Strategic Planning in Rural Town Meetings: Issues Related to Citizen Participation and Democratic Decision Making
The political economy of power in North America is concentrated in hierarchical status structures that include location, family, education, gender, race, income, and culture. Invariably, small rural communities located outside the commuter’s reach of urban and suburban corporate engines fall near the bottom of these hierarchies. Yet many of these often forgotten communities are vibrant places where people pride themselves on knowing each other; where local government is accessible and responsive; and where churches, schools, and neighborhoods are important social political networks of support (Ryan, Terry, & Woebke, 1995). Although being careful not to romanticize rural living, these communities are rich in social capital yet have limited financial, physical, and human capital (Ryan, Terry, & Besser, 1995). Their social capital, characterized by the democratic decision-making processes in local organizations, requires maximum participation by every citizen. This chapter takes a phenomenological look at one of these democratic processes: town meetings in rural communities.