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The Day Seven Bracelet

Caucus


2-3-10
I went to the caucus for my precinct yesterday. Iíve never been to one before so it was an interesting process. Very intimidating. Itís not a process that makes sense right away. Actually, it still doesnít make a lot of sense to me, but I figured that if we really mean to change the world, I need to participate in these kinds of things.

The basic premise is that our group of sixty or seventy (mostly white male by four to one) people determine what candidates and which issues are important to us. We discuss and vote (though not necessarily in that order) and then send delegates on to the next level to repeat the process until it reaches the state level where the final decisions are made on who will represent the party and the platform that represents the issues that we care about.

Not every state has a caucus system.

But itís very complicated. I went with my dad (who often goes). We walked into the cafeteria at the public high-school in our neighborhood. It was relatively quiet even though dozens of (mostly white male) people were there already. Having never been to a caucus and not really understanding if I was ďallowedĒ to be at the caucus and having no idea what my responsibilities were as a participant in the caucus, I was super intimidated. I felt like most of these (mostly white male) people were staring at me and thinking that I had no place there. Despite being a mostly white male, I really felt out of place and unwelcome initially, but this was all in my head as I had just as much right to be there as anyone.

Once things got rolling, there was a general assumption that everybody had some idea of how this worked. It was ten minutes or so into agenda items and votes before someone suggested that an explanation of the process be given. It was only then that I had a chance to look at the agenda (there werenít enough copies for everyone). From a certain point of view it is all refreshingly informal, but for me, I was just confused. They started asking for volunteers for tasks that werenít being explained. They were talking about events in the future that I didnít really know existed.

I went to the caucus expecting that we would be discussing the candidates for governor and people would be trying to get me to support their candidate either directly or by addressing the whole group. Instead, I was asked to vote on the candidates immediately upon walking into the room. I hadnít even heard of most of the candidates, so I abstained, waiting for the campaigning that never happened.

One guy led the whole event. I gathered that he had been mailed the relevant paperwork for leading this thing because he had been in some similar position in the past. We voted that he continue to do what he was doing and he accepted. He did a fairly good job. He was really good at yielding to voices from the group without diminishing his authority, an important skill in a mob (and this was a mob of sorts), but he looked at the floor almost the entire time. He spoke in a really dispassionate tone that was kind of depressing. It was almost like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. Made me think that his job was totally undesirable.

This guy (whose name escapes me) led us through adopting rules for the evening and signing up to be a delegate at the next level. He supplied us dates (not that kind of date) and eventually offered an explanation for how the whole process worked. This explanation was more obligatory than explanatory. I still felt like a fish out of water, but on the whole this guy seemed to have been the right choice (not that there were any other takers).

Our State Rep and State Senator showed up to stump for one of the candidates for governor. That was interesting, but I couldnít tell if these guys were actually running for reelection too or just campaigning for their choice of candidates. The whole thing is set up for people who are really interested in the process, care deeply for a candidate or issue, and have some prior experience (beyond voting) in participatory government. It is not welcoming to new people and itís not set up to educate the uninitiated. Itís a system that I suspect encourages extremists because these seem to be the people most likely to show up.

Beyond all of that, it was ton of fun. I learned a lot, gained some perspective, and I have a much better understanding of the process now. I was really disappointed in the candidate selection process, but there was a resolution selection portion that involved about 45 minutes of people getting up to offer us a statement about an issue that was important to them and then a discussion among the whole group about the pros and cons of that particular resolution. Anybody could get up and offer any resolution that they liked.

My dad offered the first resolution: Be it resolved that state and local taxes should be progressive so that the highest income residents pay the highest percent of taxes.

A few people made some comments. One woman suggested adding ďespecially income taxesĒ to the resolution and the group voted (with permission from the resolutionís author) in favor of adding that. Then we voted on the whole resolution and it passed unanimously. There were about a half dozen resolutions and they all passed by overwhelming majority.

And so on. It was super interesting. My dad said that caucuses can vary greatly in how they proceed and the tone of the discussions, but I still feel much more connected to the democratic process and Iím much more likely to go to something like this in the future.

The whole event took about two hours. People seemed to be allowed to come and go as they pleased. Perhaps half the group had already gone by the time the event was over.

I donít think it would take much to make this a more approachable system. It was created to be a very fair process, accepting of everybody, but itís so different from anything in my daily life that it comes across as very foreign and not intuitive.

The simple agenda, while helpful, didnít go far enough for a newbie like me. A simple pamphlet tailored to the uninitiated could have gone a long way in making me feel welcomed and then making me more able to participate.

Also, the only way I really knew about this event was through my dad. I heard a few mentions of caucus coverage on the radio before Tuesday night, but thatís about it. Iím not sure how much money the parties should spend promoting the dates, times, and locations, but I think we all could benefit from a little better information distribution.

I remember hearing about this stuff in high-school when I couldnít vote, didnít feel I could participate, and really didnít care. You have to be of legal age in order to attend the caucus after all.
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