Let this nightmare end (for everyone’s sake.)
Mark Anderson, 2/26/2016
I called the caucus to order for my large precinct and read the script as was given in the TPC handbook, the part to read aloud was in bold. I introduced myself and explained (in the NV Dems own words) how it came to be that I was TPC. Then I explained the caucus and what we were going to do, how many delegates we were going to sending on (8) and the process of selecting the delegates. I referred them to the wall charts. (I am writing this on BART and do not have either room to write or the caucus guide handy to refer back to, so some of this may be slightly out of order, but only slightly.) I then told them it was time to elect a Permanent Precinct Chair.
There is, of course, nothing permanent about it, it was (is) no more than technical semantics. “Permanency” must fulfil some legal gymnastics, because the only place the word is used is in instructions for electing the Permanent Chair. In all text and in all conversation before and after that election moment, everyone uses “TPC” to describe the position. Go back and check any video or writing about the caucus and you will see “TPC” used universally. Go figure.
As per, I nominated myself Permanent Precinct Chair and asked for any other nominees. And then I said, “Anybody? Please?” A small laugh, AND reinforcement of the adage, “If you don’t like it, come up here and do it yourself.” Then I called all in favor say “Aye!” Ayes. Then I called for Nays. One nay. I said, “One person feels that way I do!” A better laugh. The precinct was now in the swing of things and I think we all felt better. It seemed to me that the tension of the registration period had fallen away and we were all focused on getting the caucus done, more or less. More. Keep in mind that Ms. Davidson was next door in the Gym starting up her precincts and we no longer had each other to lean on. I did not see her or talk to her until all my delegates forms had been filled out.
I then offered to read the statements from officials, in my MOST un-pressing tone. Nobody wanted to hear them, and that was an option provided for in the process, so we skipped that part. At this point, I put the precinct on hold and told them I had to attend to my other precinct. It was not yet 12:00, so I could not have gone any farther with that group anyway.
My small precinct was very small. It had been one person, but that population had doubled. Since it was so small, I had decided to get it over quickly, and to work out any kinks with the small group so that I had a better handle on penitential problems with the bigger group.
I read my script for my small precinct and covered all that I had for the larger one with the same results. The group consisted of two women, white, early thirties and late thirties respectively or there about. They had been patient and had been amiably chatting while waiting for me. Then we got down to brass tacks. This group was in the Gym proper and had been sitting together on the bleachers. I ask them to resolve themselves into faction groups. WE all saw the humor in this and didn’t move, we did not need to. It was at that time that they told each other and me that they each were for opposite candidates. No math was necessary to figure either viability numbers or delegate selection numbers (See previous installment for the math,) it was two people. With no other choice, we had to go directly to tie breaker: the deck.
I sat down next to them on the bleachers, brought out the official tie breaking deck of cards, and let each person hold and inspect the sealed deck. I had them watch me remove the wrapper. I removed the instruction card and the “Jacks.” Why the Jacks, I don’t know, that was what I was told at the training the night before. Then I had them agree whether the “Aces” were high card or low card. Aces were high. I then asked how they wanted to proceed. I was to shuffle the deck, and so I did, three times. Then I had them cut the deck, one pulled off a stack and I had the other put the bottom stack on top of the first. I then asked who wanted to pull the first stack for high card. The first woman took first stack: three of clubs, I think, it was a very low card in any event. The other woman took the second stack, it was a face card, I don’t remember which. And so that was that.
Huh, what? Did I leave out anything? Do you feel you are missing a part of the information? In Iowa, the DNC-candidate won 6 coin flips in a row. If you know anything about game theory, you could have predicted…, the delegate went to Bernie. I had nothing to do with it, but it made me feel better. A little bit but no a lot, I still had the big group to do. I really wanted to be done. I almost forgot the delegate election part.
