So I had no idea what to expect.
The 43rd district of the Washington State Democratic Party is known for being very active. I remembered going to the caucus in 2004 and to various meetings all held to strategize ways of unseating He Who Cannot Be Named. I was impressed and energized that so many in my own community were as outraged as me and it made me glad to call a place like Wallingford home. But this was 2008. I had my own fairly strong preference for presidential candidates and I knew Obama had a shot here; still, I hadn't seen any local polls, there were only a few posters around town for Obama, and I knew that the possibility of America's first woman president would galvanize a large segment of potential Democratic caucus-goers.
My first clue came on Friday night.
"Did you hear about the rally? Fil tried to go and couldn't even get near Queen Anne."
"The same thing happened with my coworker, he said people were so packed outside that you could not move."
Obama had held a rally at Key Arena that day in which a 17,000 person standing room only crowd heard him give a 50 minute speech while thousands more surrounded the stadium outside. I heard several people say they simply turned around when they saw the crowd that extended for several blocks around the arena.
The next morning I read a New York Times story on the Washington state caucuses. Hillary Clinton had drawn 6,000 at a local university but seemed resigned to losing the state. The Times made this rather insulting statement:
But Mrs. Clinton, who has not done as well in the caucus states as Mr. Obama has, winning only two of nine so far, suggested that she did not expect to win in Washington, as many of her supporters would be too busy working to break away from their schedules and spend the time to caucus for her.
“If this were a primary, where everybody could vote all day, I’d feel pretty good about it,” she said. “But it’s not. It’s a caucus.”
So that morning, all of us unemployed slackers with nothing better to do than give up our Saturday to make the country a better place made our way up to the local middle school, feeling good that Hillary's support seems to be people who aren't able to do more than check a box on a ballot. As we drew near to the caucus site, it was clear that something remarkable was happening.In 2004, the first caucus I had ever been to, people were fired up. It seemed like the entire city came out in force. The nominee had not been completely decided yet, Howard Dean hadn't flamed out and Kucinich was still in it. Our precinct had about 20 people show up and we had a lively ,reasoned discussion, unified in our disgust for the Republicans. I went away thinking about how great the process was, that I had really participated in my democracy.
This year would be different. There were easily 100 people per precinct, and about 20 precincts total (each precinct only includes 200 households, Democrat and Republican). And more astonishing, 8 out of 10 people were wearing an Obama t-shirt, button, or sticker. There were many people who had never caucused before. There were people I knew from work or the gym that I hadn't even realized were neighbors. Nearly all said they had never felt this way about candidate before and were a little surprised to find themselves coming out to support him.
The caucus began, as they all do, by someone reading the rules aloud to a room full of several hundred people. "Before we begin, the DNC has asked that we all stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance." We all looked around each other uncomfortably. Flag waving nationalism is not something indigenous to Wallingford.
A lone voice from the back of the room shouted. "Come on, this is Seattle!" Everyone laughed. Then we stood and said the pledge before we broke into groups to do something truly patriotic.
I was going to bring cupcakes for each Obama supporter, but in retrospect I am glad I didn't. I would have spent $300 on my precinct alone. Instead, knowing that any speech I would give would be limited to less than a minute, I had three short deal killers for anyone thinking of voting for Hillary.
1. She voted for the war, the greatest crime that has been committed in my name in my lifetime. Now, one may argue that really she was voting for inspections with teeth, but come on -- everyone in the world knew what that vote was really about. She even voted against an amendment that would force the president to come back to congress before invading. Supporters might explain that we were still in the midst of post 9/11 hysteria, that it was an understandable lapse in an otherwise fine legislative record; but the U.S. needs a leader with the moral courage and wisdom to stand up when it is called for and if she couldn't do that then, how can we trust her to be the leader this time of crisis call for? No, Obama, wasn't in a position to cast a vote in the Senate, but he did give an impassioned speech at the time against using military force and honestly, that's a cop out excuse for Hillary.
2. She can't win. Clearly, Obama speaks to independent swing voters and people who don't typically vote. People recognize that this is a new kind of leader, who doesn't take money from lobbyists, who knows how to compromise to get things done, and who knows how to take a tough moral stand when it is called for. If Hillary runs against McCain, a republican who can appeal broadly to independent swing voters, there is no way she can win. The Republican party is largely in disarray and cannot agree on a candidate but I don't think you could come up with a democratic candidate who would mobilize them more than Hillary Clinton.
3. There has been a Bush or a Clinton working in the White House since 1980. The U.S. does not, and should not, support oligarchies. People want a change.
Of course there are thousands of other specific reasons and I was armed with Shireesha's iPhone if I needed to look up statistics. But in the end it didn't really matter. The initial vote broke 72 to 14 in favor of Obama (4 delegates to 1 delegate). There were 6 undecideds, 4 of whom changed to Obama, 2 remained undecided. (One of the undecideds was a neighbor who reasoned "Both candidates have virtually identical platforms. If Obama's only advantage is that he's the candidate of 'hope', that's not a good enough reason for me to support him."). During the discussion period, while I was making small talk with my neighbors, Shireesha actually convinced a Clinton supporter to change to Obama. So the final vote went 77-13, four delegates for Obama and one for Clinton.
The caucus process is a good one. I firmly believe it is too easy for someone who's ill informed to cast an irresponsible vote. I mean, I get to see a real cross section of America in my practice and it is shocking, really, how misinformed people are. The political process in so much of America goes like this: Rush Limbaugh --> the ear of some 80 year old guy with borderline dementia --> checks a box on a piece of paper and mails it in. Think about it: a little old lady in a nursing home whose opinion is entirely informed by Reader's Digest has as much say in the election as someone with a graduate degree who travels the world, reads three newspapers, and has daily on line political discussions with other educated professionals from all over. It's controversial and smug, but I'll say it: if you can't spend part of one day defending your viewpoint to your neighbors, maybe your opinion shouldn't matter so much.
So at the end of the day, feeling good about the caucus process, they asked for people to serve as delegates to the state convention and I volunteered. Should be a hoot.