Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Civic Duty

This being Super Tuesday, I did my part by participating in my first-ever caucus, held a five-minute drive from my house at Isaac Newton Middle School (motto: "When Gravity Fails and Negativity Don't Pull You Through"). But the street that heads from my house over there began to be clogged about a mile from the school; fortunately, I knew how to approach it from the back. I also knew to duck into a neighborhood just before I reached the school so I could park on the street, but even there, I had to drive three blocks before I could find a space. From there I jogged through a snow-covered field with some guy who apparently thought they were going to start the caucus without him, but I was at the school building by 6:50.

A chilly, helpful soul had a laptop set up in the parking lot with which he could give us our precinct numbers. A young South Asian woman with an Obama sticker on her jacket then helpfully directed us to the school's east entrance, the only door that was open - but when we got to the east entrance, the line snaked all the way around to the building's west side. To quote Weird Al Yankovic, I hadn't seen a crowd like this since I went to see the Who.

Inside the school building, it was just as jammed; I quickly found out there were pockets of people along some of the corridor walls finding people's precinct numbers for them ,and slowing up traffic. Finally, I made it to the school cafeteria, which was also so full I could hardly move. It took me another five minutes to fight my way over to precinct 233. There, seated around one of those cafeteria tables with the attached disc-like seats, was a neighbor lady from across the street, who showed me how to sign in.

Precinct 233 was made up of significantly more women than men, by about a three-to-one margin. There were about three people under the age of 35, which makes sense if you know my neighborhood. I asked the guy holding the 233 card, stuck on the end of one of those wire poles like they have at Fatburger, if he needed some relief. He did, so I did my part and showed my pride in Precinct 233 by holding aloft our number for the next ten or fifteen minutes.

Given the crowds outside, it was a bit miraculous that we were able to get started around 7:15. About twenty feet from me, a woman began speaking instructions into a microphone, but I could literally hear one of every three words she said. I could have understood more if she had just turned and spoke at me in a normal voice. The speakers for the microphone must have been in Boulder or something.

Somehow, word made its way over to us that we were to begin with a straw poll, in which someone was to poll our members, and write down who voted for whom. The woman in charge of our precinct did this, sensibly enough, by asking all the Clinton supporters to sit at one table, and the Obama supporters to sit at another. The Clinton people didn't fill their table, but many of the Obamans had to stand. She quickly counted heads: 25 for Obama, nine for Clinton.

Then came what should have been, had there been more candidates in the race, the horse-trading part of the evening. Anyone receiving less than 15 percent of the vote was supposed to be disqualified at this point, and their voters wooed by the supporters of the remaining candidates. I initially hoped to be backing John Edwards at this point, which was a disappointment, not just because I thought Edwards the best candidate but because it would have been nice to get plied with liquor or sexual favors or whatever it is that causes a caucusgoer to swing his or her support.

There would be no such shenanigans this evening. We simply had our final vote - it has a name, but I couldn't hear the woman with the microphone - which was Obama 25, Clinton 9.

The next step was the assignation of the delegates. Precinct 233 was entitled to send four delegates to the Democratic county convention, and while I would have been happy to go, half the people raised their hands when our leader asked who wanted to be a delegate - one young woman of about 20, who was there with her father, was really excited about the possibility of being a delegate - so I decided I wouldn't take that thrill away from anyone.

Although we had been instructed to elect delegates, someone suggested we should just use the all-American format of holding a raffle, so someone produced a Kansas City Royals cap, anyone who wanted to wrote their name down and tossed it in, and a neutral person drew out three. (I don't know how the Clinton delegates chose their lone representative.) The first person picked was that 20-something's father, who showed no inclination to give up his seat for his daughter. She was eventually picked as an alternate.

And then that was it. At 7:45 pm, we were done. I walked out the side door of the school into the frosty February night.

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