So, when you award delegates, you must then have a delegate election within the caucus. And you must (should) have alternates. The Bernie person was the delegate, and the DNC-candidate supporter was the alternate (you got to give her credit.) And yes, the delegate goes to Bernie which-ever person shows up to represent the precinct at the county caucus.
Having dispose of the small precinct, I moved to the multi-use room (remember the mulita-use room?) and called the precinct to resolve into two factions, and undecided. It was required that I make the announcement, but it was an exercise in the absurdity of subjugation to form. The multi-use room was distinguished by the modular bench tables stacked in the room and brought into service for the caucus. One group was nestled into benches on one side as the other faction was nestled on the other side. There were no undecideds. That, of course did not stop me from calling three times for undecideds to declare themselves. I instructed the precinct captains to count their factions and then made my own count. We had 15 for Bernie and (eventually) 17 for the DNC-candidate for a total of 32 caucus members. The DNC-candidate precinct captain, the woman with focus, initially gave her faction number as 15, but a recount rendered 17—which brings me to the only mistake of the caucus.
When I counted the DNC-candidate faction I got 18. As it turned out someone’s daughter was sitting with the group as an observer. Now before anyone gets excited remember that the eager precinct captain had given me the correct number of 17, which I verified. Upon discovering this mistake and told the caucus that observers must be physically separate from the caucus. So she, the girl, moved away from the group.
Now we had to determine “Viability.” Remember viability? If not, please refer to the previous installment, “OMFGICFBTSIR Cont.” We took the total number of caucus goers (37) and multiplied by .15 to get 5.55. Using Democrat math we rounded up to 6. A meaningless exercise? I don’t know if I agree with that on this one. With a group, and working toward the allocation of delegates, I think dotting the “I” and crossing the “t” was a good idea.
There being no undecided and both groups being viable, we moved on to selecting the delegates. So here we go again.
15 Bernie people times the number of delegates (8) divided by the total caucus goers gave us 3.75, which we rounded up to 4 as per real math.
17 DNC-candidate people times the number of delegates (8) divided by the total caucus goers gave us 4.25, which we rounded down to 4 as per real math.
So, 4 delegates each, with Bernie getting the benefit of the tailings this time. Let this be a lesson to all of you; when it comes to game theory, you will not beat the numbers. Keep flipping that coin and you will get 50/50 eventually.
I instructed the factions to elect their delegates. I explained that anyone may nominate themselves and that they were allowed to give a one minute speech. The nominees had 15 minutes to convince their precinct to vote for them, and then each faction would vote among themselves. No speeches, and the vote? It was more a process of “Not It!” as they pretty much began clearing out. They had done what they had come to do and where ready to be done with it.
The precinct captains pressed the needed number of delegates into service. Bernie had less than the total number of alternates; the DNC-candidate had the full complement of alternates. Again, don’t mis-understand, the delegates were the delegates and they were registered as such. A delegate is essentially a place holder for a vote for the candidate. The system allows for the record of the delegate with no physical person to represent it in the event no one would be willing to be a delegate. It would be a TBA situation until the next level of caucusing. We left the site with the required number of delegates from all precincts for all candidates. The DNC-candidate had a better team that worked harder and was more effective on-site so they were able to twist their people’s arm to be on the hook for alternates The Bernie Precinct captain was able to get her delegates, but the Bernie crew demonstrated a greater desire to get out of there faster than the DNC-candidate folks.
During both caucuses I had both sides watch the count, the math, and they selected their delegates themselves. I then had the Precinct captains witness me call in the results to the NV Dems. I had to borrow the Bernie Precinct captain’s phone, because mine had no signal. It was a long process on the phone. To their credit, the NV Dems had tried to make the reporting process Sailor Proof. They got pretty close, I mostly struggled with the strange phone. Eventually, I made my official report of delegate selection. Everyone was satisfied that the vote was done fairly, counted fairly, and reported fairly—at least at the caucus. I made sure that everyone was on board each step. That does not mean that the DNC-candidate lead person did not entertain the idea of making a fuss later. In fact later, when we were getting ready to leave and I was carrying loads out to the van, I heard her, parked across the street, apparently reporting in to someone about “They had driven into [Nevada?] last night … [something about not knowing what they were doing.]” Anyway, being the timid fellow I am, it worried me.
