Being a Town Volunteer, Al Gore’s New Book and Why The Forum is So Important: A Book Review
I started out to write an article on being involved in town government and why it was so important to me. Then, over the Memorial Day weekend, I read Al Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason. If you are going to read one book this year, read this one. If you are involved with your town, read this and think about your connection or "attachment" to your government at the town level. If you are engaged in something that requires science, or law, or anything that involves dealing with facts, and you depend on government at any level to get your projects done, read this. If you are one of the many Americans who does not like the direction our nation is headed, read this.
I have been a volunteer for my town for 10 years now. I got into it very selfishly, when the selectboard asked for townspeople who were interesting in assisting them to negotiate a new cable TV contract. I had heard that internet access by cable was possible, and was getting very frustrated with dial up, having discovered the possibilities of the world wide web. Working on this committee and meeting some of my fellow townspeople led me to volunteer for other committees and to finally run for selectboard in 2003.
I have been on the planning board, helped with the master plan, worked on historic and land and water conservation efforts, and continued with work on the cable advisory committee. My town has welcomed my participation, except for last year, when members of the selectboard who were elected in 2006 decided I was not welcome to serve. My involvement with my town has been an enormous learning experience in so many ways. Not only do I have a good understanding of how town government works, and how dependent on the willingness of citizens to give their time and expertise towns are, I have a deeper appreciation of this form of government and how it can support a sense of community and the roots of true democracy.
There is a perception out there that this desire to be involved is all about power, but that is not true. Last year I had the perfect excuse to declare that I was no longer volunteering, that what happened in our town last year “proved” that my participation did not matter, yet I did not stop offering my time and expertise. I don’t offer my services for power or prestige, I offer them because public service is a value I cherish.
I find Al Gore’s book helps me to understand how we get to places such as where we are today, and that we don't have to continue on this course from sheer inertia. In my town, it helps me to understand why we were in a mess last year, and what we did, even if we didn't think of it in those terms, to change direction. This book informed my understanding of what my "attachment" to the process of democracy, particularly at the local level, means to me, what values matter to me.
I said that The Forum was very important. Al Gore writes extensively about the importance of the printed word and a well-connected citizenry. We are very blessed in our area to have a shining example of citizen journalism, a real two-way street of communication, where our voices can be heard and our governments can become transparent in their practice, if we so choose.