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This past fall the nation’s full attention was on the congressional elections and how the outcome would shape our political landscape and national policies for years to come. We hope next month’s local elections and town meetings get equal attention from Vermont voters as they make decisions that will affect their daily lives for years to come. In fact, one could argue that local elections and town meetings are in many ways more important than those for Congress or the presidency.

It’s grassroots democracy at its finest.

“There is no level of government that is more directly responsible for serving your community than your local elected officials,” writes Melissa Wyatt in an article for Rock the Vote. “Local government can affect almost every aspect of your daily life.”

Consider the local schools, for example. The school board is the link between the classroom and the community. School board members decide how and what students are learning by setting policies, curriculums and budgets for the school district. This affects funding for programs like arts, music and sports, the school calendar, and what time school begins and ends. In other words, your vote for the school board directly affects the education of all our students from pre-K through high school graduation. Those decisions will have lasting effects well into the future.

Local select boards, meanwhile, are responsible for things like policing and public safety, public transit, alcohol and marijuana ordinances, infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing. And at town meeting, local voters have a direct say in municipal budgets and extra funding for special programs and projects. These are all things that affect the quality of life in our own communities. Local businesses and residents alike are understandably alarmed at the rising crime rate all over Southern Vermont, a problem that is worsened by poverty, addiction, mental health issues and homelessness. These problems are evident all over the country, and many people are disgusted by the lack of action from our federal government.

It’s discouraging, because we don’t have much control at the national level; all we can do is watch the train wreck happening right before our eyes. But we don’t need to wait for Washington, D.C., to act. Many landmark federal policies first originated at the local level. As Wyatt explains, local politics have a long history of shaping change in our country from the ground up. Policies such as women’s suffrage, the minimum wage, environmental protection, and marriage equality all began at the local and state level.

So as we draw closer to our local elections and town meetings, we encourage voters to learn more about the candidates, their background and experience, and where they stand on the issues. Likewise, it’s important to know about school and municipal budgets — not just the bottom line, but also the need, value and cost effectiveness of the spending proposals. The Banner already has started writing about the candidates and key issues, and will continue to offer more in the coming weeks. We urge our readers to take it all in, make an effort to attend local government meetings and candidate forums, ask questions and be informed, so you can vote responsibly for our collective future in Vermont.


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