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What is Town Meeting Day?

On the first Tuesday of March every year, most towns in Vermont hold a day-long meeting to conduct local government business, elect officials, and approve municipal budgets. This is called Town Meeting Day, and it is a rare example of direct democracy: all eligible citizens of the town can discuss and vote on agenda items, rather than through an elected official (representative democracy).

There is a "warning" publicized at least 30 days before the meeting which lists which topics will be discussed, and the location and timing of the local meeting. There is a specific structure that all VT town meetings follow: the moderator is required to run the meeting under Robert's Rules of order. This keeps the playing field as level as possible.

The ability for citizens to speak, and be heard, without filters for position, popularity, or wealth makes Town Meeting day a satisfying (or combative) exercise in community building. There is a social aspect as well, with many communities offering a potluck meal shared during a break, for lunch, or after the proceedings conclude. This brings people together who might not otherwise ever cross paths, which can strengthen social ties within a town.

Town Meeting day is a state holiday; many towns have a tradition of sending the kids to a community-wide ski race because there is no school held that day. It's a throwback to a time when people had to show up to be heard, and one's voice (or hand raised in the air) needed to be present to be heard. The tradition, which started in 1762, has not changed all that much.

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