and school district meetings, with not a lot of fanfare. But in the post-Sept. 11 world, it seems to have become important that any assembly of townsfolk be overflowing with reminders of nationalism.
This means that before business actually gets started, you will be asked to stand somberly as a serious and impressive Brownie troop or the color guard from the American Legion walk in with the flag and leads a recitation of the Pledge. Then, just as you are ready to regain your seat, the Moderator will ask you to remain standing. This will be followed by more groups — young Republicans, people who sell moisturizers door to door in your neighborhood or Trekkies — marching to the front of the room as the assembly is led into an increasingly dazzling array of song.
Once the singing is over, the moderator will instruct you, at long last, to take your seat. This is a huge mistake. Because if you are of an advanced age — and by advanced age, I mean, perhaps, over 20 — you will possibly find that the hard metal, fading-bruise-colored folding chair that you are to sit in is mildly uncomfortable. Remember that time you bruised your tailbone in 1987? You will now.
Thankfully, this is the sort of pain that can be helped by food, and this is where the Girl Scouts come in. Now it may be strictly coincidental that Town Meeting season is also Girl Scout Cookie season. But the fact remains, in my unsupported estimation, the bulk of the money made each year in Girl Scout Cookie sales comes from people limping from the school gymnasium during boring spots in Meetings, hoping against hope that rapid ingestion of five or 20 Do-Si-Dos or Thin Mints might restore the will to live. And you know what? It works.
Finally, don’t forget to bring along your calculator, a big supply of pencils and endless theories about obscure topics like just how much postage money is too much postage money for your town’s Conservation Commission. Often, there is not a lot of debate about the biggest ticket items. The same folks who signed off without comment on three trillion dollars to stir the sludge at the water treatment plant become a little suspicious of just why the ballpoint pen budget for the selectmen has increased, or why, exactly, Ms. Pythagoras’ seventh grade algebra class needs new textbooks. I mean, do A and B no longer equal C?
The point is this: It’s Meeting Season. It’s what America is supposed to be about, and it isn’t a system that we practice as much as we used to. And that’s a shame. So make it your business to get to a meeting. Just be sure to bring enough for a box of Thin Mints. You’ll thank me. NH
This article appears in the March 2006 issue of New Hampshire Magazine