A Victory for People's Democracy in Hadley, MA
I just got back from the twice-a-year Town Meeting in my small farm town of Hadley, MA, USA. Town Meeting is a New England tradition where the citizenry engages in direct democracy. Any registered voter can show up speak about any item on the agenda (one article at a time), and cast a vote for or against. The vote, in most situations, is binding on the town (sometimes the vote is only to put something on the next election ballot, and then it's only binding if the citizens vote for it the second time.)
It's an imperfect and often cantankerous process, but it actually works amazingly well.
Tonight, we finally got to vote on the town's Long Range Plan: a massive document compiled over the last five years, with tons of citizen input including surveys sent to every household, numerous meetings, and so forth. And those surveys had something incredible like a 63 percent response, so this document really does reflect the people's will. The town wants controlled, appropriate growth, in ways that do not throttle are already overcrowded roads, sewers, etc.
Unfortunately, while we've been waiting for the plan, a whole lot of commercial and large residential development proposals have come forward, and they threaten to chew up our farmland--considered by experts to be the best in the entire country--choke us in traffic, and draw down our wells. We're facing about a million square feet of new retail, in three separate massive projects, all within a half mile of each other--this in a town with fewer than 5000 residents, extensive existing mall development, and narrow two-lane roads leading through that intersection.
I got up and made a passionate speech about my experience revisiting a town some 130 miles east of here after 28 years, and not even recognizing it in the acres of concrete and parking lots and big box stores and fast food restaurants and slow food restaurants. Then I asked that we send a strong statement by adopting the plan unanimously.
Land-use issues have often been controversial in this town--but amazingly enough--I got my wish! I am hoping that this will prove a powerful weapon in the struggle to protect our town's rural agricultural heritage. And that the people who live in a town have as much right to control its destiny as the out-of-town profiteers who try to squeeze our lifeblood away.