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The Process

I am in Fairbanks this week for teacher in-service. Days of sitting in ballrooms, eating hotel lunches and reconnecting with a few colleagues from other communities. The experience has its highs and lows.

The cold has been relentless this week. It started before I left Circle with several days of fifty below temperatures. Even Fairbanks – usually twenty degrees warmer – did not provide an escape from the cold. I pulled in to the hotel parking lot on Sunday afternoon and couldn’t bring myself to leave the building again until late Tuesday. Every time I looked out of a window, the blanket of ice fog that hung over the city completely smothered my motivation to go anywhere.

I finally ventured into the cold on Tuesday night in order to participate in the democratic process. It was Super Tuesday and time to caucus. My students and I have been following the presidential primary process in our class. Along the way, we have had to learn about the difference between a caucus and a primary. I looked forward to the new experience of participating in a caucus, and I wanted to be able to tell my students about it.

Cars lined the streets on both sides for blocks surrounding the community center and caucus site. With an outside temperature colder than thirty degrees below zero, I stood in line with about fifty other people waiting to get into the building. As we were finally admitted, the welcome warmth of the inside was offset by the smell of sour breath from hundreds of people in too small a space inside. It was clear that there were far more participants than the organizers had expected. Every corner of the building was filled with a teeming mass of humanity. People were packed shoulder to shoulder and front to back, and though everyone seemed to be moving, no one was getting very far very fast.

Volunteers were trying to group people by representative districts. I was told that, being from Circle, I was in district six, but no one could tell me where the district six group was meeting. I was pointed to the opposite corner of the building several times, and it took several minutes to move from one room to the next.

I was finally led to the correct room, and stepping out of the mass of humanity, I joined five other souls sitting around a mostly empty conference table in a mostly empty room. The white walls, shabby furnishings, general unease, and solemn purpose for which we had assembled all made me feel like I was a kid in Sunday school. After introductions and polite chit chat, a  moderator finally entered our room in a rush, asked for a volunteer with a cell phone, and then called in to a conference number joining us by phone with other people caucusing in other remote locations across the region.

In the first step in the caucus process, we five were asked to go stand under the sign of the candidate we supported. Four of us stood beneath one candidate, and one of us stood under another. Under caucus rules, each group has to make up at least 15% of the total group to be considered viable and to continue on. Since there were only five of us, each of us constituted 20% of the whole, so both of our “groups” were considered viable. We were essentially done.

Someone from outside of our room came in and gave his pitch to convince us to change our vote to “undecided” for reasons too complex for this space. None of us did. We then checked in with those participants on the phone, and I was amused to hear Eliza on the phone from Fort Yukon. It was good to hear a familiar voice in the maelstrom, and the other four were astonished that I knew the person on the other end of the line. And like Sunday school, the whole thing lasted about a hour, but seemed like a lot longer.

Our in-service meetings continue, as do the presidential primaries. The Super Tuesday primary did little to resolve the Republican or Democratic contests, and our meetings are being about as effective against the problems plaguing our schools. But at least we are all participating in the process.

Posted on Thursday, February 7, 2008 at 01:20PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Hello Love. I'm proud of you, because you did the right thing in attending the caucus. I got to see your family Tuesday night, and they are all well and happy. Take care of you, Doll and stay warm. Love, Mom
February 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMom (Lizabeth)
Brian, it must be lonely and cold out there! I was talking caucus during lunch yesterday with my co-workers in Colorado. Co also uses the caucus method, and he was saying that the process is so convoluted here, so although he voted for a representative that supports Mitt, he was saying that between that day and the convention the eventual delegate may elect someone totally different then Mitt (unfortunately for him, Mitt dropped out). If this is true, it seemed the caucus way has got to to!
February 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDad (JR)

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