voice for democracy

Nancy Tips: Democracy in Windham runs this way and that way – vtdigger.org

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Nov 9 2021November 8, 2021
This commentary is by Nancy Tips, a resident of the town of Windham.
Recently I heard tell of a person who was house hunting and thinking of looking in our little southern Vermont town of Windham. The house hunter was warned off by a friend who said the folks in Windham are always scrapping about one thing or another, so you don’t want to live there. 
This seems a particularly apt judgment after our recent referendum on closing the struggling school in our town. We had to do the referendum twice, just to ensure that all the wandering bad feelings in the whole universe could come to rest right here.
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But back to whether or not Windham is a good place to live. The anecdote I mentioned above aroused my loyalty to my town, along with a feeling that we are being treated unfairly. After all, Windham is just doing democracy, like every other town in Vermont. Democracy is notoriously not pretty, for several reasons, some of which are on full display here in Windham:
Windham’s recent referendum on school closure, as well as our five-years-ago referendum on industrial wind in our town, brought some odd doings related to the voter checklist, which we, like all good participants in a democracy, peruse on an hourly basis once voting begins, so that we can identify folks we need to canvass, and also detect any odd voter registrations. 
Thus, everyone knows that certain people actually live elsewhere, but vote in Windham; that seasonal renters with the good fortune to have their brief sojourn here enlivened by Windham politics are encouraged to and actually do register to vote in local elections that have absolutely no bearing on their real lives; that some folks, feeling strongly, invite their adult children who live elsewhere to register to vote in Windham, using the parents’ address. 
I repeat, we all know this goes on, and either don’t want to or are powerless to stop it. And here, I would place a plug for principled behavior: In neither of Windham’s recent battles have I or the folks with whom my views have aligned gotten people who don’t live here to register or encouraged them to vote. So I might have a tiny bit of outrage regarding the propensity of folks on the other sides of various questions to commit this particular type of naughtiness. A lot of outrage actually, and as everyone knows, outrage is one of democracy’s finest and most widely enjoyed byproducts.
The problem with the referendum is that you are being asked to choose a course of action on a topic about which you are often totally ignorant. If you have the will, you will set about trying to locate trustworthy sources of information to guide your decision. If you don’t, you will listen to the people you like and agree with them, while taunting and jeering at the people who disagree with you, whom you didn’t like that much anyway. 
The referendum is far more loathsome than the election of a person, in which you get to choose based entirely on your feelings about the individual candidate: Do you like or abhor their shoes, hair, clothes, sense of humor, and accent? You don’t believe them anyway when they tell you what they plan to do, so it’s perfectly logical that you would use criteria other than the soundness of their ideas when you vote.
Recounts, runoffs, reconsiderations, followed by the feeling that now afflicts Windham: that of being snookered, checkmated, tied 3-3 without the possibility of Game Seven. 
Upon “reconsidering” our original vote (which resulted in a two-vote victory by those of us who would close the Windham school and move to school choice), we now have the “keep-theschool-open-no-matter-what” side declaring a stunning victory of three votes (all three of which can be accounted for by a family who publicly declared that they don’t live in Windham, who send their children to a school outside Windham, but who, curiously, vote here anyway). 
There is opportunity here for a graceful admission on the part of the “victors” that the town is obviously highly conflicted about the merits of its school, and that people who want to close the school should have their concerns respectfully listened to and, where possible, addressed. 
Alas, such grace seems highly unlikely in Windham’s current climate. Which is probably a lot like the climate in many of Vermont’s idyllic villages.
One is forced to the simple conclusion that democracy sucks. And yet … and yet.
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