Sunday, February 12, 2012

Local Democratic Caucuses: Cardboard, Glue and Scissors

I was watching CNN coverage of the Presidential caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado this past week, and the announcers were somewhat amazed at the crude nature of the proceedings. Votes made on paper, tallies counted by hand, and oftentimes results written on a chalkboard. CNN rushed to deliver the counts from the inside of the caucus room: Romney 9, Santorum 8. Early momentum!

I have helped lug poster board to local political caucuses for a few years now, so the low-tech nature of these gatherings is not a shock to me. And yesterday, all across Massachusetts, Democrats began to gather in local caucuses to conduct business with sharpies and easels.

In American politics, caucuses are where the process comes closest to the people. While those who help organize the caucuses-- myself included-- typically have an agenda and course of events in mind, the reality is a caucus is run by the people who attend. It's an opportunity on the most local level for voters to influence the course of their party.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party identifies a window of a few weeks this time of year for the party's most local bodies-- ward committees and city and town committees- to host caucuses. That window opened yesterday and continues through February. My local committee, the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee, hosts its caucus on Saturday, February 18 at 10 a.m. at the First Church in Boston in the Back Bay.

Within the party organization, the caucus serves at least one very important function, selecting delegates to represent the local committee at the state party convention, which is typically held the first Saturday in June. Most don't know this, but the state convention is where candidates for state-wide office are selected. This year, Elizabeth Warren and Marisa DeFranco are vying to become the party's nominee in the U.S. Senate race against Senator Scott Brown. If both candidates do not earn at least 15-percent of the delegate vote at the state convention, then only one of them will move on, and there will be no need for a primary in the race. So those delegates are important.

There are a lot of intricacies to the process, but the reality is, it all does start with the caucuses, with individual party members (aka registered Democrats) getting their chance in a public forum to influence party business. For all the talk of insider baseball and party favors, we often lose sight of the fact that fundamentally, the Democratic party must return to the people each year and organize the local caucuses.

If you are a registered Democrat, I encourage you to find your local caucus and participate. Those who live in Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Bay Village, and the part of Chinatown in Ward 5, I will see you on the 18th.

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