If this is grassroots politics, it's time to xeriscape

Posted on February 5, 2008


This morning I said I wasn’t going to caucus. I said that I couldn’t manage it with two kids, and still couldn’t decide whether Obama or Clinton was the better choice. This evening, with much help from one of our commenters (Djerred) and his wife, who took one of my kids off my hands for the evening even as they were caucusing too, I was able to caucus myself. I realized on the way home that, if I didn’t at least try, if I didn’t at least give the Obama and Clinton supporters a chance to plead their case, I’d kick myself tomorrow.

Caucusing tonight was the worst voting experience I’ve ever had, and I may never caucus again because of it.

I think that the single biggest problem is that the Broomfield County Democrats were totally unprepared for the number of caucus-goers they had. They had prepared for 800-1000 attendees and had at least 2000 attendees. Because of this, their choice of a local high school cafeteria was woefully insufficient – so bad that the fire marshal forced them to expand outside the cafeteria. And the sheer number of vehicles, even with carpooling, swamped the parking lot and created a backup at least a mile long along the main access road to the high school.

It took me an hour to get to the caucus site when, under normal driving conditions, it would be about at 15 minute drive.

My precinct had 65 people show up, but the cafeteria tables we’d had allotted to us sat between 36 and 48 (I didn’t get a good enough look to be more accurate), meaning that we had people sitting on a cinderblock wall behind me and standing around trying not to be in the way. Because of the overwhelming number of people, the caucus got started 45 minutes late – which itself was fine with me, because if they’d started on time, I would have been locked out of the caucus because of traffic. But because they started late, and because there was so many more people, there was less time to actually caucus, and it was harder to hear.

I was one of only three uncommitted voters from my precinct. I was also the last uncommitted voter after the second, and last, straw poll. Technically that made me a target, and that was what I wanted. I wanted to hear the two candidate’s supporters debate their relative merits. I wanted to be convinced that one or the other would be the better president. But I couldn’t hear the Obama supporters when they made their points, and I couldn’t hear the Clinton supporters when they made theirs. And there simply wasn’t enough time during the caucus for me to learn something new about either candidate that would bend me to their side.

My precinct ultimately had too few uncommitted voters to send even a single uncommitted delegate to any of the various conventions (county, state, and national). If it had, I would not have raised my hand to vote for one of the candidates like I ultimately did, because it wasn’t the candidates’ positions that ultimately bent my mind just enough, but rather a comparison between the approaches of two of my fellow voters’ rationales for voting for either Obama or Clinton. It ultimately came down to the fact that the precinct captain for Obama was working as precinct captain for the first time since Bobby, and the precinct captain for Clinton couldn’t say much beyond “Hillary’s not really like she’s portrayed in the media.” So I raised my hand – VERY reluctantly – with the Obama crowd.

Unfortunately, before I had a chance to vote on the other candidates, my son reached the end of his itty-bitty rope, and I had to collect my kids and leave. So I didn’t get a chance to vote on Jared Polis vs. Joan Fitz-Gerald for Congressional District 2, nor did I get a chance to vote on Udall for Senate against someone I’d never heard of and was a single-issue candidate. As I walked out with my children, I heard the empowered caucus official remind everyone to get their vote down on “Form 1” or else it wouldn’t be counted. After all that, I’d forgotten to register my vote on the very form where it needed to be registered in order to be official, and with two tired kids already dressed up in their heavy winter coats, I couldn’t turn around and correct my, and my precinct captain’s, oversight. Instead I went home even more disappointed and put my kids to bed.

A woman in my precinct was all excited for the caucus. “This is grassroots politics at its best,” she said, and she brought both of her teenage children with her to experience it. If this is the best that it gets, if this truly is grassroots politics, then I can’t help but think that it’s time to tear up the grass and replace it with xeriscaping. I voted for Obama not because I really wanted to, not because I believe he’s the best candidate, but because I didn’t want my vote to be ignored. And yet, if I had stuck to my “uncommitted” vote, the distribution of delegates from my precinct would have been exactly the same as if I had voted with Obama. And ultimately, because the caucus was so overwhelmed with voters and so disorganized, my vote still ultimately didn’t matter anyway.

When I was talking about my experience with my wife (who had to work and wasn’t able to caucus), she suggested that I felt cheated. And she’s right. I feel like the “grassroots participation” and “face-to-face… meaningful discourse” mentioned by Frank Venturo in my earlier post were completely missing from my caucus experience. I feel like the marketplace of ideas was flooded with a cacophony of voices, making it impossible for the cream to rise and for the crap to sink. And I feel like both candidates’ most outspoken supporters were in it for themselves, not for the grassroots process they supposedly supported.

But I also feel like I’ve somehow betrayed some nebulous mythological “democracy” by being fundamentally disgusted with my own caucus. I’ve always considered myself a strong believer in voting as a civic duty, far more important than a mere right, and yet I came out of the caucus wondering if I’d ever dream about considering caucusing again. This example of “grassroots politics at its best” was such a turn off for me that, if it had been caucuses instead of primaries way back in 1992 when I voted in my first Presidential election, I might have abandoned voting altogether like so many others of my generation have.

I understand that democracy is sometimes messy, sometimes ugly, and that in some elections there’s more voter interest than in others. But even if that’s the explanation for my disappointment tonight, it still doesn’t excuse the problems that occurred. And I hope that, in four more years, I’ll have moved beyond my feelings tonight. I don’t know. I suppose I’ll find out in four more years.

Who knows – maybe I’ll be the one organizing it all next time. At least then I’d have no-one to blame for a screw up but myself.

Many thanks to Djerrid and his wife/kids – without their help, I couldn’t have made it to the caucus at all with the two kids. I owe you both more than you realize, and I hope to figure out some way to pay you back for all your help tonight.

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