« Previous  
 Next »

Civil disobedience

03/05/07 12:00AM
 MP3   Download MP3 

(HOST)Tomorrow is the traditional day for Town Meeting in Vermont. And commentator Deborah Luskin is thinking about an item from last year's agenda.

(LUSKIN) I attend Town Meeting in Newfane, where last year, the article to impeach the president originated.

The twenty-ninth of thirty articles on the warning, the resolution to instruct our representative to the US House to file articles of impeachment against George W. Bush didn't come up until noontime, when stomachs were audibly rumbling. We'd already finished the regular work of the day. It would have been easy to adjourn for the day; instead, we stayed and debated.

We debated not just whether we should instruct Bernie Sanders, our US Rep at the time, to file articles of impeachment we debated whether or not we should even be discussing such issues in the Town Meeting forum. One person expressed his worries, saying "These issues can be very divisive, which is why we may want to avoid them."

But others argued that it is precisely because political discourse is divisive that we need to talk about these issues civilly, with the same neighbors we depend on to lend us a cup of sugar, pull us out of snow banks and pass a budget to educate our kids.

Town Meeting differs from the world of spin and sound bytes that dominates national politics, as if politics were something that happens at a distance, among strangers. At Town Meeting, we have an opportunity to hear nuance, among people we know.

We discussed Article 29 for nearly an hour. Once we established that we did not want to table the article, that we, "the voters of Newfane" did indeed want to discuss and decide the pros and cons of sending instructions about impeachment, the conversation took off.

At first, people in favor of the article spoke, with eloquence and passion about the wrongs of the administration in Washington, the war in Iraq, and the need for ordinary people to make their voices heard. The liberal bent is hardly surprising in Newfane, the seat of the bluest county in the bluest state in the nation.

A man from the balcony was the first to speak against the article. He spit his words across the floor with indignation and anger that we, as a group, could in his view, betray our country at a time of war. But it was a woman in a yellow sweater, who took her time to walk to the front of the hall and take the microphone, who spoke most articulately, most feelingly, and most rationally, about her opposition to Article 29 and her support for the president.

It was a moving oration. I'm not sure it changed anyone's mind, not about Article 29, that is. But it reminded all of us in that Union Hall, that we don't all have to agree, but we do all have to listen.

When she finished, everyone applauded - not necessarily for her point of view, since the article eventually passed by a wide margin - but rather for our collective freedom of speech, our tolerance for dissent, and for the civil discourse that is at the heart of Town Meeting in Vermont.

Deborah Luskin teaches writing and literature to non-traditional students in hospitals, libraries and prisons throughout Vermont.

comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter