A Few Younger Faces in the Crowd
Scott Battison, 17, left, and Mark Carter, 21, center, listen to a speaker during Fairlee’s Town Meeting yesterday. Marie Carter is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Dylan Kidder, 29, center, finishes off a piece of Newbury’s 250th birthday cake after Town Meeting yesterday. Dave McKnelly is at left. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Of the 102 people who attended Fairlee’s Town Meeting yesterday, Mark Carter stood out. Sporting a full beard, he was clearly much older than the children sitting with their parents and grandparents or the sixth-graders selling baked goods for a class fundraiser, but much younger than most of those in the crowd.
Carter, who moved to Fairlee with his family in 2001, is a senior at the University of Vermont. At 21, he was perhaps the youngest voter at Samuel Morey Elementary School yesterday, and one of only a handful of 20-somethings who have attended Vermont’s town and school meetings recently in the Upper Valley. He mostly watched and listened yesterday, but grabbed the mic at one point to ask the Selectboard a question about the town’s computer plan.
“I mean, you look around and most people are pretty old, but that’s also just because of the town, too. We’re an older town,” Carter said after the meeting. “I do notice (being one of the youngest people in attendance), but I just think it’s important, and I try to encourage other people to come.”
The scarcity of young folks is not unique to Fairlee’s Town Meeting, of course, and while voters in the 18-to-29 demographic were hard to track down yesterday, they were not completely absent. Those who did attend offered a wide range of reasons for getting involved — from being more politically inclined than their peers to carrying on the Town Meeting tradition that began when they were youngsters tagging along with their parents.
Justin Cooper, 23, a firefighter with the Hartland Volunteer Fire Department, first starting coming to Town Meeting at his mother’s insistence.
“We drag him every year,” said Regie Cooper. “My family came from Russia, and they didn’t have this chance to go to Town Meeting or vote.”
But Justin Cooper wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I enjoy coming here,” he said. “I enjoy politics. They fascinate me.”
Tess Crocker, 24, a Strafford native, was at her first Town Meeting as a voter yesterday and was eager to participate. “I care about the process,” she said. She wondered if other young people stayed away because they simply were uncomfortable engaging in a debate with town elders.
“I think people in our generation think it’s hard to have a conversation with someone when they are your grandparents’ age,” she said.
“I’ve never had that problem.”
In Bethel, Daniel Luttrell, 24, a graduate of Whitcomb High School and UVM, said he’s been attending Town Meeting “since I could vote.” While he said he was seeing “some more younger people” in the long line outside Town Hall, “I think a lot of young people just leave Bethel,” he said. And it’s not fair, he added, that people who don’t have to work get to make the Town Meeting decisions for people who do.
Another Whitcomb grad, Mikayla Dieffenbach, 21, comes from a politically active family — her father is on the Bethel Planning Board and her mother is on the Recreation Commission.
But Dieffenbach, now a student at UVM, suggested that her peers are “not interested” in town politics, even though Town Meeting votes have a more immediate impact than a vote for president.
“In the long run,” she said, “it actually does affect you if you live in the town.”
Town Meeting also runs in the family for 16-year-old Hunter Page, whose dad, Newbury Selectman Phil Page, encourages him to attend every year to catch up on what’s happening in town. While voting is still a couple years off for the Oxbow High School student, Page said having the discussion in a live setting, as opposed to “on paper,” encourages people to stand up and voice their opinions.
“I think it’s important for people to hear the real reasoning of what other people think,” he said.
Dylan Kidder, a 29 year-old logger from Newbury, said he has missed only one or two Town Meetings since he turned 18. Although Kidder said he normally keeps up with town proceedings, he estimated that most people his age were too preoccupied with their jobs and caring for their families to attend.
“It’s hard,” said Kidder. “My wife isn’t here because she’s with the kids. Other people aren’t here because they’re working. I’ve got the flexibility that I can blow off work and come down.”
Carter, the Fairlee 21-year-old, took the day off from his student-teacher position in Williston yesterday to attend Town Meeting. And while his mother, Marie Carter, said she felt it was important to raise her sons with an appreciation for civic involvement — “we’ve always told them, don’t complain if you’re not going to vote,” she said — Mark Carter said he has also grown to enjoy the event.
“We’re a small town, so I really like coming and supporting the fact that we have Town Meeting, because not a lot of towns do anymore — they have Australian ballot or whatever,” he added. “It’s a lot of fun.”
For his brother, 17-year-old Scott Battison, watching has been fun — but he also is excited for next year.
“(I) just sit here and listen,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to voting.”
Valley News staff writers Aimee Caruso, Ben Conarck, Alex Hanson and Mark Davis contributed to this report.