Sunday, April 3, 2016

Caucus, Caucus, I Did a Caucus!

Last Saturday I did something I never expected to do, and went to a caucus. I am willfully un-engaged politically, and pathologically shy about sharing the scant opinions I do have with total strangers, so this was a highly unusual move for me. But it was just down the street, and Mr. Typist had expressed interest, so I figured, eh, how bad could it be? I knew I could leave if things got too uncomfortable, so with an escape route in mind, we trundled over to the local elementary school gym. We got there at 9:00 a.m., and the place was completely, horrifyingly, (or hearteningly, depending on your perspective), jammed. It was standing room only, and the noise was incredible. There was no signage and everything was very confusing. And noisy. Did I mention noisy? Political engagement was a-foot!

Now, this may be where you expect me to write a “the scales fell from my eyes” treatise about the value of the democratic process, civil political discourse, and the importance of coming together as a nation, but nope. I’m not going to write about any of that. Instead, I am going write about how badly organized that event was, and then brag how I could have pulled off a much better one if only someone had thought to put me in charge. You see, I have an event planner lurking within me, and she comes roaring out when witnessing such debacles. I’m helpless to stop her. She immediately begins mentally organizing, calculating, visualizing, re-arranging, and time-keeping when faced with a chaotic mess of a gathering. Here are her thoughts:

Signage, people! You needed signage, for God’s sake. No one knew what table their district was at, and it was so noisy it was almost impossible to suss it out. And all of the people walking around from table to table just added to the noise. I would have had large, colorful, pre-printed signs mounted on tall stands (for visibility) at each table, so the crowds could quickly find where they belonged. This would have cut down on the noise and time wasted as people wandered about, searching for their “tribe”.

Also, I would have yanked the “host” off the stage who added to the confusion by calling the same exact form by two completely different names, for no reason whatsoever. For some reason, he insisted that the form be called something different depending on whether someone printed it out and brought it from home, or if they just filled it out when they got there. This caused a great deal of head-scratching and befuddlement among the already confused crowds. Then, heartbreakingly, the one woman at our table who had the forethought to write her thoughts down, print them out, and bring them to read out loud, turned out to be such a low talker that no one could hear a word that came out of her mouth. It was a moment of supreme irony. In a nutshell, I would have had some way to deal with the noise issue. We can’t have a democratic process if no one can bloody hear anyone.

And, I would have had the event volunteers in bright polo shirts of the same color, perhaps even with big buttons that delineated them as people who could help. As far as I could tell, all of the volunteers just blended in with the rest of the crowd, and it was impossible to tell they were volunteers. I know this decision was probably based in some fear of putting them “above” everyone else, but the uncomfortable fact is, these things need a hierarchy. People need to know who their helpers are. They need to know who to ask for directions to the bathroom. They need to know who they can turn to when the emcee is giving out confusing information about forms. It doesn’t mean the volunteer’s words would get more weight, it just means that the attendees can immediately identify a friendly helper.

There was more…much, much more, but since no one has asked me to organize a caucus, I suppose I should bring it to a close now. And since I feel obligated to say something political-ish, I will conclude by saying everyone was really nice, the dialogue was polite, people were kind to each other, and I left feeling pretty darn good about this little voting district of mine.

-Kristen McHenry


Frank Moraes said...

I'm so pleased you went to a caucus. I've never lived in a state that had them, so I've never been. I have mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, I love that everyone gets together in a room and talks. On the other hand, I hate that it generally only brings out the most committed voters.

I'm a huge believer in democracy. That may sound odd, because everyone thinks that they are big believers in democracy. But I work very hard to get people who I consider totally wrong to vote. In the end, the more people who vote, the better. It's not like I think "the people" are never wrong, but they are far better than the elites.

I love voting. But I don't like crowds. So I do vote-by-mail, and then I walk over to my polling place and drop it off on the day of the vote: best of both worlds. There's so little that we share as a culture. Even if I had no preferences, I'd still vote. I'd just drop off an empty ballot. Of course, you know that I do have preferences, and unlike you, I'm incredibly public about them. I figure in another ten years, I'll be standing in public parks ranting about one thing or another.

At my website, we were having a lot of Bernie-Hillary wars in the comments. I had to get them to calm down. Donald Trump wants to imprison women who try to get abortions; we need perspective!

But congratulations on your caucus! I'm so jealous!

Kristen McHenry said...

Hi, Frank

Thank you for commenting! Yes, it was really interesting, and in spite of my bitching about its lax organization, I did recognize the value of the system. Somehow, without me controlling the entire event single-handedly, it still worked :).Everyone got their thoughts in and appropriately communicated--the low-talker lady eventually managed to find a loud-talker proxy willing to do a "speak-in" for her, and everyone who was in disagreement was very amiable and reasonable about their stance, and made good points. It was a lot of fun, actually, even though me and Mr. Typist mostly just stood back and observed. Everyone was very earnest and sincere, and listened to each other. It did give me a lot of faith, at least in my little corner of the political world's ability to hold a civil dialogue. But there also seemed to be quite an "Eh, half-a-dozen of one, ten of the other" attitude towards the Democratic candidates-in other words, no one actually seemed that attached to their chosen candidate one way or another, as long it was a Democrat. All in all, an interesting experience and once I wouldn't mind trying again, perhaps daringly, with a little more actual engagement on my part.

Frank Moraes said...

I hear a lot of people on the right and left complain that other people don't take politics seriously. That's not my experience. People may not be engaged right now, but before the general election, they get out their voter pamphlets and they study. I think of myself as a cynic, but compared to most Americans, I'm Pollyanna!