April 5, 2018–Belmont Citizen-Herald
I pulled a wadded up piece of newsprint out of my pocket earlier this week and threw it in the trash. I gave it no further thought. Not because it was unimportant. Quite the contrary. It‘s a piece of paper that contributed to the very essence of living in Belmont. That wadded up paper ball had served it function, as similar sheets of paper have done time and again over the years.
In Belmont, we are lucky to have an organization whose very reason for being is defined as to “make democracy work.” The Belmont League of Women Voters is a group of men and women of all ages and backgrounds who proclaim their common interest as being to “encourage active and informed participation in government through education and advocacy.”
It is a local organization focusing on local Belmont needs. The national League of Women Voters was founded in 1920. In April 1936, however, one hundred Belmont women left the Cambridge League to found the local Belmont organization. Since then, the League has sought to educate the community on topics ranging from the needs of senior citizens, to the annual town budget, to each year’s town election.
My paper ball flows from those efforts. I cannot remember the last time I went into a voting booth without having torn out the Precinct 6 pages from the League’s annual “Voter Guide” and checked off the Town Meeting Members I intended to vote for. In the Voter Guide, the League publishes the results of its survey not only of candidates for townwide office, but of all Town Meeting candidates as well. The “survey” asks simply that each candidate respond to a request to “discuss an issue or two which you consider important to the future of the town, presenting your ideas for managing them effectively.” The responses are published verbatim and mailed to each household in Belmont.
Wow. Step back and consider for a moment the work that goes into that. With eight precincts and twelve Town Meeting slots open in each precinct, sometimes with more candidates than slots available, someone with the Belmont League is identifying the candidates, mailing each candidate the survey, compiling the responses, formatting those responses, and arranging the printing and mailing so that the responses can be delivered to every household in Belmont. That’s not just a “few hours” of work. And they have been providing that service for years. The League published its first Voter Guide in 1986 and has been doing it since.
It’s not just the Voter Guide, of course. The Belmont League also sponsors the annual Candidate’s Night, where every candidate is invited to attend and be available to any community member who might wish to come advocate a position or ask a question. Speaking of direct one-on-one democracy!
This year’s League efforts went off without a hitch. The Voter Guide was printed and delivered. Candidate’s Night was held. And, therein lies my concern. Why is smooth sailing a problem? My fear is that when things run so well, for so long, they become, in a way, invisible to the public. And when things become invisible, the people who make it all happen, and the effort involved, become unnoticed. The services are “expected” rather than “appreciated.” For example, though I use the League’s Voter Guide every year, I can’t remember even once having said to a member of Belmont’s League of Women Voters “thank you. That Guide you mail to me? It helps.”
So, let me rectify that wrong. That publication you mail to me plays an essential role in one of the most important tasks I do each spring: deciding who to vote for in Town elections. To the leaders who steer the League; to the workers who prepare the Guide; to the supporters who help pay for it; thank you. Please rest assured that Belmont is better off for your efforts.