Last Tuesday night I, like many of my fellow Minnesotans, went to a precinct caucus for the upcoming presidential election. In no way am I endorsing one presidential candidate over another in this column, but for those who regularly read my musings on politics, I don’t think anyone will be shocked to learn I went to a Democratic-Farmer-Labor caucus.
That said, I really did want to go to the Republican caucus in my precinct because I refer to my south Minneapolis neighborhood as the “People’s Republic of Whittier,” complete with our own Green Party City Council member.
To be fair to the Republican(s) in my area, I think I saw one “Coleman for Senate” sign in my entire ward last fall – but I could be wrong. It was difficult to see behind all the Wellstone and then-handmade Mondale signs.
So I am being entirely sincere when I say I really wanted to see what kind of showing the Republicans had at their caucus meeting up the street from where I live.
But alas, I am a registered Democrat and I can’t convince The Minnesota Daily to give me a press pass or credentials because Daily columnists apparently aren’t real journalists – at least that’s what the editors tell me whenever I ask. And without press credentials to vouch for my personal integrity I am faced with a sad fact of life – I just don’t look very Republican. At least that is what my father the Republican always tells me when we talk politics. Apparently my nose ring suggests “DFL stooge” and not “journalist covering a beat.”
So I strolled up the street to my 6th Ward, 2nd Precinct caucus at the Whittier Park Community Center. I fully expected some congestion of bodies before the caucus began, as the voters in my area tend to be politically engaged. But I can honestly say I was not prepared for the deluge of people who had also shown up to participate in the local democratic process. My caucus was literally standing room only. In fact, had the fire marshal shown up and seen the 200-plus people in our little caucus room, I’m fairly certain we would have been shut down for occupancy violations.
The turnout was so heavy that the organizers ran out of presidential nominee ballots and had to tear pieces of notebook paper into smallish rectangles so people could keep voting. For those concerned about ballot fraud, each person with a piece of notebook paper put down a candidate’s name and then signed their own name on the back.
Rest assured, however, had anything resembling ballot rigging appeared to be taking place the evildoers would have been chased from the room by the vanguard of the Whittier Republic. I am not joking.
By the time official business began at 7:20 p.m., it was a raucous caucus and things really got flying when people began making speeches about why they should be elected precinct captain. Various men and women made passionate statements about wanting to be engaged in the democratic process and the crowd followed suit by clapping with great vigor.
Right before the speech-making wrapped up, a group of individuals volunteered to tally the votes for the presidential nominee. A certain excited air filled the room as the cardboard box containing the ballots exited into the hallway. As soon as the vote counting began, the reading of and voting on proposed resolutions to the DFL Party platform commenced. It’s difficult to describe the organized chaos that followed.
Many, many, many people prepared resolutions for reading and voting. I mean a lot. Finally, someone decided each resolution would be read aloud (I lost count after 50) and any person having any concerns about said resolution should make their objections known. Any objected-to resolution would then be tabled for a second round of debate. If no one voiced any concerns, the resolution passed.
Added to the excitement was this: Somewhere between the ballots leaving the room and the resolutions starting, a young woman announced that John Edwards was dropping out of the race. The announcement was met with perplexed gasps since our own democratic process was in full swing, but still we soldiered on. After about half the resolutions had been read and voted on, the vote counters returned with the results: Undecided, Howard Dean and Al Sharpton each got two votes. Edwards received 57 votes just behind John Kerry at 59 votes, leaving Dennis Kucinich with a whopping 86 votes. Cheers erupted and people leapt to their feet when Kucinich’s name was announced. The jubilation quickly ended as the business of resolution-passing continued.
Around 9:30 p.m. debates regarding the resolutions concluded and the caucus came to an end – mostly because the building was closing. Even though the evening had been unruly, boisterous and outright chaotic, the whole caucus gave me hope for American democracy. The 2004 presidential race is going to be a brawl at the voting booth unlike anything in recent election history. And hopefully, no one will get hurt in the process.
John Troyer welcomes comments at [email protected]