13 February 2008

GObama! The Speech and the Caucus

On Friday I took the offspring out of school and headed to the city to hear Barack Obama speak. For the kids to hear this man speak, to have that memory -- totally worth missing Biology lab. However this election shakes out, it's historic! I wanted them to experience history being made, and yes, to see that someone who looks like them could well be the next president of this country. So we scooped up one of Teen Demon's friends and headed downtown.

Key Arena was packed to the rafters -- not an empty seat in the house, and people standing in every entryway as well. The arena holds 18,000, but the Seattle mayor said it was a good thing the fire chief had the day off; I bet there were some fire code violations. Outside were 3,000 more people who couldn't get in, including a friend of mine, her 16-year-old nephew, and his friend. Senator Obama went outside with a bullhorn and spoke to those folks after his speech.

This pic shows probably 1/3 of the arena, when people were still filing in to find seats.

Our governor made a surprise appearance, and with her endorsement, came out as the "newest member of Team Obama". Apparently she'd been having a hard time deciding between Clinton and Obama, as had many people.

My favorite shot. As you can see, it clearly shows that the good Senator and I shared a moment. See? He's looking right at me. Yeah, Barack and I, we're tight like that. Hi, Senator.

These guys were working it. Their enthusiasm made up for the jerky awkward dance moves. These boys were serious supporters, now.

It was an amazing experience. And hell yes, it was inspiring.

And I'll tell you something, I'm getting tired of the generalizations that say Obama is all talk and Clinton is all specifics. I've been listening to the speeches both of them have been giving lately, and you know, Clinton isn't giving any more specifics in her speeches than Obama is. Which is fine. I expect them to have specifics on their web sites. I expect them to have specific plans for the issues, and I expect those plans to be available to the voters. I expect them to be specific during the debates. But when I take a day off work, take my kids out of school, and wait for hours to hear this man connect with his supporters and speak for 50 minutes ... I damn well expect to be inspired. I expect to walk away with some hope that day.

I don't believe that hope and specifics are mutually exclusive, that a person who is a good orator is by default an empty vessel of inspiration with nothing to back it up. I think that's just something to latch onto and make waves about.

Here's what Senator Obama had to say about hope last Friday:
People have been saying, "You know, Obama, he’s a talker, not a doer. He talks about hope all the time. You know, he uh, he’s so na├»ve, he’s so idealistic. He’s a hope monger." This is the argument I’ve been hearing lately.
You know, look, it’s true; I do talk about hope all the time. And out of necessity, because, the odds are, I should not be standing here. I was born to a single mom, my dad left when I was two. I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. And all they could give me was love, an education, and hope. That was my inheritance.

And so, (cheers) and so, you know, we put hope on our signs ...

But in criticizing me, for quote-unquote “being inspiring”, (laughter) the implication is that I’m somehow not a realist, the notion is that my head is in the clouds somewhere. That, in Senator Clinton’s words, I’m “peddling false hopes”, and I need a reality check.

And, I have to, I have to say, you know, that’s not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. Hope is not ignorance of the challenges that stand before us. Hope is not pretending that those barriers that stand between you and your dreams will just somehow go away. Hope is just the opposite.

He went on to talk about the the changes he hopes to make in this country. And yes, I came away feeling hopeful. I was inspired. I saw hope in the faces of my children, as they watched this man speak, a man whose childhood is not so far from their own experiences and realities. I saw hope in my children's faces, and that is something I'll never forget.


The next day was the caucuses. Caucii? Whatever, there was some serious caucus action going down in Washington state. Record turnouts don't even begin to describe it. Main roads were backed up for miles. The caucus point for my area was a huge high school. Parking lots for the high school, middle school, and elementary school were already packed. People were parking out in the neighborhoods, streaming toward the high school on foot. Some folks parked over a mile away.

I have never seen so many people on foot in the suburbs, y'all. It looked like The Birds, only with humans. Some people didn't get there in time due to traffic and parking issues.

Get me to the caucus on time.

I finally found my precinct in this room. This pic was about an hour before the caucus even started. By the time we got rolling, this room was packed, and it was only one room of many. Hundreds and hundreds of people - I'd bet it was into the thousands.

