How to put a Pirate in Town Meeting

It’s 2016, and it’s an election year. News outlets have been running stories about presidential candidates for months. Even if you’d rather not think about November’s presidential election, there’s little chance of escaping it.

Presidential elections are a big deal, but that’s not the only office we’re electing in 2016. There are plenty of positions at the state and local level. State and local races aren’t nearly as theatrical as national politics, and they don’t get as much media attention, but they’re every bit as important. I’m talking about town meeting, boards of selectmen, alderman, school committee, and (if you’re ambitious) state representative.

In 2015, I ran for town meeting in Arlington. Arlington requires valid signatures from 10 registered voters to get on the ballot, and I gathered 20 to be safe. With a little effort spread over two afternoons, I was on the local ballot.

In the days leading up to the election, two friends and I knocked on doors in my precinct, reminded people about the upcoming election, and asked them to vote for me.

When election day rolled around, my precinct had five candidates for four positions. I came in second, with 53 votes — and now, Arlington has a Pirate in town meeting.

What does town meeting involve? Town meeting is the legislative body of a Massachusetts town. In Arlington, the meetings are held two evenings a week for several weeks starting in April. (Basically, town meeting remains in session until you’ve gone through the year’s business.)

A town meeting discusses, votes on, and amends warrant articles, which are pieces of legislation which affect the town. They can involve budgets, capital plans, schools, conservation, the environment, and zoning.

What’s my point in all of this? Maybe you can’t raise millions of dollars to run in a national election, or maybe you aren’t ready to give up your day job to become a full-time legislator. There’s still plenty of room to get involved with local government, and the barrier to entry isn’t that high. The most important qualification is a willingness to show up and do the work.

This year, Arlington’s deadline for taking out papers in Feb 11th; the deadline for turning in signatures in Feb 16th; and the town election is April 2nd. Most towns should have similar schedules. If you care about local issues, then you should run — and there’s still time to do it.

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