Like most political virgins, I didn't have a clue what would happen when I walked into the local high school gymnasium. I just wanted to participate in my country's democratic process.
So 9:45 a.m. Saturday morning found me wandering amidst barely controlled mayhem at my Democratic caucus site in Olympia, Washington, looking for my precinct table and hopefully a familiar face from my neighborhood.
Two nicely dressed women in crisp outfits glad-handed the 50-odd people who had showed up from my precinct -- most of us wearing last weekend's clean sweats or jeans, blearily clutching a Starbucks. As I found a seat I idly wondered, What are they doing? Running for election?
And then the light dawned. Ahhhh ...
These were the people on the hunt for delegate status -- the ones who wanted to raise the standard of the Great State of Washington in Philadelphia for Bernie or Hillary in July. As I sipped my rapidly cooling coffee, I shook my head. Better them than me!
I'd already attended four presidential conventions.
Working for CNN back in the 1980s, I'd witnessed firsthand the Reagan/Bush nominations in Detroit and Dallas as well as the Clinton/Mondale nomination in Madison Square Garden in New York, and the Mondale/Ferraro nomination in Dallas in 1980 and 1984 respectively.
As far as I could tell, the whole thing was an out-of-control party -- a three-day binge of opinions; red, white, and blue hats; political platitudes and banner-waving -- a free-for-all of alcohol, sex, late-night parties and balloons under the guise of a legitimate political process.
I wanted no part in it.
With the sputtering of a bullhorn and a "test one two one two... can you hear me?" the caucus started. After a brief speech by the Washington State Insurance Commissioner our local organizer mounted a lunchroom table, shouting at us over the din. "Bernie people over there!" she pointed towards the bleachers. "Hillary people over there!" She pointed towards a wall. "Undecideds over there!"
A show of hands from the three groups revealed 24 Bernie supporters, nine Hillary supporters and seven undecided.
Then the real fun began.
Delegate hopefuls quickly zeroed in on the undecided. A woman with a Hillary button made it there first, so the woman with a Bernie button veered off to work the Hillary crowd. The rest of us milled around and for the next half hour everyone talked, playing out the whole US political process in miniature right in front of me.
No surprise, the he's and she's with the best vocal cords, most respectable outfits and the highest appearance of confidence in their facts, held sway.
Unfortunately, the most convincing "fact" being pushed by Hillary proponents was not a fact. It was opinion.
"Bernie is too idealistic to be effective in office," they said.
Really? I thought. Since when do we not vote for someone because their ideals are too high?
Since when do we vote for someone because their ideals are more in alignment with the current corrupt political status quo? Isn't the person with the highest social concern and ideals the person we should be lining up to stand behind in freaking droves, showering them with rose petals, rowdily cheering them on?
I couldn't help myself.
"Whatever happened to hope?" I chimed in. "Whatever happened to the belief in genuine change? How can it ever happen if we always keep settling for less?"
Immediately I was accused of naiveté.
"Come on," the Hilary people said. "Look what happened to Obama."
"Yes, why don't we?" I shot back. "Obama's current appalling political stalemate with Congress has occurred precisely because of a general lack of real hope in the American people.
"Ennui and hopelessness cling to US politics like a foul perfume. And the 2014 interim Congressional elections where we had the absolute worst voter turnout ever since World War II, reflect it.
"Yes, Hilary is an 'insider who knows how to get things done.' Which is what worries me about her. We all know how things get done in the nation's capital -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge."
I made a few grotesque winking motions and soldiered on.
"Trump is campaigning successfully on his very status as an outsider because of it. We can't have it both ways, you know.
"Bernie has served 34 years to Hilary's eight as an elected official. He knows how to get things done. AND he's pushing for higher ideals and counting on HOPE to rise once again in American hearts.
"Because he knows when enough of us stand up on our hind legs and shout out ENOUGH! by voting our highest ideals, things WILL change. And then hope will no longer be necessary."
Well... um... then I ended up as a Bernie delegate to the district Caucus next month.
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