This must be what democracy is like
June 13, 2008 · Updated 11:31 AM
By ERICA HALL
Thousands of Democrats voiced their disapproval of the current administration at the Washington caucuses Saturday morning, grabbing at the chance to nominate a candidate who they believe could beat President Bush.
In long lines that stretched from the doors of the precinct meeting places, they chatted with their neighbors and met new ones, read over campaign literature and marveled at the turn-out. The first in line ate all the donuts before the last ones even got a glimpse of the front door.
I was running late Saturday morning and I was sure Id be one of the stragglers who opens the door in the middle of someones earnest stump speech. Hot tea in hand, I walked up to the church where seven precincts in my Seattle neighborhood were meeting. Instead of creeping in late, I went to the end of a line that stretched around the block. It was like opening night of Star Wars I. I did not get a donut.
I asked a lady standing alone in line next to me if she knew what was going to happen once we got inside. She said she didnt know. This was her first caucus, too. It was a refrain I heard all morning.
Inside was something like organized chaos, with a deafening din of conversation swelling over the pews and breaking into jovial laughter. All the benches in the sanctuary were shoulder-to-shoulder full, as were those in the balcony. The pews up front where the choir sits on Sundays were full. People lined the walls and sat in the center aisle, on the steps leading up to the dais and in the area near the piano. They crowded at the door.
When a younger, blond man took the microphone at the front of the church, the crowd hushed. When he said organizers hadnt anticipated this many people would show up, they erupted in raucous applause.
This must be what democracy sounds like.
The blond man read through a list of 21 rules: No proxy nominating of candidates; we had to pick delegates; if a delegate moves away, he or she isnt automatically replaced; we had to pick alternate delegates, etc. And then we broke into our precincts.
We were on the left side of the church sanctuary and another precinct was on the right. They were louder than we were, or so it seemed, and they kept drowning out the people from our group who stood to speak in favor of a candidate. There were several times I just couldnt hear was someone was saying.
And I expected a little more debate. I went in undecided with the hope someone would take up the charge to sway me. I was torn between Howard Dean and John Kerry and I wanted to be convinced with passionately-eloquent-but-bullet-proof oration.
But the men and women in my precinct who stood to speak were more self-deprecating not apologetic, but not out to strong-arm anyone, either. Many said theyd be happy with any of them as long as they could beat Bush.
I was surprised how many Dennis Kucinich supporters there were. Its not that I disagree with Kucinich, but I wonder how realistic his platform is. And I thought he appealed to a different crowd, who maybe look more like WTO protesters and less like weekend kayakers.
But the men and women who spoke for Kucinich urged the rest of our precinct to give him our vote, if only to make a statement about the values Democrats hold dear: health care and education for everyone, fair taxation, and end to corporate welfare, environmental protection and withdrawal from Iraq.
Maybe theyre fighting for a lost cause or, better, a cause whose time has yet to come but I appreciated their commitment to a core set of principles that I think would make the United States a better place to live.
One striking analogy someone made was that Kucinich represents the ideology of the Democratic party, and Dean represents the determination and backbone.
My precinct didnt seem to think either would be the nominee, but most seemed to think whomever is nominated should somehow encompass both candidates best qualities heart and courage, maybe, or spirit and integrity. This caused more clapping, and for the first time, our groups noise might have overwhelmed the groups across the aisle.
In the end, I switched my vote from undecided to Kerry. He has a decent voting record in things that are important to me, like reproductive rights and the environment. He knows how the system works. He has military experience.
There are drawbacks. Hes an insider, a Skull and Bones man, the senator from Massachusetts who voted for the war, as Dean points out.
I also know Dean didnt vote for the war because he couldnt have. Hes a governor, not a senator, and who knows how he would have voted had he been faced with the situation: Ive sent the troops. Approve the operation and, consequently, the funding to support them, or dont, and let them wither on the vine over there.
And while I have no illusions about Kerry as a savvy politician, I also think hes the most electable, another refrain I heard over and over at the caucus.
But the precincts have room for everyone, including my housemate, whos pulling for Wesley Clark.
He was the only one at the precinct caucus to write in the former general and when our precinct chairwoman listed the candidates who received nominations, he alone gave a little Woo-hoo! when Clarks name was called.
As the only Clark supporter, he knew he wasnt going anywhere with his candidate, so he decided to change his vote. After hearing from all the supporters, he wrote in Kucinich, giving the U.S. representative the one vote he needed to get a delegate from our precinct.
Soon after picking who those delegates would be, people started filing out. The organized chaos began to break down as small groups within each precinct began chattering and visiting as neighbors and not neophyte political activists.
Many went home, so we decided to leave, too. We took one last look for any remaining donuts and, finding none, walked out the front doors and went about our daily, mundane lives.
In the end, everyone who attended got to take part in a process that felt truly democratic: we laid out the field, talked about their strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, and picked the best.
Dean and Kerry got two delegates each from our precinct, and Kucinich got one. I think Kerrys the most viable candidate and Dean would also do a fine job, but its gratifying to think my roommate put his vote where it could do the most good: to keep the spirit in the party.