Friday, February 15, 2008
Carlisle young people turn out for Primary Election
"It was wonderful to see so many young people voting," recalled Town Clerk Charlene Hinton when discussing the town's Presidential Primary Election, held over a week ago on February 5 at Town Hall. Assistant Town Clerk Irene Blake agreed as she prepared to supply me with significant numbers that proved the case. According to Blake's numbers, there were 121 absentee ballots, the vast majority of which were from college students. In 2004, there were 49 absentee ballots for the Presidential Primary.
Of the 88 residents that registered to vote from January 1, 2008 until the last day to register, January 16, almost 40 were born in the late '80s. Overall in the February 5th Carlisle Presidential Primary, 2,234 residents out of the 3,640 registered voters went to the polls. In the 2004 Presidential Primary, 923 out of 3,502 registered voters, participated. That works out to 61% vs. 26%. With a substantially larger turnout for this recent election and from my own observations while working at the polls over the years, it was apparent that more young people than ever were casting their ballots in the election.
Working as an election official from 4 until 8 p.m., checking voters in and handing out ballots, it was obvious to me that students were voting en masse, often with a parent, sometimes together with their entire family, sometimes on their own. There was one CCHS host family mother who brought her American Field Service student from China to the polls so he might learn more about our electoral process (no, he did not get to vote).
To learn more about these first-time voters, I spoke with two CCHS seniors from Carlisle, Kate Ostrowski and Phillip Dumka, both 18. "My mom [Carol Ostrowski] asked me if I'd like to help count votes. She and other moms from Patch Meadow Lane have counted votes for years," responded Ostrowski. Continuing on, Ostrowski mentioned a popular social studies class for juniors and seniors at the high school, "The Presidency," taught by Tracy Davies. The class was taken by a good friend last year, followed by an internship with Senator John McCain over the summer. "At school, lots of my friends are very Democratic and liberal. I love listening to them debate the issues with my friend who interned for McCain," she explained. And she added, "I know lots of kids not old enough to vote who were really upset they couldn't vote this time."
Phillip Dumka said he was interested in the election because his mom was interested. "We talked together at home during the debates and on Election Day, and students talked about it at school," said Dumka. Both Ostrowski and Dumka mentioned the CCHS club "Junior State" where interested students meet once a week to discuss issues of government. This year was Dumka's first time to join the club, at a time close to the election, when he was trying to decide for whom to vote. "We had a mock election at the school, several months ago," he added."Booths were set up during the lunch block and the entire school was invited to take part." I asked who won. "Obama won overall," replied Dumka.
"After the last few elections, I felt we had to do something," said Dumka. "It has become a big deal, and I was happy I could vote this time." Like Dumka, many other young people were happy to vote, and were proud to place that "I voted" sticker on the lapels of their jackets, as they marched out of Town Hall.
Counting bubbles and blessings
This past week I fell into conversation with one of the merchants in the center of Concord. He had taken over an established business four or five years before, and has maintained the continuity between the previous owner and his regime. Each month since he has bought the business his revenue has increased. Business cycles have fluctuated both ways over the course of these past years. The merchant's string of successful months is as much a testament to his hard work in staying close to the customer as it is to his sunny disposition and interpersonal skills with both customers and employees.
Nevertheless, he confessed that this past January his revenue, for the first time, not only did not rise, but actually went down a small amount. He has enough reserves to weather an extended downturn, but he was most concerned about retaining employees. As a result, he has cut back some orders from various suppliers as he waits to see what the coming months will bring. Thus the effects of one slowdown ripple out across a broader spectrum. Nevertheless, with customers crowding the floor and the owner's broad smile, it was hard to tell a downturn had occurred.
Like most readers of the Mosquito, I have been following the recent stories about the downturn in local real estate sales, lower budgets for town services, and lower revenues to support the schools. Housing is our principal industry. When hard times hit, more houses go on the market, and those whose economic outlooks have altered leave. We do not have the highly visible signs of a downturn — the empty mills and office buildings of Lowell, the shuttered plants of Lansing and Dearborn. Nevertheless, this downturn has an added twist: if one loses a job, one might not be able to sell a house so quickly and leave.
Our most visible economic enterprise is, of course, Ferns Country Store. The management of the store leaves no stone unturned when it comes to services provided; not for nothing did Ferns win Massachusetts Retailer of the Year. Given the bustling clientele and the cheerful demeanor of the store's staff, one would never guess the uncertain nature of the economic times. A great sandwich will always be in demand.
The rural calm of Carlisle continues, seemingly unabated. The median price of a Carlisle home may fluctuate several hundred thousand dollars in a bad year. For most, who remain in town for a number of years, it is a paper gain or loss. If one neighbor leaves, another moves in. Classes at the school are full; town committees continue to meet; parents drive their children to soccer games regardless.
The "cottage industries" of Carlisle — from chocolates and cheese to high tech enterprises run out of garages and basements — remain for the most part hidden activities. They employ relatively few people; their activities generate little traffic, advertising, or publicity. Few notice when one opens or closes.
So the Carlisle bubble remains intact. I can remember standing on my porch looking at the fiery swamp maples with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach after hearing of the 500-point stock market tumble in October 1987. We have lived through the first Gulf War and, like the current war, nothing momentous occurred in Carlisle — no war drives, no large rallies, no visible sacrifices. We have since gone through more economic gyrations, with greater losses and gains. It seems the market always comes back with the songbirds and crocuses in the spring.
This is not to say that life in Carlisle isn't without its battles. Jane Austen wrote six novels while the Napoleonic Wars ravaged continental Europe. Two of her brothers fought heroically in those conflicts. Only in the last novel, Persuasion, do we hear that naval officers have come ashore, looking for society due to the "peace" with Napoleon (He Whom Jane Will Not Name). Yet no one has written with more clarity of the conflicts of the human heart. We can find life, or make life, as hard in Carlisle as anywhere.
Still, an eerie tranquility hovers over our streets, our houses and municipal buildings, our open and wooded land. Carlisle always manages to look the same: the bustling center, the vistas of field and wood, the solace of a long walk far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife. Let those of us who do live here live generously, and count our blessings.
© 2008 The