I got a great question in my inbox yesterday from a local high school student named Dan:
For an 18 year old, it’s hard to grasp what’s going on in most situations and the stakes that are in it, but I know how important town elections are, which leads me to my question:
As I talk to some of my other friends who will be voting for the first time, what do you have to say for us? Most of us will not even be in this state come September, so why should we care about this election, and why should we support you and your campaign?
“Why should we care?” That’s such a potent question. And not just because you’re eighteen and asking me, but because I’ve been trying to get people to care about their community for most of my adult life, with mixed results. Seeing as how you’re in high school and bothered asking me that question, though, I think the fact of the matter is that you do care and probably don’t need that much nudging from me to find your way into a voting booth on May 15.
So, I’ll tell you why I think you should care about local elections, and why you should vote for me. But before I do, let me let you in on an important truth: Everyone, no matter how old they are, is really still eighteen inside their own head, and remembers actually being eighteen like it’s yesterday. It’s one of the great things about being human, and also one of the most tragic. The memories of the friends you’ll make and the times you’ll have during these years will keep your heart warm for the rest of your life, but if you let them, those same memories can turn you into a crabby old curmudgeon. It’s why older people are always insisting that things were better when they were young, when they actually weren’t. They just miss those times.
And partly for that reason, too, Grafton always will be important to you. Whether you’re in love with this town now, or whether you can’t wait to blow this pop stand in four months, this town will on some level always be home to you. You will always care in some way about what happens here. When you come home from college, you’ll get a little pang in your heart when you get off the Pike at Exit 11. When you fall in love, you will eventually take your significant other to Swirls and Scoops. When you have kids, you’ll show them where daddy grew up. When you complete your Last Will and Testament, you’ll consider being buried here. When Wyman Gordon finally closes, you’ll grouse about the fact that they’re turning that space into Jared Kushner’s Presidential Library. It’s the circle of life.
A municipality is just a collection of services that your taxes pay for and that Selectmen have to run. But a community is so much more than that. Years from now, you’re going to remember what this community gave to you and, I assure you, you will be very proud of all the ways, big and small, that you helped make that community what it is. Because that community helped make you what you are. You are forever intertwined. When you take the time to vote, then, you’re not just determining who gets to sit in a meeting and run a town, but you’re deciding who you are. There is nothing more important than that.
And yes, there are the nitty-gritty details that need to be tended too, as well. While a community is more than just the sum of its parts, the people running the town ought to know how the parts work and how they all fit together to form a greater whole. If you’re eighteen now, that means you started really participating in our most important, and expensive, town service around 2005 – our school system.
Dan, you and I have never even met, and maybe we never will. Nor is it likely that I will meet most of your peers and classmates. So, it might sound a little weird when I tell you that most of the last ten years of my life has been about you guys. Since the mid-2000s, the way we run local government in Massachusetts has changed drastically. That’s when the cost of healthcare and special education began to skyrocket. This means that Grafton teachers and administrators became much more expensive than they used to be when I was in school. And because we only have so much tax money to pay for all of this, we’ve had to get really creative about how we run the town. We’ve had to re-think which services we provide. And we had to spend a lot of time asking the town for more money.
In 2014, when you were in junior high I’d imagine, I spent a considerable amount of time organizing, making phone calls, and going door-to-door to support the override, which provided Grafton schools enough money to give your peers a quality education. I wanted to make sure that by the time you all got to high school, Grafton’s educational system would be competitive with that of surrounding communities so that your peers would have a fighting chance to get into college and/or land a quality job after getting out of here. This was not easy to do. No one wants to pay more in taxes, and this town had never, ever passed an override before. It came on the heels of an expensive decision to build a new high school, and a failed vote to build a new library. We thought our odds of providing Grafton students this money and this education were poor. But we worked hard at it and ran what I think was one of the better, more impressive local campaigns I’ve ever seen. And the override passed by a good margin.
Since then, however, the financial situation around here hasn’t gotten much better and we now find ourselves running out of money again. I’ve tried my best over the last five years to explain that to people and get out in front of it so that my kids can get the same education, and the same opportunity to “not even be in this state” if they so choose that you have. Unfortunately, I haven’t been as successful as I’d like in getting people to listen and I’ve been unable to reform town government from the outside. So, now I’m trying to get on the inside and do it that way.
So, yes, you should vote. You should vote because you obviously care. You should vote for me in particular because I care, and I happen to have some pretty good ideas about how I can preserve and protect this place that you’ll always call home.
You should vote because no one thinks you’re going to and you’d be trolling them superbly if you did. You should vote because, who knows, this may be your one shot at doing it here. You should vote because, who knows, you may be back here again someday. You should vote because it’s fun. You should vote because hardly anyone else does, so your opinion is going to mean that much more.
But mostly you should vote because this is your home and who you are, and you should take ownership of that. That’s what you do when you turn eighteen.
I hope I answered your question.