An Introvert Walks into a Caucus…

In the United States, a precinct caucus is the smallest unit of politics one can participate in – it’s the beginning of the beginning.

Last night, the Republican and Democrat caucuses took place in little class and canstockphoto50751416conference rooms all over the state of Minnesota. I have always considered myself an independent and in the distant past, voted for whatever candidate I felt would be best. These days, moderate Republicans are like unicorns and independent parties keep putting up fringe operators at best, so last night I went blue and attended my local precinct caucus for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (Democrats in Minnesota).

In a fit of pique after the 2016 election, I had joined the nonpartisan League of Women Voters (LWV). They focus on voting rights and community issues, which appealed to my sense of egalitarianism (wasted in the current environment, but old habits die hard). I was dipping my toes into the pool of activism. I’d always been politically informed, a nerd who read The Economist and Foreign Affairs, but joining a march or going door-to-door made me shrink away in horror. And meetings give me a shiver of revulsion.

Current events being what they are and simply being pissed off enough to overcome my personal inclinations, I typed up the voting rights resolutions (items you put forward to be added to the party platform) supported by the LWV and packed myself off to the precinct caucus.

canstockphoto26667276The last time I attended any caucus was about 20+ years ago, while I was attending the University of Iowa. I was working three jobs and trying to get through college. I’d gotten out of the Army with some vestiges of Republicanism, but had given up religion and was turned off by the conservative morality police, so I attended a Democratic caucus down the street from my apartment. Like most of college, I have little recollection of the proceedings.

As an introvert, I have to prepare myself for events. I’m usually filled with nervous anxiety, don’t sleep well the night before, and find myself issuing mental commands: Breathe. Relax your shoulders. And then the reassurances: It’s only two hours. It will be fine. In the case of this precinct caucus, it wasn’t just a case of showing up and listening. I had to speak as well.

My suburb has 14,000 registered voters divided into eight precincts. Statewide, Minnesota has a slight majority of Democrats over Republicans, so statistically, my precinct caucus should represent around 800 Democrats. 15 people showed up. Low-level participation during a midterm year is common to both parties. A woman told me in 2016 that you could barely move through the hallways, it was so packed.

canstockphoto10803271The 15 people ranged from 30-80 in age, all of us having the blotchy pale color of a six-month Minnesota winter. We were ensconced in puffy clothes that made us all blobbish, wearing shoes with traces of road salt on them. This is the red carpet of an involved citizenry. Due to the small number, we were all automatically delegates to the next meeting. Yay?

We followed the rules of order and an agenda, while being interrupted by politicians popping in to give their mini stump speeches. They all seemed a little breathless, as if they were attempting to go to every one of Minnesota’s 4,117 voting precincts.

The first major bit of business was doing a straw poll for gubernatorial candidates, since ours is on the ballot in the fall. I was one of two uncommitted voters in the room. It’s early in the process for me to determine who I’d support. And I simply hadn’t done the research.

canstockphoto39668856When it came to resolutions, I had five. There were only two others from the rest of the room. One was from an elderly gentleman who shook slightly as he spoke – he wanted a moratorium on factory farms. I knew that there were lobbies in our surrounding states to do the same, due to the health issues and the pollution of waterways. His resolution passed.

I went through three voting rights resolutions: automatic registration with the driver’s license (an opt out system rather than the current opt in), pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-old voters (raises early voter participation), early voting using actual ballots and not absentee ballots (saves money and less confusing to voter). Then two government accountability resolutions: no more omnibus bills in the state senate and house, must follow single subject line rule (with the exception of major finance bills which have a lot of moving parts) and transparency in electioneering communications (currently if ads don’t say “Vote for” or “Defeat” in Minnesota, advertisers don’t have to identify themselves).

All my resolutions passed unanimously. A slight victory, since these resolutions will have to go through many more filters before having a shot at making it into the state’s party platform, much less any actual legislation in the very far future.

The last resolution was done on the fly by a man hastily filling in the form. He was talking about school referendums and I didn’t understand what exactly his resolution was, despite asking for clarification. Since I did not have the opportunity to do any research, I abstained from the vote. It, whatever it was, still passed. Easy crowd.

canstockphoto48358399I walked into the caucus with apprehension, but I walked out as the precinct chair, a delegate, and an election judge. I am reminded of a magnet on the fridge that a friend gave me: Stop me before I volunteer again. I am an introvert, but I’m also tired of the loudmouths having all the power. Our system suffers when the extroverts and impulsive blabbers dominate.

It was a big question among my introvert friends last year. How can I make a difference without being loud? I remember a sign that showed up at marches: “So bad, even introverts are here.” The world has become so hostile and angry that people like me want to retract our limbs into our shells. But now is simply not the time. Better to counter the impulsiveness of shameless self-promoters. Just breathe, relax your shoulders, and step into the world, resolutions in hand.

