John Clark on the democratic process.
I got involved in politics during the Vietnam War and learned in the process that individuals really could make a difference. Unfortunately my addictions got in the way of continuing to have any positive effect, culminating one night in Portland following Brownie Carson’s loss in the campaign for the U.S. House seat he was running for. I can chuckle today, but at the time and for many years afterward, that night was cringeworthy.
When I started my recovery in 1980, I backed away from anything but local civic involvement, satisfying myself with 20 years on the budget committee in Chelsea, as well as serving as chair of the town planning board for six years. The latter was a real adventure in a town that was fragmented, mistrustful and populated with some real characters. I remember my neighbor Edna Morrison describing one local real estate magnate as being so crooked they would need to screw him into the ground instead of burying him when he died, while another broke down in tears when his business burned down with all his hoard of cash in the walls.
I have never missed voting in a state or national election and have only missed a handful of town votes, mainly ones where there was no opposition, or we were away at the time. My only foray into politics since moving to Hartland was as public relations person for Daniel Swain when he ran for the local house seat four years ago.
Despite a growing cynicism about the integrity of politics in general and living in a state that elected one of the world’s most notorious morons not once, but twice, I found myself ‘feeling the Bern’ this time around. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to find a candidate running for national office who hasn’t sold part or most of their soul to the devil along the way, and that’s contributed to my general avoidance of political activity, but I remember how I felt when McCarthy ran in 1968…a sense of hope and excitement that he might really make a difference. That feeling is back.
After 25 years as a registered independent, I became a democrat three weeks ago so I could participate in the caucus last Sunday. Beth and I, along with Nick Berry, my replacement at the Hartland Public Library, arrived at the Canaan fire station to join a steady stream of people. That site served Canaan, Hartland, Palmyra and Saint Albans. I’d been to caucuses way back, but was hazy on the process. Given that at least a third of those who came seemed to be first-timers, coupled with the room not being big enough, there was an initial, but genial chaos.
I was happy to see several familiar faces and an agenda on the whiteboard, not to mention hot coffee and some great munchies. The crowd was a definite representation of Somerset county, a few tats, a few missing teeth, some toddlers, caps featuring logging, construction and New England sports themes as well as a solid core of well educated retired folks.
Craig and Randy (county and town chairs) helped establish order and we were on the road to democracy. I’d forgotten that citizen participation at this level requires more than simply raising your hand when choosing a presidential candidate. After we grouped by town at various tables, each needed to have a secretary and it was strongly suggested we choose a town party chair as well. With a whopping seven (eventually swelling to eight) from Hartland, I ended up being secretary, while Nick got elevated to the lofty position of Hartland party chair. We learned that Hartland would have three votes for a presidential candidate based on the number of registered Democrats in town. Before an actual vote, participants were able to speak on behalf of the person they supported. At least ten of the hundred in attendance did so, with speeches ranging from short and succinct to multi-minute rambles that had to be refocused by the caucus chair. It was another perfect example of democracy in action. Next up was opening and counting absentee ballots. We had two, while Saint Albans with a similar population had twelve. We noted who was selected on them, then discussed among ourselves before making our choices. The Hartland tally was six for Clinton, four for Sanders which translated to two Hilary votes to one Bernie for the state convention in May.
There was more to do, beginning with finding three people willing to go to the state convention in May down in Portland. At first Mark and Deb who are also members of the library book discussion as are Beth and I, were willing to go, but they realized someone needed to stay home and care for their goats, so Beth and I, along with Mark will represent Hartland come May. The entire process was intimidating to some, exciting for many and hopefully satisfying for all. We headed home 2 ½ hours after things got started.
Did you attend a local caucus for either party? If you did, what was your experience like?