I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat. - Will Rogers
I think that quote is more self fulfilling than anything. Thursday was Missouri's congressional district caucus day. Unfortunately there was no wireless (on a university campus of all places...), so live blogging was right out, but here is the walk through as I took my notes throughout.
Doors there opened at 6:30PM and closed at 7:30. We got there just after 7. At the time there dozens of people milling about in the building's lobby and another several dozen in the auditorium/classroom where the main caucus was being held. A number of people were going around giving out form letters from Sen. Obama and a couple other party leaders recommending these people as national caucus delegates. I too walked around for a few minutes introducing myself as one wanting to be a national delegate.
Shortly after 7:30 we all took our seats as the head of the caucus meeting took the stage and called us to order. We then proceeded to go through roll call, going through twenty or thirty precincts worth of state delegates. Due to horrible communications, both at the precinct caucuses and in the month since, a large number of delegates didn't come to this meeting because they either weren't fully informed about the caucus or were told, as we were, that this was optional. After 45 minutes of this, there were 7 delegate seats for Clinton lost (I think just on the congressional caucus level, not state, but I'm not sure) and 18 Obama delegate seats. This left the Clinton caucus with 34 delegates and Obama with 70. Out of these, we needed to pick a total of 7 delegates to send to the national convention - 2 for Clinton, 5 for Obama and no alternates at our caucus.
To do this, we were split into our respective groups and a temporary caucus chairman was appointed to each group. For some reason, the main caucus chair already had a Clinton caucus chair picked, but asked for volunteers for the Obama caucus. The person in charge of our precinct caucus, Matt Robinson, was floated as a chair, but the main chair said "He's in charge of too many of my meetings lately, does someone else want to do it." Another gentleman near the front was the loudest one and most easily seen and was quickly appointed.
We then went upstairs to our separate conference rooms where the actual delegates were supposed to sit at the front of the room and alternates and observers were supposed to sit in the back. Of course, there was no enforcement of this so who knows what actually happened. After we all got in and took our seats, the temporary chairman was elected permanent chair because no one else wanted to compete for it.
Then came the mess of trying to pick our delegates. In order to be a national delegate and sent to the convention in Denver, we had to have already filled out Form F3, a fact not all of us were told in our precinct caucuses (Jaelithe and I only found out through her digging into it). This meant that many of us either didn't have the necessary paperwork, or didn't know if it was already filled out. So for the next thirty minutes we debated back and forth the best way to verify that all the potential delegates had the proper paperwork while the chairman repeated the quote above.
Eventually we started nominating delegates, men only first (we had to pick two men and three women) and the state officials with the list of people who filled out Form F3 (yes, there was a list, the debate was whether we should read out the names in advance or as the names were nominated) checked that we were eligible. Some people were nominating themselves, others were nominating boyfriends, brothers, sons, fathers, etc. My wife stood up and nominated me, making the comment that I was her husband. Later, I noticed that Mr. Robinson hadn't yet been nominated, even though I knew he wanted to be a delegate, so I raised my hand to nominate him. The chairman looked at me and said "I see your plan. Your wife nominated you and you are going to nominate her." Then he moved right past me and wouldn't listen to me. This completely ignored the fact that we weren't nominating women and people were nominating themselves. He went on making fun of half the other people nominated and complained that so many people wanted to participate.
Eventually twenty men were nominated. According to Form F3, we were supposed to be allowed one minute to make a speech and introduce ourselves. Instead the chairman was unwilling to give us any time, but was eventually forced to give us ten seconds each. And not a real ten seconds, instead the chairman would count to ten on his hand. If the candidate took less than "ten seconds" the chairman would then go on the mic and say "Wow, he only took 9 seconds!" (wasting more time than the speech itself.)
Then came the voting. Everyone was given a piece of green paper on which to write the names of two men. Now, according to the original roll call, we were only supposed to have 70 votes. The first vote, we wound up with more than that. Then we took fifteen minutes debating how to re-vote. Eventually we decided to do a roll call and give each delegate a piece of paper to do the second vote. So one person started calling out our names, and the chairman handed out the papers. Unfortunately, the names were called one after the other and were not matched against who was giving out the papers. After the second vote we had eighty-eight votes. Since it was the same number twice, we went with it.
While we were counting the men's votes, we started nominating the women. This time twenty-three candidates were nominated and, since most of the craziness was already worked out with the men, it went a bit smoother. The chairman still didn't want to let anyone speak, but was forced to give them the same "ten seconds" as the men. The best moment of this was when one of the women wouldn't give up the mic saying "You know we all have wanted to do this to him."
All the votes were finally counted. I ended with seven votes and Jae got ten. The winners however were Darryl Piggee, Burt Boxerman, Yaphett El-Amin, Jennifer Haro, April Ford Griffin - all party insiders except Jennifer Haro, who is the head of St. Louis's Obama group. I expect that these people will represent us well, but if it's just insiders in these caucuses, many of us outside may still question the outcome.
Here's hoping the state convention is better organized and maybe it won't be just insiders going to the national as Missouri's "at-large" delegates. Maybe they'll even have wireless...