Your city or town probably has something similar and you may not have ever bothered to attend. Here in Norwich, CT, we (= the City Council, together with the Mayor and the City Manager) attempt on a quarterly basis to hold an 'off-site' with citizens beyond the confines and constraints of the twice-monthly city council meetings in City Hall. The first step, relatively straight-forward, is to find a locale in a targeted part of the city in which to hold the forum. The first one, slated for January that got knocked out by a snow storm, was in Greeneville and drew a lively crowd of hungry (for pizza) youngsters and very inquisitive parents and guardians who had LOTS of questions and 'look ups' for the alderpersons and City Manager (the Mayor was under the weather that night but should be present tonight).
As someone who's not on the Council and not a resident of the Greeneville area of Norwich, I was impressed with the communication and the comity that went on that night and expect no less for tonight's session, starting at 5:30 in the United Community and Family Services offices on Town Street (across from what's left of the Norwichtown Mall). I would not be surprised to learn from an alderperson that, despite the chill in the air that February night, it was a bit warmer in the room for them where they were stitting than it was for me, and that's fine.
One of the things we've forgotten, at all levels of politics it seems to me in this country is how to disagree without being disagreeable. It really has become a 'love me, love my dog' type of mentality. We see it in both major parties as they each develop candidates for the office of the President where we start out with high ideals and the best of intentions and end up for voting for the 'lesser of two or more evils.' I don't think that's how we did things when we chose Jefferson or Monroe and Lincoln, Wilson or Roosevelt but we've been reduced to this method for decades now, as near as I can tell and we don't seem to have very much from it.
We still use the 'talking at' not 'speaking with' at the state level as well, as here in CT, we're watching members of the party that controls both houses of the legislature so convincingly, the other party doesn't really need to show up, not actually get very much done as three or more of its own members start their campaigns for election to the office of the Governor. A seat currently occupied by someone so popular that yesterday when I asked five people whom I regard as politically connected who her most recent opponent was, two of them drew an absolute blank, even though one of them lives in the city in which her opponent is the Mayor.
So it's nice that we can be civil at the local level.
Maybe we're starting to catch on that if we're ever going to make our hometown (here for an hour, or your whole life? No matter, it's your hometown now) a better place, we all have to pitch in and learn to listen as well as to talk. If all we ever use our freedom of speech for is to complain, what will that get us at the end of the day? This is a tough area in the best of economic times and that's not what we have right now, so it's an even darker ride. It doesn't stop some of us from dreaming of a big celebration next year for the Norwich Semiseptennial or from plugging away on little things between now and then.
So tonight, if you live in Norwich, or if they've cut the cable to your house and in you're in the area or (call me a romantic) you'd just like to see what our variant of a Town Meeting looks like, stop in between 5:30 and 7:30 PM at the UCFS on Town Street and take the pulse of the body politic. I wouldn't be surprised if there's pizza as well and let's face it, a slice is nice-always.