Monday, February 11, 2008

My Civics Lesson

Yesterday was caucus day here in Maine. I wasn't originally planning to go for two reasons: 1) I had a dress rehearsal scheduled for the Vagina Monologues (You KNOW there's a post in the future about that experience!) and 2) I am an Independent and not a registered Democrat. The rehearsal was cancelled at the last minute and I found out that I could declare myself a Democrat at the caucus. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to participate in a very exciting process.

So at 2PM I headed into town to the caucus location. I parked a few blocks away and walked the short distance to the school. I didn't wear a coat, hat or gloves because I didn't want to be stuck carrying them around. But, of course, I DID bring my knitting. The weather had been sunny and mild but clouds were beginning to move in. I turned the corner and was faced with the sight of a line that stretched around the block from the school entrance and didn't seem to be moving. I decided to take my chances and joined the line. Immediately I struck up a conversation with a delightful young woman ahead of me. Everyone was in good spirits despite the amazingly long wait. Suddenly the weather took a major turn for the worse and we were in the midst of a blizzard. Here is a shot I took of the line:

It was a slow process but we eventually made it to the door...a full hour and forty five minutes after I got on line. It was now 4:00. The volunteer staff passed out flyers, stickers and reassurances that we would eventually get in, but the crowds were obviously much larger than they had expected or than the building could accommodate. This is a shot looking back at the line from the front steps:

It was at this point that I learned that I needed to get into another line to register as a democrat. So I peeled off and headed up the stairs and down the hall to join that line. It went down the hall, up the stairs to the second floor, up the stairs to the third floor and down the third floor corridor. But at least we were indoors and warm. I was soaked to the skin so the warmth was very welcome. And as an added bonus, when I pulled out my knitting to pass the time, the man ahead of me introduced himself as the Inventory Manager at one of my favorite yarn shops...Sweet! He gave me some "inside info" on their spring line, including some new sock yarn that promises to suck some money out of my wallet guar-un-teed!

We finally made our way into the registration room and up to the table. It was now 5:15, a full three hours after I joined the line. The room was packed beyond capacity. I snapped a picture as I finished my registration.

At this point, an announcement was made that all of the caucus rooms were filled beyond capacity so we would not be able to get in. Our only choice was to get in yet another line to fill out an absentee ballot that would be taken into the caucus rooms so our votes would be counted. It was disappointing not to be able to actually participate in the discussions and votes but at least our choices would be counted. The problem was that the line was more of a swirling, milling crowd elbowing its way up to a small round table. Organization was not the strong suit here. But, surprisingly, the mood was still upbeat and whining or grumbling. People were gracious and patient. At about 5:45, I turned in my absentee ballot and headed outside. Unfortunately, with all of the lines and crowds of people heading in so many directions, I got totally lost and finally had to ask directions. Eventually I got outside, headed for my car and went home. Despite my frustration I still felt very energized and excited about being involved in the democratic process, at whatever level. It was an afternoon well spent, in my opinion!

Obama carried Maine by a significant margin. Over 4000 people showed up for the caucus in Portland, about ten times the normal turnout. The energy and excitement was palpable and it was such a refreshing change from the "business as usual" politics that we have endured for the last few elections. Regardless of the outcome, it is an affirmation of democracy and the reason why this is still the best system in the world, warts and all.

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