Recently, I attended a local forum on School Safety put on by representatives Laura Sibilia and John Gannon. Its purpose was for the legislators to get a sense of how their constituents felt about pending gun legislation.
It was a brilliantly sunny day, and many of the gun legislation supporters I knew didn’t show up. Those of us who did come spoke from the heart, but we seemed to be outnumbered 5-1. I’d heard that gun owners opposing new gun laws mobilize well, and they did for this event, in force.
What really surprised me was that none of the teen organizers of local walkouts came to speak. Perhaps it was just simple triage: busy teens have to get homework done sometime, especially if they plan to travel to big, important rallies. And the same goes for participating grownups, too.
But it may also be that people prefer the glamour of Washington DC, and even Montpelier, to that of tiny Whitingham. And that’s too bad, because a person can really be heard at a local gathering, whereas the chances of an individual voice registering among the thousands expected at major demonstrations are slim at best.
When my representative, Laura Sibilia, first ran for office, she talked about how our valley needed to grow a voice. Many residents felt taxes on so-called gold towns were unfair, but we were outnumbered by statewide supporters of the new education taxes. At Town Meeting, however, our frustration not only showed - it became more eloquent.
I hope the easy global reach of social media doesn’t numb us to the importance of speaking up locally. It can be unnerving to disagree vehemently – and face to face - with neighbors you’ve come to like. But awkward as it can be, that’s the best way go at issues. You listen to opposing views, go home and check facts, read some more, and your arguments evolve. Cocooned in chat rooms with only like-minded, anonymous people - and no fact checker – it’s too easy to get carried away egging each other on with arguments that would probably make no sense to your neighbors in a high school gym.
Best of all: You don’t have to travel far to grow your voice. My son went to the forum too, and when he got home, he wrote to Sibilia with his views. She’s invited him to visit the state capital.