Thus I Swear by
(22 Stories)

Prompted By First Time Voting

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Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Freedom of Speech,” 1943. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4″ x 35 1/2″. Story illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post,” February 20, 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN.

I remember my first vote, but I really remember the first time voters voted for me.

Where everybody has a say


In my early thirties I decided to run for Town Meeting. To my delight my precinct supported me in this grand ambition. On election night I easily won a three-year term.

Then, as now, Town Meeting was held in the high school auditorium the third week in April. That first night I rushed from work to the meeting and excitedly took a seat. Looking around I glowed as I saw friends and neighbors among the several hundred TMMs (Town Meeting Members). I was so proud to join–for however long–these men and women who worked for a common good. Not that there wouldn’t be fireworks along the way. There would be plenty of them.

The crack! of the Moderator’s gavel silenced the chatter. I rose with the room for the Pledge. To my surprise the first order of business was the swearing in of new members. I stood, raised my right hand, and solemnly promised to fulfill my duties with honor. For a moment I thought I might burst into tears.

What never fails to move me is Norman Rockwell’s painting, Freedom of Speech, from his series The Four Freedoms. Depicting the venerable tradition of the New England Town Meeting, Freedom celebrates the right of every voice to be heard.

Just so.


I served two terms as a TMM until my precinct’s boss ladies noticed I was a fiscal conservative and voted me out. 


The “Four Freedom” paintings are on permanent display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.  Visit recommended!





Profile photo of Susan Bennet Susan Bennet
I'm so happy to have joined the gracious Retro family. The basics:
I have a background in marketing and museums.
I come alive when the leaves turn red.
I regret every tech mistake I have made or will ever make on this site.
I want a dog.

Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    How wonderful that you were an active participant in your town governance. You’ve shared many wonderful stories about your local newspaper, and other goings-on around your town. And now this. Interesting that the boss-ladies conspired to vote you out when they disagreed with you.

    I, too, well-up when I think about our Freedoms (as I write about when voting with my infant son).

  2. John Shutkin says:

    I’m delighted, Susan, that you, too, decided to focus on town meetings for this prompt. It obviously resonates with me. And your TM involvement has far exceeded mine as just a John Q. Citizen — though I have been asked by the chair of our Energy and Sustainability Committee to present our committee’s position at our upcoming TM on the placement of the new fire station. (We just want the damn thing built ASAP as it promises to be a net-zero energy building.)

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    I hope people continue to participate and not be frightened away.

  4. Thanx for your story Susan and your service!

    The Four Freedoms are indeed wonderful, I’m lucky to be able to see them periodically at the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. They’re in the permanent collection of course but the transient exhibits are also inevitably wonderful!

  5. Jim Willis says:

    Your memories of Town Meeting days brought back my own memories of covering them in the 1980s as a reporter, a part-time job I had in Winchester, MA, while I was teaching journalism full-time at Northeastern University. We also held our town meetings in the high school auditorium, and it was all new to me since I was not a native New Englander. I believe that’s still the only section of the country that still held them. Anyway, I always thought they came closer to real grassroots democracy than any other structure I’ve seen used in America. And they certainly proved lively at times!

    • Susan Bennet says:

      Yes, there were always “characters” at TM, and that’s what made them fun. Without talking with you, I imagine it was challenging to get up to speed with Winchester’s politics quickly as you started your reporting. This was the case with me when my uncle died. I had to immediately sweep in and keep the paper going. I knew nothing of the town, but/and I knew I had to immediately hire a local-ish reporter to cover the various meetings. I had no idea if she was doing it correctly or well, and that was probably a good thing. Nice to meet a fellow TM observer!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Thank you for doing your part and for the wonderful featured image. I had forgotten about that Rockwell painting. Although the audience wasn’t very diverse back then, they were all listening to the speaker. That would be so helpful these days!

  7. Susan Bennet says:

    Thanks, Laurie. I’d prefer not to describe this as “service”; it was my privilege and a great experience. As for Rockwell, it’s too bad that the art of this illustrator was so minimized for years. Look at that painting!

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    When I look at that Rockwell painting, I always imagine that the elderly gentleman to the speaker’s right is his father, looking up at his son with pride.

    I also look for a black or brown or Asian face, but you can’t have everything….

    • Susan Bennet says:

      That’s a lovely idea about the possible father connection, Dave. I like it.
      Re race, when we were born, 90% of the U.S. population was Euro-American, and probably higher in rural Vermont, where he lived at the time. It’s O.K. I never wish anyone away. FYI, the Rockwell family moved to Stockbridge, MA, in 1953 for his wife, who needed psychiatric treatment. Black care follows even the most fortunate of us.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    OK, a quick look online instructed me that Rockwell was well aware of race and racism, and did not shy away from exposing them, especially as he got older and more secure in his career. Good on him!

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