We get that question all the time here at FPF… especially leading up to Town Meeting Day and November elections.
The answer, of course, is “YES!” Some of our members are disappointed to hear that. They express a desire to keep FPF conversation “polite,” which therefore excludes mention of politics and religion… or anything that might bring feelings of discomfort.
I appreciate that point of view. That’s the kind of thinking I grew up with. But FPF operates under a different principle… the idea that more conversation and information sharing among neighbors will lead to more people getting involved in local issues, and result in better decisions being made much of the time.
This process can be messy. People need to behave and have thick skins. Local powerbrokers may need to loosen the reins a bit and develop strategies for engaging hundreds or thousands of constituents (that’s one place FPF can be of service).
In South Burlington, VT, for example, one City Councilor is speaking up about the U.S. Air Force’s plan to replace local F-16 fighter jets with new F-35s. Her postings have reached directly into 2,000 South Burlington homes (out of 7,000 total) and have circulated widely beyond. She’s forwarded many links to websites to facilitate voters in doing their research.
After dozens of postings from neighbors across several weeks (with various opinions and sharing more research), the Burlington Free Press picked up the story today, with staff writer Joel Banner Baird delving into the concerns and gathering quotes from various residents and local officials.
While I’ve heard that some civic leaders in South Burlington are upset at the Councilor for bringing the public into this issue through Front Porch Forum, most citizens I’ve heard from are grateful. E.g., as quoted from the Free Press… Gene Palumbo, “We need more information. We’re all curious.”
In another case, a selectboard member in Essex Town posted a campaign announcement plugging her re-election across the 18 FPF neighborhood forums in her area. Other folks rightfully questioned this use of FPF, concerned about fair access to voters through FPF… fair between incumbents who enjoy wide access vs. challengers without access. Well, FPF has a solution in place!
As laid out in FPF’s election-use guidelines, anyone on the ballot may post a single campaign announcement across ALL relevant FPF neighborhood forums. So, everyone gets ONE shot to reach all FPF members.
Burlington grappled with many ballot items (e.g., instant run-off voting, IRV) on FPF this year, as well as debating choice of candidates. Westford got into school budget issues. Huntington explored conflict of interest. Starksboro heard from candidates for two races… the first contested seats in years. A Milton challenger used FPF and other means to unseat an incumbent.
Several local political observers report that Front Porch Forum is a surprisingly powerful new tool for both elections and ongoing governance. Now that FPF’s service region blankets one-quarter of the state’s population (Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties, plus Starksboro), we’re hearing from campaigns for statewide office as they ramp up for November 2010. So weigh in and stay tuned!