So because I need to get it out of the way I’m going to talk about my foray into local politics and how I got here as it’s been a major part of my life for the last year.
Thanks Bernie Sanders
I’d heard about this independent US senator from one of those tiny northeastern states that no one remembers a few years back and nodded in approval on whatever issue he was talking about at the time (probably debate on Obamacare). That was, as far as I can recall, my first acknowledgement of the existence of Bernie Sanders. I wasn’t a voracious consumer of political news and opinions at the time. I didn’t really consider myself political until opposition to Obama mounted in 2010 and I really, really started to take notice when Occupy Wall St. started.
So then this Bernie Sanders guy says he’s going to run for president and my first reaction was, ‘huh…good for him.’
Now, not to exactly bash Hillary Clinton but I wasn’t a big fan of hers. I wasn’t a big fan of her when she ran in 2008. I wasn’t a big fan of her being the presumptive nominee before she even announced her candidacy in 2015. I became even less of a fan of hers as the 2016 primary season wore on. I did end up voting for her in the general and was both happy that she lost and sad that Trump won.
Somewhere around December of 2015 I’d already donated like $15 to the Sanders campaign for their fight in Iowa and I’m getting emails on a pretty regular basis on how important the Iowa caucuses are and how Bernie and his campaign could use my help! Right around January (the Iowa caucus is in February) it dawns on me, I live 10 minutes away from Iowa. I could actually leave my house and go to Iowa and help the campaign! What?! I could be a pivotal part of a US presidential election! So I dragged Lisa to a Bernie Sanders rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa and we loved it. We were hooked. We donated another couple of dollars and made plans to knock on doors (it’s called canvassing in campaign-speak) for Bernie.
So I volunteer and do some phone tag with some staffer and end up driving over the river to the campaign headquarters to get my first assignment: Oakland, Iowa. Let me tell you how hardcore they are in Oakland; They’ve got a gas station that’s basically their grocery store, that’s how hardcore. Seriously though, there was a blizzard and people thought I was crazy for going door-to-door in that kind of weather. But hey, ‘have I told you about our Lord and Savior, Bernie Sanders?!’
The week before the Iowa caucus I brought Lisa with me to canvass. For company, assistance in figuring out what the hell I was doing and because I love her. Proud to report that all the districts we canvassed in went to Bernie in the caucus!
We need delegates
Iowa was over and we felt good but wait…what about Nebraska? When can we vote for Bernie? Turns out, it was about a month later. So what did we do? We went canvassing again.
Side-note: Did I mention that this was the most effort I’d ever put forth for a political candidate in my life? I think I gave $10 to Obama in ’08 but this was getting crazy. At the end of 2016 I gave Lisa our annual household budget report with how much we had given to Bernie’s campaign (it was significant) and her response was, ‘We should’ve gave more.’ Wow. I love that woman. This was after the primary was over, this was after Trump was president-elect and her response to a lost candidacy was, ‘We should’ve gave more.’
So we push for Bernie in our state and we even get a promotion from ‘canvassers’ to ‘caucus captains.’ I don’t care, I’m calling it a promotion. We helped coordinate and rally the people to our cause. We even won in our district. This is where it really starts though. This is where the campaign ended but the local politics began.
So, the way a Nebraska caucus works is this (too long; didn’t read: District level -> county level -> state level -> national level): You get a bunch of people who live in the same geographic area (district) together to vote for candidates. Depending on how many people live in said district you then proportionally assign some of those people to become delegates for the county convention. Example: Our district had six or seven hundred voters and we had to then ‘elect’ 20-something people to represent their preferred candidates at the county convention. I had never caucused before. I did not understand exactly what was happening. I did not make a very good caucus captain. By the time the caucus ended most people had left. We were supposed to elect representatives for the county level and Lisa, being a woman, ended up having to be elected to go to the county convention because the Nebraska Democratic Party requires equal representation for men and women.
After the caucus we go to the county convention where we meet some candidates for public office and hear speeches and vote for county party leadership, including the central committee which, again, Lisa is elected to. At the end (they rushed us out, there was some drama about that) we now needed to elect people from each district to represent the county at the state convention! Since Lisa and I are basically a political powerhouse team at this point we can fill two of the spots needed and everyone agrees that we should go. So now we’re both delegates.
Is it Kar-nee or Keer-nee?
So now Lisa and I have three day vacation to sunny, beautiful Kearney, Nebraska (Oooh…ahhh…)! As far as one-horse town’s go it had a few horses. If that tells you anything. I don’t know man, Google it.
We spend three days in Kearney at the Nebraska Democratic Party’s 2016 state convention. This is where I really felt like a noob to politics. I saw Chuck Hassebrook who had mounted an unsuccessful run for governor of Nebraska and I got twitter-pated (Lisa says that’s a word). I met our super-delegates and even got to vote for them! We had become fully engulfed in one of the two main parties in the state and were meeting a ton of like-minded people. Like…a metric fuck-ton of people became Facebook friends.
It was here where current party divisiveness really, really showed for the first time, for me. Maybe in a few years people will write about it and how the two factions of the Democratic party either tore each other apart or became a powerful opposition force to the GOP. Or maybe we’ll just be a footnote to the ongoing story of American politics. There were the Bernie people who, literally, joined the Democratic party just to vote for Bernie Sanders. Then there was the ‘establishment.’ The people that had been in the party for years, who knew all the ‘big-wigs’ in the party and all the rules and how to run things. It boiled down to ‘us vs. them’ and the Bernie people coordinated an all-out attack on the establishment. We elected as many of our fellow Bernie supporters as we could to every party position we could find. Ultimately that’s how I found myself as a member of one of the caucuses (an off-shoot of the main party that focuses on specific issues). At the end of the weekend, I had a new position within the party and Lisa was, again, elected to represent our district on the central committee. We elected a progressive activist to lead the state party and we were ready to change the direction of the party and (hopefully) the state.
Meetings, so many meetings
So with these new positions and friends and factions we found that there was a lot of work to do. It’s really not about having ‘Democrat’ written on your voter registration card and calling it good. There’s a lot of things to do. There’s meetings, there’s new friends, there’s meeting new people, there’s protests, there’s activism, there’s canvassing and phone-banking and donating! So much stuff. From just sitting around playing video games and forcing myself to continue a different project on the house (that’s for another blog post) to making and having a schedule and cancelling events for other events. It’s really filling out your life and your time. We love it too.
That’s it. That’s how we got to where we are and, most of, what I wanted to say about it. Maybe I’ll expand on certain things in the future. Maybe not. That itch is scratched though. I feel better.