With the room largely emptied out, with a few stragglers on candidate business with each other, some people wandered in from the other precincts asking about how the delegates had come out and sharing their results. It seems that the DNC-candidate walked away with one (maybe two) more delegates than Bernie. It was close, as I (and the rest of the world) had expected.
I went into the Gym to see how Ms. Davidson was doing. She had had a more difficult time with her precincts. Even though we had tried to divvy up the precincts as evenly as we could base on number of delegates per each, her precincts had come out in slightly larger force than mine. She had three and five delegate precincts. Additionally her people were not as well-behaved as mine.
The funny thing is, she had kept saying that she was there to insure that Bernie got the benefit of the doubt, but apparently she got more help from the DNC-candidate people and had a problem with the Bernie precinct captain. Go figure. At one point, when Ms. Davidson was trying to assign delegates, the Bernie captain mis-understood the math and kept trying to give away too many delegates to the DNC-candidate. SO I guess Ms. Davidson did what she came to do, by the long hard road.
I began collecting and checking all the packet materials to put them back in the packets and returned to the multi-purpose room to collect the delegate forms from the precinct captains. The room was empty after that and I took all materials into the Gym, I tried to keep an eye on stuff, because…, well, I did not want to put temptation in front of anyone, especially if they were the aggressive and focused type. I began tearing down all the signs we had put up, including the wall forms for the caucusing, and collected them in one corner of the Gym on a table. The “Restroom” signs and such I threw away, the others, I removed the tape (which I had bought BTW. I had bought a number of things to make the caucus work, how about that?)
I am not completely sure just what Ms. Davidson was working on across the way, but I did know enough to keep the hell out of her way and let her get it done her own way. Best plan. She was working through the delegate forms with the precinct captains, but I don’t know what else. Anyway, I collected her signs and such. I put my packets and all extra material into the big box they came in and put it next to where she was working and started to take things to the van. Two Bernie Precinct captains had not shown, but there were two captain packets on the table so I collected them to supply my group at SFSU for our table. (I had grabbed some stuff at the Fernley office the night before for the same reason. We now have lots of signs, yay.)
Finally the DNC-candidate from my caucus was satisfied that she had done all she could and repaired to her car to “tell on us,” and only two older women, one of each, were left in the Gym cleaning up their stuff as did Ms. Davidson. Meanwhile I had given the word to the janitors they could start cleaning up after the delegate vote. One more had arrived during the registration and another after I had finished my first precinct.
No official materials were left on premises, I cleaned out all usable materials to the van, and the one speck of food we left in the house was a crumb that was even too small for a mouse. We got in the van and the DNC-candidate across the street drove away and then so did we, north along Hwy 95 back, back to Fernley. Mush.
Along the way the guy called me and I gave him a quick rundown of the highlights. Did I tell him what I thought of the NV Dems or his shoddy work? What purpose would it have served at the time? Ms. Davidson and I were fried and bent on as swift and trouble free return to his house to finally deposit our burden as possible, so no. I was polite. I have been ridiculously polite throughout my whole campaign experience and, sad to say, that seems to be the most useful and effective way to get things done. No emotional satisfaction, only intellectual pleasure (minor pleasure) of getting tedious work completed. Oh to vent my spleen in mindless recklessness and give voice to my ID…, oh, I get it—the DNC-candidate.
