More than half of New Hampshire’s towns still hold traditional town meetings. You may have attended one of those meetings on Tuesday night. (Not sure what a traditional town meeting is? Check out this handy fact sheet.)
If you’ve been to town meetings before, you know that observing these events could be a form of social science. Regardless of the meeting or the year, you can expect to encounter some familiar characters…
The Row Jockey
Navigating crowded aisles of town hall chairs requires situational awareness, skill, and agility. The Row Jockey chooses to forgo these subtleties. This is the person who will take out human life to get to the bathroom. Everything between them and the door is fair game. It’s inevitable that any attempt to stand up and let this person by will result in uninvited body-to-body contact.
The Volume Monitor
This person usually sits in the back of the town hall, and they’re the first to hold everyone accountable for their lack of projection. If you have a mic, you’re not holding it close enough to your face. If you don’t have a mic, you’re talking into the floor. The Volume Monitor will inform you of these problems. Loudly. So you can hear.
The Snack Packer
It’s 10:15 p.m., and the last of your dinner calories burned off during the heated debate over Article 12. The mints that you found in your pocket barely made a dent in the hunger pains. Fatigue is setting in. This is when the Snack Packer whips out their granola bar and starts eating. It doesn’t matter how far away from you this person is sitting. You will see the granola bar. And you will want it. And, it doesn’t matter how many times you tell yourself to bring snacks next year—you will forget.
Town meetings are rough for the Face-Palmer. Repeated questions and requests for clarification can be physically painful for this person. If the situation is especially tortuous, the Face Palmer may call for the intervention of a higher power. Statements like “Oh good Lord,” “God, I can’t take it anymore,” or “For the love of God, call the question,” are good indications that a Face-Palmer is present.
It doesn’t matter how many chairs are empty, the Standers will not sit. These are the guys who alternate between leaning against the wall by the door and milling around in the hallway. Are they in the meeting? Are they out of the meeting? You may never know. One thing’s for certain: the Standers’ heinies will not make contact with a chair.
These characters are your neighbors. Your friends. And, maybe even you. But, don’t be fooled. Behind the face-palming and row jockeying, you’ll find people who are really passionate about their town. They’re invested in where they live. And, in the end, isn’t that the real character of town meeting?