National Town Meeting Day, a community-driven event that takes place every year on the first Tuesday of March is one of our favorite government and state-related national days to observe. This year, it falls on March 5. We appreciate how town meetings can bring communities together, inspire groups of people to overcome challenges and biases, and come to conclusions and resolutions that concern the whole community. And did you know that the first town meetings took place in Vermont in New England, United States?
History of National Town Meeting Day
Town meetings, a type of direct democracy in which a community’s members gather to legislate policy and budgets, have been held in Vermont since 1762. These meetings were so important to the state’s history that the Vermont Republic was not formed until 15 years later, and statehood was not granted until 1791.
The origin of town meetings includes English settlers. Following their experience with these local meetings, these settlers established parish-based governments, with town selectmen serving as a continuation of vestry churchwardens. There was a minimal separation between church and town governance in colonial New England; however, with the disestablishment of the state churches, the meetings continued to play a very important role and inspired the government of New England towns today.
It’s a New England tradition that harkens back to before local governments ceded much of their authority to state and federal governments. It is a tradition that continues to this day, more than 250 years after it began. There are actually two different types of town meetings. An open town meeting is a type of town meeting in which all registered voters in a town are allowed to vote and act on the town’s legislature. Representative town meetings operate similarly to open town meetings, except that not all registered voters are permitted to vote.
Since town meetings were first established, the first Tuesday of March has become a gathering place for town residents to discuss big and small issues. It has also been called National Town Meeting Day for many years, as it sets aside an entire day for these meetings to take place. Many communities still hold in-person meetings to decide on issues such as school budgets, road maintenance, and non-binding resolutions.
National Town Meeting Day timeline
The first town meeting takes place in Vermont.
Novelist Henry David Thoreau is credited for saying in a speech that when farmers gather in some country towns for special town meetings to express their opinions on vexing issues, it comes pretty close to actual congress.
A large number of Maine towns rush to adopt special act town meeting-selectmen-manager charters similar to the Camden charter to regulate government better.
The first celebration of National Town Meeting Day as we know it takes place.
National Town Meeting Day FAQs
Why is it called a town hall meeting?
Town hall meetings, also known as town halls or town hall forums, are a way for local and national politicians to meet with their constituents, either to hear from them on topics of interest or to discuss specific upcoming legislation or regulation.
What was the significance of town meetings in the New England colonies?
The meetings were held in colonial meeting houses that were built at taxpayer expense, except in Rhode Island, and served both religious and town business purposes. Town meetings were thus created to maintain local autonomy and self-government over issues such as religious freedom and tax laws.
What does community mean in life?
A community is a social unit (a group of living things) that shares characteristics such as a familiar location, norms, religion, values, customs, or identity. Communities can share a sense of place in a physical location (e.g., a country, village, town, or neighborhood) or in a virtual space via communication platforms.
How to Observe National Town Meeting Day
Go to a town meeting
Town meetings are a great place to get to know your neighbors and significant community members. It also serves as a great place to share your thoughts and opinions on pressing matters that concern land, safety, population, and town and city planning. Being part of a discussion that could benefit your whole community is a gratifying feeling, and you are part of that change.
Speak to the community about governance
Outside of town meetings, it is always very informative to know what the community members are concerned about, want fixed, or what advice they might have to better the system. It’s also a great way to meet new people and to learn about the people around you to understand them better.
Test out group meetings in your family
We know that every family can have its issues and dramas, and most of the time, there is a struggle to solve these matters. Have you ever considered having a family meeting to discuss the issues that people are concerned about or want to be changed by other family members? It’s a great way to make sure everyone is heard and understood and that something is being done to resolve some problems.
5 Important Things You Need To Know About Town Meetings
No one has autonomy over decisions
A simple majority of voters can always overrule the moderator.
Town meetings start fresh every time
One town meeting's actions are not binding on subsequent town meetings.
Everyday language is perfectly acceptable
There is no need to be a college graduate just to state your opinion in a town meeting.
You can make requests
You have the right to request a secret written ballot on any question or policy you have doubts about.
It’s okay to ask questions
Everyone in attendance is equal at a town meeting, and no question is too simple or silly to ask.
Why National Town Meeting Day is Important
Community concerns are heard
When non-political or governmental members of a community get the chance to voice their opinions, it can change history. Often, the experts don’t see things that the everyday member of the community may notice, which makes the public’s voices so important. It is when communities can speak up that things get done.
Important decisions are made
Sometimes in life, it can feel like no one is looking out for you or your neighbors, but town meetings can inspire new outlooks on life and community, and civilization. People get the opportunity to share their stories that inspire and encourage politicians to do the right things. When there is an understanding between the two parties, essential decisions can be made quicker and more seriously.
Town and cities grow and improve
You may find that regions where there are no town meetings often lack some aspects of governance or that groups of people start ruling towns. In comparison, cities and areas that often hold town meetings are well looked after, safe, clean, and very decently populated.
National Town Meeting Day dates