Monday, February 11, 2008

What the hell is a caucus anyway??

Living as I do in the "Show Me State" (that would be Missouri for those of you who flunked your gubment classes), I had the privilege of casting my vote in the Democratic Primary held in my fine state on what has come to be known as Super Tuesday. I am not ashamed to let it be known that my choice for president of these United States over the next EIGHT years (that's right I said eight!) is Mr. Barack Obama. I won't get into all of the nuances of why he is in my opinion the best person for the job except to say that when the platforms of the various candidates basically mirror each other, that only leaves the intangibles that each possess that connect with those feelings that come from your gut or instinct; and in my case, Mr. Obama's intangibles (i.e. VISION, LEADERSHIP, HEART, etc.) in combination with his tangibles (i.e. platform, integrity, HEART, etc.) have a stronger connection with my instincts and gut than do Mrs. Clinton's.

However, none of that is the point of this post. As a consequence of having to go to picturesque Omaha, Nebraska on bizness this week, I had the added pleasure of spending the weekend in the midwest resort Mecca known as Kearney, Nebraska. Okay, okay, so it is NOT a resort Mecca, but my best friend and her family live there so it is almost like a vacation escape for me so there! Anyway, because I spent the weekend in Kearney and my friend and her husband are Democrats as well, I got to witness Nebraska's first Democratic Caucus first hand.

Now most of you who read this blog are in my opinion pretty damned smart and thereby, you all probably already know what a caucus is exactly. Me, on the other hand, I'm just gettin' by with a little help from my friends which means that I had not a clue of how exactly a caucus differs from a regular old primary such as the one in which I participated on Super Tuesday. Well, now I know and based on what I know now, I'd say that those who support candidates through the caucus system (particularly those who caucused in Kearney, Nebraska last Saturday), are a much hardier and loyal bunch than those like me who simply cast a vote in a primary. From the conditions under which they might have to caucus to the amount of time investment required, all I have to say is that I applaud those who caucus!!! Read on to learn what I witnessed.

Let me set the stage for the Kearney, Nebraska caucus.

Held on a blustery Saturday morning (February 9th, 2008), at the Alumni House on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the caucus began by having those who are registered Democrats in the state of Nebraska and who support Obama sign in on the front porch while those who had decided to support Clinton signed in at the back door. Once signed in, each voter was given a sticker with the name of the candidate they supported to wear on their chest. Then Obama supporters were allowed to enter the front rooms of the Alumni House while Clinton supporters occupied a large multi-purpose room at the rear. Those who either had not decided or like me were simply there to observe, were given red stickers marked "O" for observer and sent to the back wall of the "Hillary" room to watch the proceedings.

Separated from my friends who were in the "Obama" section of the house I leaned up against the back wall of the "Hillary" room where I subsequently had several interesting interactions. Of note, is the fact that Kearney, Nebraska is an overwhelmingly caucasian town with a black population I imagine of less than 1%. Thus regardless of which candidate you supported, if like me you are a black American attending this particular caucus, you found yourself one of less than ten black folk dispersed throughout the entire house. So don't be fooled for a minute by those who wish to put forth the notion that this Democratic nomination process is simply about races aligning with their own.

The first person I met was a white woman who was in her fifties who explained to me that she was a disgruntled Republican who felt that "anything was better than what we have now" and that was why she was there. The next was an 88 year old white man who was a Republican who had already officially switched parties a few weeks ago and had come to the Democratic Caucus to vote for Hillary. The third was a white female college student whose family had been Republican from "the beginning of time" (as described by her); she didn't know what she was doing but felt that if she didn't vote for someone she would be ashamed of herself.

At this point, the workings of this first Nebraska caucus were explained to the group as follows:

All of those who were registered Democrats would be asked to line up and be counted based on which of the two Democratic candidates they were supporting. At this point, the request was made that anyone in the room who was NOT supporting Hillary go to the front "Obama" section of the house and vice versa. Undecideds were asked to remain against the back wall with observers unless they had come to a decision and then if they had, to go to the appropriate section of the Alumni House to be counted for their chosen candidate.

At this point, it is important to note that the number of Obama supporters had surged such that they all could not fit in the front section of the Alumni House. Thus, the overflow crowd spilled out onto the front lawn where they had to remain for about one and a half hours of the approximately two and a half hour process. The explanation of events continued as follows:

Following the first count, representatives from each candidates's "camp" would be allowed to go and speak to the other camp for five minutes in an attempt to change minds, sway undecideds in their chosen candidate's favor, and convince stalwarts that they were backing the wrong horse so to speak. Once these representatives were done speaking, a half hour for contemplation and discussion was allowed after which a second and final count was taken which would determine which candidate won the caucus.

After the first count was taken, Obama had a commanding lead over Clinton. At this point, the representatives crossed over to the competitor's camps to try to change minds and sway attitudes. Now began the thirty minute contemplation period and yours truly, Ms. Just Write Now swung into action.

