Guilford Forum Canceled, But if Not Now, When?

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To the Editor:

Statewide elections are less than a month away, and Rah -rah campaign events and brief ‘meet and greets’ with candidates abound. The legislative actions taken in Hartford address issues that affect our daily lives. They impact our local businesses, they shape the look and feel of our communities through zoning and land use regulations, and they determine what it is that our children are learning in school. But where do voters turn to obtain meaningful information and details about specific legislation that a candidate may or may not support?

I was one of two Guilford residents who tried to provide this important information to voters with a Legislative Forum. But our attempt crashed and burned at the Guilford Republican Town Committee (RTC) executive committee meeting on October 5. Our painful experience exemplifies the often-myopic perspective of political party town committees and the parochialism of small-town party politics in general. It also reveals the obstacles independent-minded members of these groups must frequently surmount in order to successfully carry out a worthy project. These political organizations are happy to have members fundraise for them, man phone banks, knock on doors, and install yard signs as long as they adhere to the party-dictated parameters. Yes, they want your help, but do not try to stray off the party reservation in any creative and meaningful way of your own. They want obedience, not leadership! That is the lesson of our experience.

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My friend and I had organized an informational forum officially sponsored by the RTC to be held on the evening of October 18 at the Guilford Community Center. Three important speakers had graciously committed to address the audience in the areas of their expertise: the economy, zoning and land use, and education. One is an attorney and the other two are currently legislators in state government and running for reelection. We had spent three months planning this forum. Posters were printed and the publicity effort had begun. Although the event was to take place in Guilford, its importance and appeal were broader. Legislation that emanates from the state capitol affects every citizen in Connecticut, regardless of what town they live in. In addition, there’s an obvious trend in state government to wrest control of local decisions in these areas and transfer the authority to Hartford. The purpose of our forum was to educate voters, to encourage them to learn more about these issues themselves, to question their elected leaders and ultimately, to make wise decisions in the voting booth on Election Day. We had prepared a multi-page booklet listing specific bills and other legislative information for attendees to take home for reference.

Apparently, the executive committee members lacked the vision to understand the enormous benefit to the voting public of such an event. Despite reassurances of support over the course of the planning phase, they criticized and dismissed the entire premise of the event as unnecessary during the October 5 executive committee meeting.

Because the Guilford RTC was sponsoring the program, the committee members seemed to feel they retained the right to suddenly restructure the purpose and agenda of the forum. Instead of a dignified evening of informative speeches and questions from the audience, their idea was to turn it into yet another opportunity for the usual campaign speeches, political platitudes and cheerleading that proliferate in an election year. That this altered concept was never OUR intention seemed not to matter to the committee – even though we had secured the speakers, and made all the other necessary arrangements.

In addition to the executive committee members, several others in attendance were quite vocal in their objections. My friend and co-organizer was given no opportunity to explain in any detail what the program was about, and she was put on the defensive by a small-minded group that simply wasn’t interested in what she had to say. They had made up their minds that the event was not going to happen as we had originally conceived it. Every comment they made was derogatory and belittled our efforts and the importance of the forum itself. She was traumatized by their verbal attack.

As things happened, the following day one of our speakers withdrew because of campaign issues. This, combined with the complete lack of support on the part of the executive committee of the RTC, resulted in our deciding to cancel the event. After we cancelled the forum, one of the explanations for the debacle floated by a committee member was that it was scheduled too close to the election. And perhaps this just wasn’t the right time for an educational event. Since when is it ”too late” to inform voters about such critical matters? Considering the serious problems facing our country, to this ridiculous assertion I say, If not now, when?

Our nation is now severely divided and in turmoil. Inflation is destroying our economy. Every day the state and federal bureaucracy grow larger and we lose more of our freedom through regulation and government control. Citizenship does not begin and end on Election Day in the voting booth. On the contrary. Citizens must be self-restrained, self-reliant, assertive and protective of their natural rights, and possess civic knowledge. An engaged citizenry is at the very core of our freedom. The Founders meant for each of us to be involved in the process of self-government. That is why they began the preamble to the Constitution with the empowering words “We the People”. The Legislative Forum that we had so carefully planned would have been an obvious demonstration of the importance of this principle. Citizens who wish to “make a difference”, to contribute to positive change in their communities, states, and the country, will have to continue to think outside of the box and not be discouraged by the petty politics so often on display in many small towns, including Guilford.

Colleen Roberts
Guilford, CT