Town Meeting Time

Next Tuesday evening, Tisbury residents will gather in the gymnasium of the Tisbury School for an activity that goes back to the days of British colonial rule and yet remains as fresh as the latest Island controversies, whether large or small.

Should enough citizens turn out, town moderator Deborah Medders will declare that a quorum is present, and the voters of Tisbury will again begin the annual practice of coming together to govern their town.

With the arrival of spring on the Vineyard comes town meeting season. Tisbury, the first Island town to meet, is followed in early April by Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury. Chilmark voters gather for their annual town meeting at the end of April, and Aquinnah concludes the season in mid-May.

In a time when many Americans are feeling isolated and disconnected from their government, the annual town meetings on the Vineyard offer Island voters an opportunity to speak their minds, to persuade others, and, perhaps most importantly, to hear the thoughts of their fellow voters about what ought to happen in their own town.

And then, to vote: whether to repair a sea wall, renovate a town hall, fund harbor dredging, approve a master plan, okay an operating budget. The majority, whether simple or two-thirds, rules.

Islanders who have grown up with town meetings may sometimes take them for granted, may not recognize the meetings for the precious gift that they are, may fail to appreciate how many people in how many places around the world would dearly welcome the chance to participate, year in and year out, in something like a New England town meeting.

Yes, they can be frustrating. And boring. And even wrong-headed. But the annual town meetings getting under way on the Vineyard also reaffirm the democratic genius of New Englanders of centuries past, who realized the value of governing their communities themselves.