Personal Voices: Saturday at the Caucus
On Saturday morning, I participated in the Democratic caucus in my small town in Washington state. I have lived in four different states since I was old enough to vote, and I have never participated in a caucus or primary. When I registered to vote and the form asked me my political affiliation, I always wrote, "Independent." But these desperate times require desperate measures. I needed to become part of the "establishment."
At 9:55 a.m. I went to the Courtroom Annex two blocks from my house. I was pleasantly surprised to enter the room and find it packed with 60 other people. I hadn't known we had that many Democrats in our conservative rural county. As it turned out, many people attending were like me. They had never registered as Democrats, believing as I had for so many years that there was not an appreciable difference between the two parties. We believed that until George W. Bush came into power.
First thing I had to do was sign a paper saying I was now a Democrat. For an anti-establishment brat from way back, I found this difficult, but I did it.
At my precinct table, I found that I knew several of the other nine people at the table. A few minutes after 10:00 a.m. a woman stood at the front of the room and read the Value Statements of the Democratic Party to us. She told us that normally only six to 10 people attended this caucus, and we all cheered. None of us at our table had been to a caucus before, so we didn't know what to do. First off we needed a precinct chair. We chose MaryJo (not her real name) as the chair. She picked me as the secretary.
First thing we had to know was who was for which candidate. Six of us wanted Kerry for president, two were for Dean and two were undecided. I was one of the undecided. When it was time for discussion, I told my fellow Democrats why.
"Dean said he's thinking of dropping out," I said. "I don't think he should. It's amazing what he and Kucinich have done for the party. They are partially responsible for this amazing turnout. That and the fact that we all want Bush out of office. I don't want anyone else to drop out because I don't know what the Republican party is going to do to Kerry. I want to make certain he can stand up to what they're going to throw at him."
Everyone nodded in agreement. We talked about how great Kucinich was. One man said that Kucinich couldn't be elected, and he didn't believe Dean could be elected either. The two Dean supporters said they did not understand "electability." They said it was a term coined by the media that meant nothing. A Kerry supporter tried to explain what "electability" meant to him; we needed to chose someone with charisma, someone who was steady. (This was a veiled reference to Dean, we all knew.)
The Dean supporter wasn't buying it, but it was a calm discussion. I loved it. It was exhilarating to be in a room with a group of people who could agree to disagree. We talked about politics with respect for the other speakers.
As a group, our precinct decided we wanted to send the message that we didn't want Dean to drop out, so we wanted one of our delegates to be for Dean. Two for Kerry, one for Dean. Once we had decided on this, we went on to discuss the Democratic Value Statements. We objected to any wording about "morals" or religion. We wanted separation of church and state.
We also decided the Value Statements did not say enough about the environment. We wrote our own statement to add to the others. We said that protecting the environment was essential to the health of our communities. A sound economy and a sound environment were twin goals as far as we were concerned for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Our caucus gave Kerry five delegates, Dean three, and Edwards one.
At the end of the process, about noon, feeling buoyed and hopeful, I said good-bye to my precinct-mates. I wondered where the people I saw in the caucus room had been all these years. They may have been wondering where I had been, too. Although I have done peace and environmental work most of my adult life, I have never been involved in the electoral process --beyond voting.
On Saturday I debated politics in a room filled with people who wanted many of the things I wanted. And there are rooms like that one all over the country. I felt that a revolution is brewing -- a new democracy is taking shape: one in which we actually participate. I felt as though I were part of a community again.
Everyone in that caucus room in my small county was united in one desire: to find a Democratic candidate who can defeat Bush in November. There was also sad agreement that Bush has been the worst U.S. president in history for this country -- and the planet. We fear for the survival of our republic.
For a long while many of us have wondered why the Democrats haven't stood up and fought against this regime. Where were they? Today I think I found some of them in that basement room. They is us.
Kim Antieau is a writer and environmental and peace activisit. Her latest novel is "Coyote Cowgirl."