The final speaker at the VTLP Convention was Frank Bryan, Writer, humorist, and foremost expert on Town Meeting Democracy.
Frank Bryan stresses the importance of small town meetings for democracy. Byran’s findings-based on over 1500 town meetings and encompassing 238,603 acts of participation by 63,140 citizens in 210 different towns-show that citizens will participate-and often at great cost to themselves-when they know the political arena is small enough for them to make a difference and there are issues at stake that really matter to them. All too often national elites are only passionate in their commitment to a kind of statistical participation- for instance, the extremely thin process of going to the polls once every four years. But they are nervous when it comes to thick, rich participation like deciding how the community should educate its kids, or how it should properly take care of the aged, or what the budget for the local library should be. Decentralism and empowerment: put these requirements together and democracy will flourish. Take either away and it will die. The left had the right idea years ago in the 1960’s and 70’s. But the conservatives didn’t like real democracy and liberals lost their nerve. Consequently a great opportunity to revitalize the heartland of our governance-our villages, towns, and urban neighborhoods-was lost.
Bryan spoke on the importance of town meetings and how more local control is better. He spoke on how the federal government system, in its design, is not capable of handling large problems. It was designed to be small with its beauracracies, and checks and balances. This is why the federal government fails when it attempts to solve big problems… it was not designed to handle them. Most of the time, the federal government is the wrong tool for the job.
Bryan can be best defined as Libertarian in nature when it comes to the federal government in that he believes the federal government takes too many of our liberties and holds too much power over us. However, Byran is more liberal when it comes to local government because as an individual you can have a greater affect and influence within town or state affairs. He cited an example where some neighbors complained about some old cars on his property looking bad. The town told him to remove them. He felt that was more fair than if the state or the federal governments had told him too. He believes the level of control is about scale. At what scale do you give up your freedoms for the greater good of the community? This was the question he posed to us Libertarians. Bryan stated, “Better to get shafted by your friends than some damn strangers.”
- Frank Bryan – http://www.uvm.edu/~fbryan/aboutprof.html
- Interview with Frank Bryan – http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/077977in.html
- Democracy in Vermont – http://www.amconmag.com/2004_09_13/article1.html