Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2003-12-03
  • Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr

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Relying on an astounding collection of more than three decades of firsthand research, Frank M. Bryan examines one of the purest forms of American democracy, the New England town meeting. At these meetings, usually held once a year, all eligible citizens of the town may become legislators; they meet in face-to-face assemblies, debate the issues on the agenda, and vote on them. And although these meetings are natural laboratories for democracy, very few scholars have systematically investigated them. A nationally recognized expert on this topic, Bryan has now done just that. Studying 1,500 town meetings in his home state of Vermont, he and his students recorded a staggering amount of data about them--238,603 acts of participation by 63,140 citizens in 210 different towns. Drawing on this evidence as well as on evocative "witness" accounts--from casual observers to no lesser a light than Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn--Bryan paints a vivid picture of how real democracy works. Among the many fascinating questions he explores: why attendance varies sharply with town size, how citizens resolve conflicts in open forums, and how men and women behave differently in town meetings. In the end, Bryan interprets this brand of local government to find evidence for its considerable staying power as the most authentic and meaningful form of direct democracy. Giving us a rare glimpse into how democracy works in the real world, Bryan presents here an unorthodox and definitive book on this most cherished of American institutions.

Author Biography

Frank M. Bryan is a professor of political science at the University of Vermont. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of eleven books, including Politics in the Rural States and The Vermont Papers: Recreating Democracy on a Human Scale as well as several books of Yankee humor such as the bestseller Real Vermonters Don't Milk Goats.

Table of Contents

Preface: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Democrat ix
Acknowledgments xvii
1 Introduction: The Methodology of Starting from Scratch 1(26)
2 Town Meeting: An American Conversation 27(30)
3 Democracy as Public Presence: Walking the Bounds 57(26)
4 Attendance: The Architecture of Governance 83(24)
5 Attendance: The Context of Community 107(32)
6 Democracy as Public Talk: Walking the Bounds 139(24)
7 Democracy as Public Talk: Exploring the Contexts 163(26)
8 The Question of Equality: Women's Presence 189(24)
9 The Question of Equality: Women's Participation 213(20)
10 If You Build It, Let Them Play 233(22)
11 The Best Democracy, the Worst Democracy 255(24)
12 Conclusion: A Lovers' Quarrel 279(20)
Index 299

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