Naturally we got behind a series of leisurely folks, but finally reached the house before Ms. Davidson even realized we were back in Fernley. We dropped off the Box of precinct packets at the house of the Democratic Party guy, and listened to a couple of horror stories from the guy’s wife (sorry I did not get her name, but to be fair, I did not get his name either. I am bad with names, and to be honest, I really wasn’t interested in anything but getting home at that point.) She had had a bona fide nightmare. She had run multiple precincts as well, but had more people and active shenanigans. I check in my packets with her to make sure all was in order and we said our goodbyes. Ms. Davidson and I mounted up and up to Fernley’s one (proper) stoplight, made a left, and headed for the Hwy 80 onramp.
That is a rough tale of what we went through. I left a lot out, a lot of our personal experiences and feelings leading up to the caucus, but this is overlong as it is. I suppose I could shorten it given time, but I have already given it too much time as it is.
If I may (and since I am my own editor here, I will) I would like to say something about general prejudice and its place in our work. When I came to canvass the first time, I did not have the most generous feeling toward the area where I was to knock on doors. I study history of the American west and know something (not nearly enough) about the forces that shape it’s history, which includes demographics and social norms. So I may have been less dismissive than a lot of Bay Area folks. But I was not sufficiently realistic in my thinking as I might have been.
I have written in these pages several times that the people I encountered were not a problem. I believe that most people who read my words automatically glossed over that first hand factual information in favor of the image that has been constructed about the people in the area. And that is the thing I want you to think about here.
As I said, I was not REALISTIC in my thinking. And that is the point. We have to accept facts and bend theory toward them (Hopefully no academics see this.) We battle two narratives in our campaign: the inevitability of the DNC-candidate, and the impossibility of a “socialist” winning the general. These grand narratives are constructed with mini-narratives, one of which is the make-up of the rural voter.
It is true that there a horrible fascists in rural areas, for example I went to a place with a confederate flag waving next door. The idea, however, that rural areas are the place where you find these people belies their existence in “our world” as well. This plays into a collection of narratives promulgated by very different actors. The guy with the confederate flag really wants the idea to be true, so that he can be a wheel in town. The person from—you pick the Yuppie Bay Area neighborhood so I don’t get yelled at—wants the idea to be true so that he can feel superior without having to prove it. More importantly, however, the media and, both parties really, want people to think it’s true so that they can support the narratives we battle in this campaign. Narratives that support a status quo that they control (by which I mean a perception of status quo, an idea that there is an immoveable and “natural” consistency, which they alone constantly change without the appearance of change.)
The thing is, the narrative is not true, at least not in the way that we imagine. The language may be different, but you can go anywhere in San Francisco or Berkeley and find plenty of people who will essentially say Bernie is a communist, or “get off my property!” There are as well, plenty of people in rural areas that will work for Bernie, given the chance. Quoting a line I dislike, from an actress I dislike in a movie I like, “[we] have to see with better eyes.” We cannot challenge the overarching narrative of neoliberal destiny (which is what we are doing BTW) unless we can challenge our own prejudice, our own buy-in to that narrative, and reach out to people we suspect are unlike us, we cannot amass sufficient numbers to successfully revolt. We need people for every square inch of this nation.
It is easy for you to imagine, for example, that you want to include Native Americans into our ranks. You must come to grips, however, with the idea and reality that a hell of a lot of Native Americans are rural people and live out in the boonies. To outreach to Native Americans is to necessarily outreach to rural areas. I guess my point is that we must find the facts about the people we are trying to organize and leave the prefabricated ideas back on the TV where they belong. If a, more or less, reliable Bernie person says that the people he encounters in the boonies are not a problem, then pay attention and question your received prejudice and re-evaluate your orientation toward canvassing away from the fun city. And here’s why:
My small precinct had 1 Sanders person show up and that gave him the delegate. My big precinct could have easily sent 5 delegates to the DNC-candidate’s 3, if two more canvassers had made a trip out convinced maybe four more people to attend the caucus for Bernie and one more (more!?! Try one) campaign person (or maybe even an observer) maybe turned one of the weakly aligned caucus goers. Our experiences, Ms. Davidson and I, showed clearly how little it would have taken to tip the scales.