It’s was caucus time again on Saturday. Another day spent with my “neighbors and friends.” There was a crowd of about 1500 plus gathered in a local high school.
I was slapped with a sticker when I walked in the door. Thus clearly tagged for Hillary, I signed in as the alternate HRClinton delegate for my precinct. I received my “credentials” — which consisted of a blue postcard with my name and info on it and a white piece of yarn to thread through the holes punched in the top. This I looped around my neck like a kindergartner on a field trip. I squeezed through the crowd and found a seat in the “Hillary” area, balloons and signs marking out the 2 of the 8 sections. These big wooden bleachers were rolled out in the gym and there were some plastic cafeteria chairs arranged in the middle of the floor for anyone who couldn’t scale the steps of the bleachers. (Those steps were high; my knees were unhappy and I thought I would be tumbling down the risers before the day was out.)
Call to order and the flag salute.
During the initial count there were speeches by the party people (in da house), state representatives, guys running for office, and our congressman. I chatted with some of the people around me, scored some more stickers (whoo), and had the opportunity to do some quality people-watching. I didn’t see anyone I knew yet, except a lady from the bus who is an avid reader. I perused my “program” and the party platform and felt kinda glad that I had come. I had to, of course, because I had promised (PROMISED) the delegate lady from down the street that I would. I still hadn’t seen her and I started suspecting that I wouldn’t. Anyway, leading up to this I had been starting to feel the first waves of ambivalence about this primary and the candidates since it all began so many months ago. Being at the caucus gave me a little spark again, remembering that something’s going to change soon.
Then I was summoned to be seated as a Delegate and went back down the bleachers, through the crowds, to get my new “credentials” — the yellow postcard of the lady who didn’t show, with my name written on the back in black Sharpie(TM). And a new piece of yarn. Then I got to wait on line for the bathroom for a while. Then I climbed back into the bleachers. It was a bit less crowded now. And time for the second count.
The platform committee head was at the podium going through the platform line by line. People went to the microphone on the floor to state that they wanted to “flag” an item for discussion later. If the people at the microphone flagged an item that had already been flagged, or started explaining why they wanted to flag the item, they would get shouted out by the crowd and politely, but sternly, redirected by the man at the podium to come back later. Nearly the whole platform was flagged, every section from Agriculture to Transportation. Flagging meant that they wanted to debate something about the item – the wording, or it’s inclusion at all. The crowd shouting at the speakers was a little harsh at first — some of these people were clearly new to the process — but after the people before you got shouted at, you’d think the lesson would have been learned. Much of the shouting was incomprehensible as well, just a lot of “HEeynoOTSt-opwahablAHHMmaa-ambACkcantDDid” background noise. The intent was clear, but the directions not so much. Some speakers got frustrated and shouted back “what??? why? WHAT?!” into the microphone.
Next, the Mayor came and spoke. (After someone hissed at the announcement of his impending arrival we are all admonished to play nice on this special happy party day.) The tally of the second count of delegates was announced. As expected, it was still Obama over HRClinton at about 4 to 1. Each side then had a representative speak for three minutes (only!) about why their candidate is the greatest ever. After which there were 15 minutes allotted for the people who wanted to change their votes over to the other candidate to do so. (In case you are wondering, the Edwards delegate and the Kucinich delegates did not reach the minimum to be “seated.” I don’t know which candidate they went to.)
After this the debate about the platform resumed. Each item that was flagged was announced and the motions were made from the microphone on the floor. If someone wanted to amend or delete an item, there could be two speakers for and two against. It was very Robert’s Rules of Order. If someone messed up, inadvertently moved to a new motion, or went out of turn, the crowd again started its shouting and mumbling en masse. “Out of order! Out of order!!” Democracy in action. It reminded me of Parliamentary proceedings in the in the UK — a lot of “huzzah huzzah” and “bah humbug.” Fun!
In order to vote pro or con on the motions we had to hold our “credentials” in the air to be counted. Generally one group of yellow postcards held aloft out numbered the other group of yellow postcards held aloft, but when they didn’t a count was called. The word ‘archaic’ came to mind. I couldn’t help but think that here in the year Two Thousand Eight, things would be more streamlined, more precise, less wonky. And at this point I would like to comment that some of my “neighbors and friends” are… crazy. Not incoherent, but a bit illogical? maybe out of touch? I’ve tried to find the words to describe them, but you’ve just gotta experience them. I think many of them may be the oddball library patrons that plague my favorite librarian.
So, we only got as far as Education before the final delegate counts came in. Then it was time to adjourn to our congressional districts, by candidate, for the selection of the next set of delegates. Our group trundled off to the school auditorium. We were all given printed ballots with the names of the people who wanted to continue on as delegates to the county-state-and-eventually national conventions. Except, a page was missing. So our group leader had to read out 30 names for us to write down on our printed ballots. It went a little like this…
“Number 112, Melissa Haffersnatch.”
“IS THAT WITH TWO ESSES?”
“PLEASE SPELL THAT LAST NAME!”
“H-a-f-f-e-r snatch. Number 113, Joan Tremble.”
“WAIT! YOU’RE GOING TOO FAST!”
“No, I think I am going just fine. Keep up people or we’ll be here forever. Number 114, John Johnson.”
“THERE’S A LADY UP HERE WHO CAN’T KEEP UP! YOU ARE DISENFRANCHISING HER!”
It was a bit testy. All the preamble and materials and everyone said we would be going no later than 4pm. But it was already about 3:30 pm and we had yet to listen to all 115 people’s 30-second speeches about why they should be elected as the delegates. Finally we got to the speeches, and it turned out that a bunch of people were gone already. I guess they would have been sucky, uncommitted delegates! We needed to choose seven women and seven men. Some of the speeches were dopey, some good, some very good. At one point I got little verklempt when a woman made her statement …. about how you see in the history books the lists of presidents we’ve had so far, all 43 of them, and how you might feel imagining looking at those rows of faces, those rows of oily portraits, and then seeing HRClinton at number 44.
Well, hell yeah. My heart might grow three sizes that day.
Finally the speechettes were done, the ballots collected and we were free to move on. There were still about six or seven more pages of platform to go through – line by line, everyone’s nit-picky, and/or perfectly reasonable motions. But I was out of water, and out of Luna bars, and out of other things, and it was well past 4pm, so I called it a day and shuffled on back to the parking lot. I suspect that the motions on the platform might still be going on today, with the die-hards, fatigued and bleary-eyed and holding their credentials aloft.