Sunday, February 10, 2008

In which the Democrats teach us to do math

So the caucus was pretty interesting – although in our precinct the votes went 1 for Clinton and 4 for Obama, I was glad I was there and it was great to see so many people there all excited about electing a Democrat to the White House!

I got there an hour and a half beforehand to help set up. In our Legislative District, six precincts met in one big auditorium and had what they call an “area caucus” where the Area Captain (AC) read the rules for everyone before we were going to discuss and vote as individual precincts. To make it more obvious where to go, we set up colored balloons for each area and then I stood outside with a map helping people figure out which color they needed to go to. I also put up a bunch of Hillary signs – it was frustrating because I was the only one of the early volunteers who was a Hillary supporter, and when I asked the AC to make sure it was okay to put up signs in the auditorium she said, “as long as there’s an Obama sign there too” and was mildly rude to me all day. But eventually J showed up with our official “International Observers” C and E (I’d given the AC a heads up that they were coming and she actually called them out as “our Canadian friends who wanted to see how their wacky friends down south do politics” – it was pretty funny) and we got started.

At that point the AC let one speaker for each candidate give a two-minute speech. I’d spoken with another woman supporting Hillary and agreed that she should give that speech because she had a background in marketing and really wanted to do it, but unfortunately she wasn’t super-eloquent. The Obama speaker talked about how he’s so much more electable amongst swing voters and how he was inspirational. (We heard that a lot, and as E said, “what’s wrong with these people’s lives that they need to be inspired by a candidate? Can’t they find inspiration themselves and look for someone who can actually get the job done??”) We then broke up into our precincts to write down our names and initial votes, and I ended up giving my one-minute speech for Hillary at this level. They’d asked us to focus on one issue that was especially important to us, so for those who are curious, this is more or less what I said:

I work at Microsoft, so I see every day how hard it is for us to find and hire college students with a strong foundation in science. And that’s a problem, because maintaining our leadership in science and technology is what’s going to keep America strong and thriving, grow our economy, and help us start making a dent in fixing our environment.
So when I read Science magazine’s rave reviews of Senator Clinton’s science platform, I knew I had to support her. She’ll raise funding for the NSF and NIH, she’s got a bunch of creative ways to motivate more research in the right areas, and most importantly to me, she’s made a 100% commitment to take politics out of science.
I’m supporting Hillary because she’s smart, she can hit the ground running, she’s wildly competent, and she can win in November. Please come join me!

I got a lot of applause, but no one changed their vote because of my speech or any other discussions. It was interesting to see how different the various precincts were – some of them had long, long discussions and arguments back and forth; ours just had my speech and a response speech for Obama, something along the lines of, “I’m not just supporting Obama because I’m black; I’m supporting him because I have a friend who knows him and says he’s really nice.” I'm not sure about you, but I wasn’t super impressed. Then one woman got up and said she was voting for Hillary because we’ve been dealing with the politics of fear for so long, and people need to stop fearing that Hillary can’t win in November and should vote for her because she will make a better president. Finally someone else got up and gave another “Obama didn’t vote for the Iraq war” speech. That speech seemed to be very popular in the other precincts too, which just goes to show that math is not people's strong suit since Obama was not actually a Senator during the vote and wouldn't have been able to vote either way. C says she supports Hillary because she didn't vote for the war in Vietnam.

Anyway, next they tallied the votes (this was done by all the precincts at once with instructions from the AC – “copy column A to column C. Now multiply column C by column B. Now…”. It felt like a huge elementary-school group math lesson) and asked if anyone wanted to change their votes given the speeches (no one did) and then we chose delegates. I would have run as the one Clinton delegate or alternate, but there was a woman who really, really wanted to be a delegate and someone else who wanted to quite a lot, and I didn’t want to get in the way of energized people getting involved.

Overall, I’m happy I was there. J's been griping about the whole primary system because Florida and Michigan got disenfranchised (he has a good point; I think that’s appalling) but he seemed to have a fun time hanging out with a couple of our neighbors and cracking jokes with E and C about how the Democrats were teaching us to do math.

However, I’m also glad it’s over – I went a little overboard in my time and mental energy investment. I’m bummed about Obama’s win, but Clinton’s still got a chance overall and really the most important thing is that one of them winds up in the White House. And on that front, after all my phone calls trying to get some people to speak for Clinton at the caucus (that was horrible – I will never again agree to do cold calls) I saw a couple of people I’d talked to who were at the caucus because of my call, and interested in participating more between now and November, and my friend A ended up running her precinct’s caucus and getting elected to be a Clinton delegate after the training she attended with me a few weeks ago, so I guess I’m helping that goal at least.

With my caucus report complete, I'm going to do my best to stop writing about politics for a bit. We'll see how it goes.

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