My First Caucus

In the days leading up to Super Tuesday, I kept waiting to get an off-white invitation in the mail from an older neighbor, preferably an active, sporty grandmother-type, who had looked up my political affiliation and requested my presence in her home for the Democratic caucus. I would show up wearing a sweater and jeans and she would offer me a shortbread cookie and a cardboard cup of Earl Grey tea, because even though we’re neighbors, we don’t quite know each other well enough for me to drink from one of her cat mugs. I would sit down on the couch with six or so other neighbors and we’d chat amicably about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. After the count—more of a fun “Oh, you like that candidate?” thing than a mean, divisive political thing—we’d go back to our pleasantries, vowing to meet again for a summer barbecue in Cheesman Park.

But yesterday afternoon the envelope still hadn’t come. And I was starting to get antsy. So I called up the local Democratic Party and, to my grave disappointment, found out that no, my precinct’s caucus was not going to be held at Mrs. So-and So’s house. It was going to be held at Dora Moore School. An elementary school? Not the scene I’d envisioned for my warm, neighborly, first-time-ever caucus.

Nevertheless, when night fell, I pulled on my Wellies and began the trudge down Capitol Hill, wondering to myself whether Mrs. So-and-So would even be there, whether she even cared about politics in the first place. When I arrived at the school, hundreds of people were snaked around Downing Street waiting to get inside, where the scene wasn’t much better. I was herded into a crowded basement room with blue handprints on the walls and white tubes zigzagging across the ceiling. I was beginning to feel like a third class passenger aboard the sinking Titanic, and I watched in horror as a volunteer yelled “Precinct 611, upstairs!” and accidentally smacked a young man in the head.

As it turned out, my precinct, 603, was ordered upstairs as well. Joined by two other precincts, we filled the third floor auditorium, slumping into kid-sized chairs in our respective corners. It was time to get down to business. Unfortunately, my precinct got down to business a lot slower than the others. Our coordinator was still counting heads by the time another precinct had split into warring Obama versus Clinton factions and was more or less having it out.

“I’m scared of Hillary!” I heard a young man say from the other side of the room.

“Obama has stirred something in me,” said another. “And I’m not the only one. Look—all the Obama supporters are standing up while the Hillary supporters are sitting down.”

I looked over. A girl in Obama-nites gear was handing out brownies and chocolates to a younger, upright crowd while the Hill-raisers, many of them with oxygen tubes running under their noses, looked on hungrily from their seats.

Back at my own corner, I was hungering for a resolution. After two separate counts—one by show of hands and one by everybody standing up and then sitting down one by one as they voiced their preferences—it was established once and for all: precinct 603, full of old school, old fogey Democrats, had tipped toward Obama.

But the Hillary contingent remained strong, too, picking up four delegates to the county convention to Obama’s five. “There’s no question in my mind that we vote for Hillary,” said one man who was chosen to be a delegate. “I want to go. I want to go. I want to go.”

By the time precinct 603 had wrapped up its proceedings, the other neighborhood groups had long gone home. I snooped around for some Obama brownies, but then gave up and decided to haul myself back as well. I left Dora Moore School starving, but I also felt something else in my belly. It was a small, warm feeling—not the kind of sensation I would have gotten from a nice cup of Earl Grey—but a little palpitation that said, “You did your civic duty.” Ha to you, Mrs. So-and-So. I had.

-- Naomi Zeveloff

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