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Our View: Town hall meetings: Let's have more of them




The best of American democracy does not always begin with visionary leaders on a national scale. 


Often, the real progress emerges from the relative obscurity of ordinary Americans and their interactions with each other and with their local representatives.  


Today, many lament the extreme political polarization that seems to have an unbreakable grip on our nation. We are trapped in a hopeless inertia, unable to advance on almost any front. 


On Tuesday, the Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce held an education town hall where about 100 citizens of all political stripes met with the area's state legislators. 


It might be difficult at first to see the connection between the one-hour-plus of give-and-take at the Columbus Marriott and what is happening on the national stage. But the recipe for resolving our national impasse may well have its roots in just these sorts of local gatherings.  


Events such as Tuesday's are not nearly as common as they should be. 


Real interaction between legislators and the people they represent are all too rare. Even during campaigns, the candidates' exposure to voters is limited.  


It works both ways. Legislators have insights average citizens often are never exposed to. What happens in Jackson when the Legislature meets generally stays in Jackson, so events such as the education town hall, along with the Chamber's legislative luncheon held this spring, help close that information gap 


The town hall format is unique in one sense. On those occasions where legislators do meet with the voters back home, those are generally gatherings where a specific political point of view is dominant.  


Tuesday was a departure from that, an event open to all, regardless their ideology. Not only do citizens get to hear and be heard by their legislators, they get hear what others, who may not be in their own echo chamber have to say.  


Sometimes, the questions are more revealing than the answers: They allow us to get an idea of how the other guy sees things. That is important because regardless of how hopeless our political dialogue appears now, common ground is out there. We find it by talking and listening and feeling each other out. 


In truth, our nation is rarely of one mind. Most everything we have achieved as a democracy has come not through consent, but through compromise. 


And the first step in compromise is listening -- listening to each other and to those we elect. 


It is doubtful Tuesday's town hall resolved any issues, but those discussions may be the first steps toward solutions. 


We applaud the Chamber for providing this forum. We hope it proves to be an incentive for many more.



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