Barack Out with your Caucus Out

Wow. Well. That was the most dismal display of group management I’ve seen since my last Vampire LARP.

We arrived en masse — me, Aric, Ellen, and Suezie — and we were eventually directed to the basement of a nearby school. Within an hour, the “art room” (designed to hold perhaps 30 kids at a time) was crammed with about 200 registered voters plus maybe a couple dozen children, aged Born Maybe Last Week through middle school.

Much to our collective distress, the Obama camp was woefully underrepresented from the schwag front; in fact, we sent several scouting missions out into the bowels of the school in search of stickers, buttons, signs … or anything, really. Alas, we largely failed in our quest for schwag, so we began to improvise.

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I must give credit where credit is due. The Hillary team was on point. Those folks had their shit together, their act in gear, and their schwag available in copious quantities. It is no exaggeration to say that there was far more Hillary schwag than there was actual Hillary support.

So for awhile we had quiet, nervous-looking people sneaking up to our table and asking, “Er, is this where the Obama people are sitting? How do we sign up to caucus for Obama?” Now let me be clear: we didn’t mind fielding questions or helping people sign up (after a volunteer dumped sign-up forms on our table and walked away). But we were aggravated to see Team Obama drop the ball so badly. The entire time I was there, I saw maybe half a dozen official-looking Obama folks, and almost none of them had so much as an O-shaped lollipop. I know, because I systematically tracked down every one of them and begged for goodies, to no avail.

But I can’t say that the failure of visible signage did Obama any tangible disservice. When the counts were tallied … Obama swept the room despite his dearth of formally endorsed paper products. Our district’s delegates were divvied as follows: 6 for Obama, 2 for Hillary, and one undecided.

Mind you, it took four hours to arrive at that tally and pick the delegates. Democracy in action? Let’s call it democracy flowing uphill in February against a headwind.

The first man who addressed the group sounded like he had a general idea of what was going on; but he shortly abandoned us to a very nice woman who might as well have been told to stick her foot behind her ear.

Apparently, it was this lady’s idea that she’d just leave a couple hundred people alone together in a room … and eventually someone would spontaneously figure out (a). how many delegates we needed to pick, (b). how many alternates we needed to pick, (c). what process was required to pick them, (d). what was required of them once they were picked, (e). etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Her entire style of caucus management was to refer helplessly to a clipboard which, as near as I could figure, held space shuttle schematics, or recaps of Lost episodes or something.

It’s like Ellen said: someone should’ve typed up a series of flyers and handed them out in stacks. “So You Want to be a Delegate” would be a good place to start. Then, perhaps, “Congratulations, You’re a Delegate! Here’s What to Do Next” would’ve been nice. Hell, I would’ve settled for a big sign that said, “SIGN IN HERE.” You’d think that much would be obvious, but no. It would seem not. Think I’m kidding? Here’s a shot of one corner of the room. I dare you to find the sign up table.

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Mind you, I took this picture while standing on a chair, trying to see see the sign-in table.

Throw into this mix the fact that there were at least two wanna-be Dungeon Masters who could quote chapter and verse from caucus legal books dating back to the 1970s. They were aggressive and bullying, and they showed no credentials that I ever saw … which did not prevent our Clueless Leader from caving to anything they told her. She would’ve licked the bathroom clean if they’d said it was required by law, and I felt sorry for her — really I did.

She was hopelessly unprepared and surrounded by people who were chock full of questions she couldn’t answer. That sucks, and I don’t mean to hold her up as a glaring example of badness because I’m sure she meant well and God knows, she was a volunteer. And bless her heart, she was given control over a crowd filled at least in part with many, many people who had never done this before, myself included. None of us knew what was expected or necessary. For the longest time, no one even knew where the forms were, or which forms to fill out, or what was being filled out, or what it meant.

But the caucus was something important. It required informed leadership, and she didn’t have it — she didn’t even demonstrate the most basic crowd management skills. I wouldn’t have trusted her to walk two dogs without a calamity ensuing.

Eventually we acquired a little discipline in the form of a guy named “Matt.” Matt stood on a chair and announced that he had no authority, no experience in caucusing, and no legal knowledge of anything — but he thought that perhaps we should get organized. Within a few minutes this one tall dude sorted the room, arranged a vote, and got everyone staring in the same direction. He wasn’t in charge of Jack Shit, but he went out of his way to find out what he needed to know and he dove in feet-first. So three cheers for Matt, without whom we would no doubt still be there, beating our heads against the tables and wondering what to do.

And anyway, yes. I participated in the caucus, and I cast my vote for Obama. It was a total pain in the ass and it shouldn’t have been; but even if it’s every bit as bad and worse next time, I’ll be there then, too. In fact, you can safely bet that next time, I’m going to volunteer. Maybe I can help head off some of the difficulty that we met as caucus-goers this year. Maybe I’ll get there, decide that the crowd is full of morons, throw my clipboard on the ground, and flee the scene. But I’ll do my best to stick it out.

This is important, dammit. It shouldn’t be such a ridiculous ordeal.

Edit: I know, I know. It’s not like this everywhere. But this is the only caucus I’ve ever done, and this is the only experience I can report. I’d much rather give a glowing review of the ecstasy which is Democracy At Work, but I can’t, and I won’t. If you had a better experience elsewhere, by all means post about it here. I’d love to hear about it. I very much want to know that there are precincts out there where things work smoothly, and where participants aren’t downright embarrassed by the chaos of it all.

4 thoughts on “Barack Out with your Caucus Out

  1. Disappointing that this happened, but a nice write-up, as always. I hope somebody with the power to do something about it reads this piece. Electing a candidate via a Monty Python script doesn’t seem ideal.

  2. I caucused in Kansas on Tuesday, and it was a bit crazy; not, I think, from lack of organization, but rather from a combination of two things:

    1. The turnout for the caucus was roughly double what anyone had expected, so we literally overflowed the capacity of the building the party had rented.

    2. The Kansas Democratic party decided to let people change their party affiliation on-site if they wanted to participate, which resulted in two lines snaking out the door: one if you were already a Democrat, and one if you were switching parties to join in.

    Once the signup and capacity problems were worked out, though, the caucus ran pretty smoothly; this was my first caucus, but Kansas has been doing them for a few years now and the party organizers did a good job keeping things running smoothly.

    Best moment overall: even though there were two long lines out in the parking lot, where it took upwards of half an hour just to get inside and signed up, and even though it was windy, freezing cold and alternately raining/snowing, people were still in very good spirits, talking, sharing food and drink, cracking jokes and (in a nice touch) gladly making way for senior citizens and people with babies/young children to cut ahead and get in out of the cold quickly.

    The fact that Obama carried our caucus by about an 80/20 margin was a nice bonus, too :)

  3. B.O. carried our precinct about 70/30, so yes — the turnout and trouble was worth it here, too :)

    Next time, though, I’m bringing snacks and a beverage or something.

  4. I love that pic of Aric.

    The sad part is that he looks like a legit rep of the hominus nocturni. LOL.

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