Saturday, April 05, 2008
No I Can't
Stand the process, that is. Will Rogers said he wasn't a member of any organized political party, he was a Democrat. Man, oh man, was he right.
[This is a political rant, but one that's unlikely to offend many, if any.]
At the Washington State caucus in February, I was elected delegate to the next level; the meeting was today. At that earlier gathering, despite the frustrating disorganization and very poor choice of venue, I decided I'd like to keep moving on up -- from the local level, to the district level, to the county and maybe even to the state level. Get a long shot at going to the national convention. Gave a little speech, got selected. But today, I bailed.
"Democracy is messy," said Donald Rumsfeld. His words were uttered while Iraqis were looting their country in the first signs of the lawlessness that was to follow our invasion. In that, and maybe only that, Rummy was right. (Of course, the example he chose was, in fact, anarchy, not democracy. That may be explained by the fact that no one in Bush's executive branch seems actually to believe in democracy, much less recognize it.) I'm no less committed to electing Barack Obama than I was yesterday; but I sure as hell lost any delusions of being able to sit still for the electoral process in the caucus system as I've witnessed it. I expected a long slog, but this was beyond excusable, even if participatory democracy is inherently inefficient. All I can say is, if Senator Obama ran his campaign the way my legislative district runs a caucus, he'd have been toast months ago. Having actually enjoyed the two caucuses in which I'd previously participated -- talking to neighbors who were similarly immersed in politics and at least as well informed -- I'd now be first in line to vote to replace them with direct election. Grassroots is one thing; absolute lack of planning is quite another. (Nor am I sure disproportionate voting influence should go to those able to stick out such tedium. For what, I wonder, does that select?)
With separate tables for various groups of precincts, the sign-in went quite well. But when the ink was dry, it was as if no one had considered anything else. They ran low on ballots. Information packets were, it seemed, randomly filled with papers. People weren't told clearly how to divide up (Hillary supporters on one side, Barack on the other. Delegates here, alternates there.) After sitting a while, we were asked if anyone else wanted to sign up to run for delegate for the next level. I hadn't been told there was a need or a way in the first place. So then I did. For the two candidate groups, all in the same room, there was one microphone, and enough din that it was hard to be heard without one. As people tried to get something accomplished during the wait, it was announced no business could be conducted until the credentials committee counted those who'd signed in, certified them, and designated alternates for those who hadn't showed. Two and a half hours in, still no word from them, except for a call for volunteers to help count (this was after the two-hour mark.) Counters? No one had planned for the needed number? I'd guess the total assemblage was in the three- or four-hundred range, not all of whom were actual delegates. I couldn't figure what was going on that could take so long. But I was surprised to find that the number of delegates assigned to each candidate would no longer be based on the original caucus numbers, but on the number who came today. So, despite about a 2:1 advantage for Obama in February, had, say, 10 showed up today for him and 20 for Clinton, the new distribution would have been reversed. It didn't happen, far as I can tell (I didn't stay for the final accounting, but the numbers in the two groups seemed at least as skewed toward Barack as before, if not more), but it hardly seems consistent with the idea of democracy.
There was an ambitious agenda; the main goal was to elect delegates for the county convention, but there were rules to adopt, votes of various sorts to be taken. Still we waited for the credentials report. And waited. It was announced that there were diabetics who needed to eat. No food was allowed in the auditorium, but there were vending machines. Did people want to leave for food? For how long, until the report? Names of those running for delegate were taped to the walls in lists of about ten; there were about fifteen lists. Each of the 150 people was to have one minute to speak, but there was no beginning in sight, let alone an end. People shouted suggestions, counter arguments were flung. Chairpeople were to be selected for each group before hearing from delegate candidates; people who wanted to chair the groups came forward, but couldn't do anything until the credentialing was complete, even though it was clear who'd signed in, and the job would only last the day. People were called to gather closer, to be able to hear; that left the disabled behind, and there were protests. We'd started at 10:00 am; it was now nearly 1 pm. On the program, it said adjournment would be no later than 4 pm. No way that could be met.
I had an epiphany. There were people in attendance more able than I to stand it, more committed to the process, less annoyed by the carelessness. They should be the ones. The surgeon in me said, this is the sort of planning that kills people. Or at least drives some (me) irreversibly crazy. So, after confirming that leaving wouldn't affect the delegate distribution (it was based on the initial sign-in), I found a magic marker, crossed my name off the list, and slinked (slank? slunk?) out the door. I'll send Barack Obama more money. That I can handle. If the market levels off.