15 Comments on “An Introvert Walks into a Caucus…

  1. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve certainly had enough of loud mouths to last me a lifetime. More power to you Michelle — walk softly and carry a big stick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Same here. I think the amplification by social media and the 24/7 news cycle has made it such a cacophony that quiet thoughtfulness is becoming a lost skill. I’m tired of listening to pundits talk for the rest of us. For me, this is all a learning process from the ground up. I have to try to remain open and curious.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Good for you.
    On the outside, it’s fascinating the layers of democracy that are available in the U.S., at once glorious and stultifying. When I first moved to the border, I was intrigued by the concept of town meetings. We don’t have such a thing in Canada, as far as I know. Our little border library doesn’t just ask the selectmen (another great but antiquated word) for money; the library has to collect signatures on the petition at the circulation desk to demonstrate that request is justified. And then everyone in the village can vote on it! Amazing!

    Like

    • I think I got in the habit of seeing everything from a big picture perspective. The only problem with that is that one falls into the trap of categorization and generalities. I hope that coming in at the ground level will help give nuance to things I’ve little understood.
      When you talk about the town meetings, that is similar to where a precinct caucus starts. The people in my precinct live relatively close to me and deal with the same issues. It will be interesting to see how that evolves and changes as things go up the ladder.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulations are in order, and I wish you the best of luck in moving forward. Don’t get too frustrated (politics do that to people) and keep your eye on the goal.

    Like

    • I wrote about this, because I think it’s funny how easy it is to be involved. Just show up. That may change as I get farther into this process, but it reminds me of the movie “Being There” with Peter Sellers.

      Like

  4. Yay for you. You are exactly the sort of person we need in moving politics toward a more thoughtful and humane process. You should be proud of yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At this point, it still feels like spitting in the wind. I had a long talk with the caucus chair afterwards, in an attempt to understand the organizing principles – so many chairs, committees, and delegate functions got thrown at us in a halfhearted attempt to recruit volunteers. I could tell most people didn’t even know what most of it meant, myself included. It’s like any other bureaucracy, I suppose – a culture unto itself and takes a while to get all the lingo.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Maaan, see, that’s my problem: introversion. Groups don’t terrify me so much as present an obstacle to my sanity. But, gees, this is inspiring.

    Also, I wasn’t in the Army, but I did serve in the military (USAF). And while I chastise my girlfriend every time she tries to remember whether or not I was a soldier, I have to say, you Army folk a category of toughness unto yourselves. Thank you for service, and helping page the way for some of the best leaders I’ve ever known. May seem like a small thing, but women in the military are inspiring, too (I say as much in spite of my current aversion to all the faux-love active and veteran servicepeople seem to get).

    Great post and a lot to think on after reading it. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. Like most things I do that require a social element, this wiped me out. That’s the thing about introverts – you can pull off a short stint of engaging, but the recovery time in solitary has to be four times as long.

      I have to admit to my aversion to the “thank you for your service” deal. I was in the Army during the end of the Cold War, a relatively peaceful time. It was a lot of cold, shit work (I spent a lot of time in a motor pool and out in the field in Germany), but my chances of dying were slim. It paid for part of college and I did some traveling, so that was good. But these days, I’m very cynical about authority and a lot of that has to do with my military experience.

      I was posted the first couple of years with all 4 military branches and we were always a little envious of the Air Force people (better chow, barracks, and services).

      Like

  6. I want to thank you for doing something that was against your normal nature. I find it funny that many people think that if we served we must be Republican. Like you I have always voted with my heart, with the person and values that spoke to me. Many times those are on the indepenant ticket. I have also participated in the DFL local caucus. It is an eye opening experience. Although I can’t participate like I could when I lived in Minnesota I am glad to help support those like you who will take up the issues and represent. Best wishes in the coming months. I will be following.😀

    Like

    • Thanks for the good wishes. I’ll have to see how things shake down, since I’m just at the beginning of the process. I found myself becoming an Independent who was voting for more and more Democratic candidates, so I felt it was time to see if I could work within a system to make it better, since the Democratic party is not without its flaws.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You have thoughtful readers. I understand the volunteering drive, the internal need to make one’s voice heard for the many who remain silent. Keep with your personal regimen and do not let your involvement wipe you out.

    Like

    • I’ve learned to follow a solitude to people time ratio (about 3:1) so that I don’t get too worn down. Hillary Rettig wrote a book called The Lifelong Activist, which is useful. She’s a little more regimented and intense, but I look at it occasionally for some tips.

      Liked by 1 person

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