My family, kids and all, went to the 2016 Democratic caucus last night in Lafayette, Colorado. Just to give you an idea of what this round of American democracy looks like, below is a video that shows me walking from the start of the line to the end of the line. The video is nearly four and a half minutes long. This is the line to get in the building.
We arrived around 6:30pm for a caucus that was to take place at 7:45pm. For those of you that are not from the States, a caucus is process whereby you vote for the candidate you’d like to see run for president from your party. You can only vote in a caucus if you have registered for a particular party. A caucus does not have ballots like a primary election, rather everyone from your neighborhood congregates in one place, folks make arguments back and forth and then they literally have you stand to one side of the room or another based on your candidate. Then they count raised hands. Those are the basics, but caucuses can get a lot more complicated too. More info on the CO caucus here.
After waiting outside in this line for about an hour, someone said, “We need to get everyone in the building! If you aren’t in the building by the time the caucus begins, then you can’t participate.” They started shuffling people in multiple entrances. After going through the door, we were handed a quarter sheet of a paper—hot off the copy machine—and were instructed to fill out our name and address. We then snaked through the high school’s hallways with hundreds of other people who also had no idea what was going on. I asked one of the high school students who was volunteering about what we were supposed to do next and he mumbled something incoherently. “What?” I ask. He shrugged and said, “I don’t know.” Another person that looked volunteer-y walked down the hall and announced to all bystanders that, “You need to fill out your precinct number and voter ID number on your form.” I looked at the form where those particular two numbers are listed in the “For Office Use Only,” section of the form. Mike and I used the dodgy signal on my phone to find the numbers and scrawl them on the paper.
Merely getting these numbers on the paper was no small feat. At this point, mind you, our 2 and 5 year old have been waiting in line with us for about an hour and a half. I’ve given them the two suckers I had in my pocket, I spent a bit of time trying to teach them about democracy and explain what we are doing. Tommy says, “When is the party going to start?” At some point, he heard, “We are going to vote for our party,” as “We are having a party.” He says, “You said we were going to a party!” Tears are about to come and I pull out my last trick—iPad and popcorn. This only half works. Tommy is mostly happy, but Danny, our two-year-old, wants to hold the iPad while he watches Bolt and he does not want his brother coming near him while he watches it. He also wants the popcorn, which he can’t hold at the same time as the iPad. If his brother touches the popcorn, or the iPad – he starts crying and wailing. I really can’t blame him—I’m starting to feel the same.
Once we filled out the form, and continued to usher our two little ones through the hallway (tears and all), someone says, “If you’ve filled out your form, you can go up to the table and wait behind the sign with the letter of your last name.” The Gr-H line is only 5-6 people long, but it is super slow. More tears from Danny and refusals to share his full-size bag of popcorn. We didn’t even have a clue what the new line was for. Eventually, I asked and was told that this is the line to “register.” When we got to the front, there are only two people remaining behind us and the hundreds of people that had been filling up the hallways were gone. Did we get the correct message or did the missing people? Will we make it in time to vote?
At the front of the line—its now about 8:20pm—a frantic volunteer looks up our precinct and voter ID numbers. They scratched out the ID numbers we looked up online and wrote completely different ID numbers on our forms. They told us that our precinct was meeting in the auditorium. I looked down at the form and wondered if the correct number is the one we looked up on the government site, or the one that has just replaced it. Oh well… on to the auditorium.
As we walked in, the debate portion of the caucus was well over. People had their hands raised for the count. Supporters for Bernie were on one side, Hilary on the other. “Get over there now, because they’re counting,” a volunteer says. We pick a side, raise our hands, and call out a number when the count is coming our way. Our votes have been counted. Woohoo!!
Just then, the two people who were behind us in the registration line walk in and are told by the woman on the stage, in front of everyone, that she is not allowed to do the count again. We are done and there is no turning back.
Democracy is a little bit horrible. It’s messy, there are some tears and I literally had blisters on my feet from walking up and down the line outside. This is probably due to a poor shoe choice, but I think the metaphor is accurate. I’m hard-pressed to blame the organizers because I know how it works. I’ve worked a polling booth before and all these folks running the show are just volunteers who probably went through a couple of hours of training and had no idea what they were in for when the signed up to help out with their civic duty. And don’t let me even get started on the candidates. I watch some of the debates and wonder what on earth is going on?. When did politics get reduced to primary school name calling?
Getting your voice heard isn’t easy, but you know what… that doesn’t matter. We have to do it anyway, because if we don’t participate, and we don’t teach our children to participate, then democracy will get swallowed up by the people who speak the loudest. The end result its that the people that know how to shout really well end up speaking for everyone. This is a huge problem. There is a whole lot of crazy going on in politics right now and if each and every one of us cowers away from it like sad little puppies, then everybody loses. If that is our approach, we will only have ourselves to blame for the consequences.
Speak your mind, with your vote and around the dinner table! Tell your kids about democracy, wait in line, get blisters, and for goodness’ sake—don’t forget the popcorn.