Angus Abercrombie ’26 wasn’t just looking to finish his first year at Emerson strong. He also was campaigning to be elected as a Belmont (Mass.) Town Meeting member.
While taking three classes as a full-time student, he spent a lot of time campaigning in his hometown roughly 8 miles northwest of Emerson’s downtown Boston campus.
“I have always been the kind of person that, when I see a problem in my community, I want to fix it,” said Abercrombie. “I’ve always been part of the political conversation in Belmont. I couldn’t run [previously] because I wasn’t 18. In Town Meeting, I can push for what I want to see in town, and support friends and colleagues in shared interests of what we’ve been discussing.”
Town Meeting, often called the “purest form of democracy” is a form of local government practiced in smaller communities across New England. Acting as a municipality’s legislative body, it can take the form of open town meeting, in which all registered voters are eligible to vote, or, as in Belmont, representative town meeting, where members are elected to represent their neighbors. Abercrombie was elected in April, and had several Town Meetings under his belt when he spoke with Emerson Today.
For the Political Communications major, running for Town Meeting seemed like a natural move for him. This semester he also was the Class of 2026 president, served on the Financial Advisory Board of the Student Government Association (SGA), and was proud to work on getting free menstrual products in all campus bathrooms.
Some people can give you an update on last night’s baseball game, Abercrombie said. He can provide updates about what’s going on in town government. He takes pride in being able to inform Belmont residents about how to get a tree planted on their property by the town. He also lights up when discussing Belmont’s bond rating, funding the town’s pension, the effect of Proposition 2 ½ on Massachusetts cities and towns, and Belmont’s lack of commercial tax revenue.
“We don’t have access to that commercial revenue, and it’s harmful when we look at the school budget,” said Abercrombie. “We [were discussing] cutting sixth-grade foreign language classes. Kindergarten aides were on the chopping block. But we messed around with the budget and found funding for it.”
Belmont’s Town Meeting takes place during several spring evenings, and makes decisions on the town’s budgets and local bylaws. He said his SGA experience served as good practice for Town Meeting. He added that his first-semester class, Conflict and Negotiations, with affiliated faculty member and Braintree District 3 Town Councilor Elizabeth Maglio, was also very helpful.
“I was talking with her when I was figuring out how to do my campaign,” said Abercrombie. “She was hugely supportive and a huge help. I loved the class. A good negotiation can always be fun.”
Abercrombie said he grew up admiring his parents for being involved in their community.
“My parents have always been very engaged in volunteer work in the town and supporting the community and schools. But they don’t like delving into politics,” said Abercrombie. “Things get messy and rowdy. …It’s a major commitment to how much you’re engaged with the community.”
He said attending Town Meeting is not a huge time commitment, however. He enjoys learning about the articles being discussed and voted on.
“The bigger commitment is you have to take a stance on things and engage with the community on a lot of things,” said Abercrombie. “You have a body of 300 politically-engaged people in town who vote against each other. Sometimes it creates friendships, sometimes it creates tensions with neighbors.”
Recently, members had a heated debate over whether fees should be waived for park reservations for certain nonprofits in Belmont.
“These fees are not huge, but they do bring in revenue that goes to the Recreation Department to keep the properties clean and keep parks as nice as they are,” said Abercrombie. “A look at those organizations looking to benefit from [waived fees], I would find it hard to believe that it’s difficult to get donations to cover the $60 to $70 per event fee. It’s reasonable for reserving a park. I think it was important to keep that revenue.”
Town Meeting members agreed with Abercrombie and voted 170-40 not to waive the fees.
“I got up and spoke a few times [during Town Meetings]. I wanted to make sure the young voices I’m representing are being heard,” said Abercrombie.
Knowing he would be campaigning during the spring semester, Abercrombie reduced his class load from four to three, and kept his full-time student status. He said the Emerson ethos inspired him to seek elected office.
“Emerson is a school built on fields: politics, journalism, filmmaking, TV. They are really about building a portfolio and networks. You can’t build a strong portfolio and network if you’re in your dorm room all the time,” said Abercrombie. “The College has built a program to go out and take opportunities. Part-time work can allow you to build your career. Some were working on a film project. I was working on a campaigning project.”
Thinking ahead, Abercrombie said it’s inevitable that he runs for another office in the future, and noted his yard signs can be used for other campaigns.
“I like campaigning. It’s draining, but so much fun going door-to-door and talking to people,” Abercrombie said. “Some people don’t like door knocking. When you walk up to the steps and have a conversation with someone you’ve never met and at the end of the conversation, they trust you enough to vote for you – it’s a great feeling.”