03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What A Real Town Hall Looks Like

It's entertaining to watch Barney Frank be a bloviating loudmouth and call a mentally ill constituent a whackjob at a supposed town hall series, but organizing a real one, with positive results, is a whole different story.  Over a four week period, in our 70,000 plus city-suburb of Boston, Back Pages Books,, our local cafe, our local TV station, and our local housing non-profit, have gotten together to host a real town hall. 

The results aren't so flashy, but they're what democracy ought to be.  And frankly, while so many people have wasted their time acting out their hysterics over what the failed national town halls mean, organizing this series tells me that they ought to shut up and try to put something positive together because, frankly, it's easy.

The political figures in attendance were told that they would be asked to leave if they wasted time lambasting each other. Constituents were told to submit questions on cards to limit rambling and get to a common and useful point.  What resulted is an astonishing, positive process where voters have closed the gap between themselves and political officials.

Can this be done anywhere?  Yes.  Is it without difficulty?  No.  But is it easier than we think to organize 25 political figures over four weeks with a small group and no money?  Yes.

What it requires, however, are things we take for granted.  Without two city newspapers, a local television station, a couple of brilliant kids from the Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts, and an independent bookstore that has hosted 300 events in four years this simply could not have happened. 

It is not flashy.  It's not a sloppy politician (we're one town over from Barney, so we see it too often to be impressed by his faux-outrage) calling a Nazi-obsessed fanatic crazy so that Chris Hitchens can write something in the morning while he gets over a hangover.  It's not national political fodder.  It doesn't make you want to get a gun, or stop someone with a gun, or talk about guns at all.  This doesn't feed a machine and we don't walk away rich by turning it into entertainment.

But there's a few thousand constituents who think that what you'll see below is a lot more important than a few seconds of cheap entertainment ...


Waltham Town Hall - Cafe on the Common from Federico Muchnik on Vimeo.