I live in a tiny precinct. I could easily walk the precinct borders in short order. We set a record for attendance, with 27 people, not including the six late-comers. More about that later; it got dicey up in that gym for a while. Folks from other precincts said theirs set records as well.

Surprise visit from the governor. She gave a pretty rousing speech for a skinny, little, white grandma. Girl is scrappy.

So we got down to the actual business of caucusing. It was exciting to see democracy in action at a grassroots level. I ended up getting more involved than I'd anticipated. All that research I ended up doing over the primary vs. caucus issue paid off, I guess. Our precinct captain was a very nice guy. He was also extremely disorganized, and gave the impression that he'd read the rules on his way over, while stuck in all that traffic. A few of us banded together, after exchanging some concerned looks, and became unofficial assistants.

Our group went Obama-24, Clinton-3. Clinton did get one delegate. Yes, a candidate can acquire a delegate by "rounding up", as you can't send half a delegate on a candidate's behalf.

After the tally, people had the opportunity to make a plea on their candidate's behalf. In our group, about five of us spoke for Obama, and I was actually disappointed that the Clinton supporters chose not to speak, because I'd been looking forward to that, and genuinely wanted to hear what they had to say. Some of the other precincts, however, did quite a bit of back and forth. I was impressed that everyone who spoke mentioned that both candidates were strong, both were respected, and both would be good leaders. No mud-slinging or nastiness. Go Dems! After that, people had the opportunity to change their original vote, but no one in our group did, so the tally numbers for delegates went official.

About this time the late-comers started showing up, and that's where things got dicey. According to caucus rules, you must be signed in with your choice by 1:30. The late-comers were already pissed and winded after parking in the next county and hiking over hill and dale to get there, so that news did not go over well. Debate ensued. Our precinct captain didn't know what to do. Some folks said we should just sign everyone in, regardless. Our not-so-fearless captain started to do this. I was concerned that breaking some sort of party rules could lead to all the precinct's delegates being invalidated. Several others felt the same way; we said we'd feel better if we had confirmation from the district chair before we made a decision. Our captain loped off to find the district chair.

Now the newcomers were looking at us like we were haters, and the "just sign them up" crowd was looking at their feet. Things definitely felt uncomfortable. I went and talked with the newcomers, I really did feel bad for them. I mean, we all had problems with traffic and parking, even those who got there early. I thought all the votes should be counted, and I felt the party should've better anticipated high turnout, and either had more caucus points, or run shuttles from various points in the community, along with getting the word out beforehand to get there early. Anyway, before our captain returned, everyone was friendly again, which was good.

Turns out the district chair said we could not break the rules, and that it would've been subject to objection if we had. However, the late-comers could still have the opportunity to be a delegate, so that was cool. One of them actually did end up being an alternate.

I got chosen to be a delegate, so I'm pretty stoked about that. Whoo-hoo!

I have mixed feelings on the caucus process. On the one hand, people are really involved on a community level -- it was energizing, and people were talking and connecting. I was very impressed with how the community came together, and everyone was very supportive and friendly. It didn't much matter who you supported, there was an overriding feeling of excitement just that folks were exercising their right to vote, to be a part of the process. I also think people tend to be more informed with the caucus as opposed to the primary.

On the other hand, people who work on Saturday, who don't have transportation, who may be disabled, the elderly ... those folks have a hard time taking part, and their voices aren't heard in numbers that reflect their place in the population. That's a problem, one that needs to be addressed. (Yes, there is a form to vote in absentia, but it only applies to three situations: religious observances, military service, or disability)

I actually think there may be something to the WA Republicans' method. They do both a caucus and a primary: they choose half of their delegates though the caucus, and half via the primary. This way, you get the involvement, but people who may otherwise not have a voice still have a way to be counted. I'm still not sure, though, as you can also do both with the combo method, and I'm not sure that doesn't skew things. Anyway. So I have mixed feelings on the caucus system, but I really enjoyed it, and more than that, I felt encouraged and hopeful in spending that time with my community working toward a change.

This was about half an hour after everything wound down. It took quite a while for traffic to die down. Way to go, Dems.

Fired up, ready to go!

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