Being sent to hold up the wall in the "Hillary" room was a matter of available space. However, it wasn't fair to Hillary as Ms. Just Write Now had the opportunity to put a lil' somethin somethin on the minds of those disgruntled former Republicans and undecided voters who surrounded her. The woman who was changing parties shared that she was thinking of supporting Hillary because she has more "experience" than Obama. So the following conversation ensued:

Me: So you feel that seven years in the Senate plus her experience as First Lady can be counted as experienced to become President of the United States?

Her: Yes.

Me: I know a lot of people feel the same as you, but I don't b/c I believe that there is no other job in the world like being President of the United States except maybe being the head of state of another country.

Her: I never thought about it that way before.

Me: Are you happy with the way that things are currently done in Washington D.C.? Do you think the system works well?

Her: No, I think it sucks! That's why I switched parties!

Me: Would you agree that with 7 years of experience working in the existing system, Hillary probably knows her way around in it and works well within it?

Her: Yup! That's exactly why she gets my vote.

Me: Let me ask you one more thing....if you think the current system of government in D.C. sucks then why would you want to vote for someone who is apparently content to work in the system as it is? Of the two candidates, which would you think would work harder to change the current system; the one with so much experience they are used to it and have figured out how to work in it or the candidate with less experience and time to get used to it who is all fired up to change the system? My answer to these questions is that Obama is the one who would actively try to change what in my opinion and yours from what you said before, is a bad system and that is just one more reason he gets my vote.

Her: I'll talk to you later, I'm going to the front to vote for Obama in the second count.

After similar conversations with the 88 year old Republican and the female college student, Ms. Just Write Now ended up moving 2 for 3 into the Barack column. The 88 year old Republican actually had some food for thought for Ms. Just Write Now which once she has had the time to research it might get blogged about here in one of what I promise you will be a limited number of posts about politics.

Now I know some of you Hillary supporters are probably thinking that was not fair. Maybe it wasn't fair that I was in a room full of her supporters, but that is what caucuses are supposed to be about as it was explained to me on Saturday; trying to change minds and find a consensus. It is also important to note that the minds I "changed" were undecided to begin with; so actually, I truly did Hillary no harm (lol). Additionally, keep in mind that almost 100 of Obama's supporters were forced to stand outside in 32 degree weather due to lack of space inside in the Obama section while the Hillary section had plenty of room to house her supporters, the undecideds, observers, and if they had been of a mind to, the Obama supporter overflow as well. However, no move was made to move those hardy individuals inside.

For that reason alone I say, those of you who caucus are a stronger, more loyal lot than those of us who primary. On Super Tuesday, it rained cats and dogs in the Show Me State and I procrastinated and vacillated the entire day about whether or not I would brave the elements to cast my primary vote. Ultimately, the only thing that got me out the door to vote was the potential nightmare of waking up Wednesday morning to find that Hillary had won by one vote. I suspect the same was true for many of my fellow Democrats here in Missouri. Were I in the situation many of Obama's supporters in Kearney, Nebraska's Caucus found themselves -- standing in the cold waiting for more than an hour to be twice counted -- I can't be absolutely sure I would have been counted at all.

So at the end of the event, the final talley ended up:



These same results were mirrored in caucuses all across the state leading to Mr. Obama winning the poplar vote as well as the delegate appropriation for the great state of Nebraska as he has in so many other states that have held caucuses and primaries to date. Like so many others before them, on Saturday last, members of Kearney, Nebraska's Democratic Party embraced the vision of the man I hope will be this country's next president proving it once again to be true,


(and now as an added bonus, I know first hand what exactly a caucus is to boot!)


LadyLee said...

Well, I'm glad that we don't caucus here in Georgia. I'm not sure too many people would participate.

Rich said...

That was s fabulous post. I'm like ladylee in that I think caucus's work better in less urban settings. Nebraska fits that bill. I'm also just going to put it out there like this -- caucus's wouldn't work in predominantly African American communities because most folks wouldn't show. Like you said, it's hard enough to get people to drive in their warm car, run inside the warm building and stand in line maybe 20 or 30 minutes tops (I always go first thing in the morning so I'm in and out) and vote on a regular basis.

Great post. I'm learning so much more about the election process this time around. I learned a little when Bush stole the election from Gore using the Electoral College and now I'm increasing my knowledge by looking into Super Delegates and Caucus's (thanks to you).

Great Post.

Serenity3-0 said...

This was interesting. I didn't know how this took place. I thought you just went in and cast your vote and went on about your way. I don't like the idea that it was time consuming b/c that meant those who really cared or had a lot of patience cast their votes. Others, well they just kept it moving. Interesting observations Sharon.

Anonymous said...

Aside from kudos about the election, thank you for sharing the video. I've never seen it.

Coming off a recent MLK experience that moved me to tears, I was equally moved to see this young brother sounding the clarion call of both hope AND possibility, with black men and white men, black women and white women, children and the elderly all empowered and believing that "yes, we can."


What would King say to this?