Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Texas Two-Step: Step Two

As promised, today I bring to you Part 2 of the bizarre story of caucusing for Obama at the Texas Democratic primary in 2008. If you like rodeos, then you’re in the right place, padnah.


Originally written in March 2008

On Saturday morning, I awoke at 4:45 with only one thought in my mind: BARACK. It was time to get up and Barack the vote at the Travis County Democratic Convention.

You might remember that Nick and I were selected as alternate delegates from our precinct to the county convention. We got a phone call a couple of weeks ago letting us know that we had been promoted to full delegate status and that we would need to meet up with the other 66 Barack delegates from our precinct at 6:15am at the HEB. Woohoo! We can sleep when we're dead.

We met our fellow dazed delegates and caught a ride to the Travis County Expo center with a nice couple. The wife turned out to be a freelance copyeditor for UT Press -- SMALL WORLD. We were about a mile away from the expo center when traffic came to a dead stand-still. It took us nearly 45 minutes to make our way up to the expo center, where two traffic attendants were taking their time collecting $5 from each car for parking. Talk about a barrier to voting!

We made it up to the south side of the expo center and discovered multiple lines snaking through the parking line, and numerous people roaming around with hand-made signs with precinct numbers on them. We eventually ascertained that we needed to check in with our precinct leader, get our alternate credentials in long line #1, and then proceed to long line #2 to get our delegate credentials. We knew that we had to be signed in by 10am for our vote to count. From 7:30 to 9:55am, we dutifully stood in our lines and chatted with the folks around us. At 9:55, after much pushing and shoving and elbow-throwing, Nick and I finally clawed our way to the front of the line to sign in for Obama. We cheered triumphantly and smugly looked around at all of the poor chumps who would not be able to sign in. That is, until we saw a hand-written sign proclaiming that sign-in had been extended indefinitely. Gulp.

We knew that we would be waiting until all of the thousands of signatures were hand-tallied, so we decided to walk down the road a mile or so to the closest sign of humanity -- a Conoco gas station. Nick and I set off with Jessi, a friendly girl from our precinct, and picked our way down to the main road and down to the gas station. The traffic situation had evidently become untenable, and the main road, as well as the road leading to the expo center, was littered with abandoned cars. It was like a zombie movie, or the Rapture -- eerie quiet, dozens of empty cars, and confused-looking people wandering around the barren landscape. We reached the Conoco station and bought taquitos and danced to reggaton coming from cars in the parking lot. We were realizing just how much time we were going to have to kill.

We made it back to the expo center a little before noon to begin the Afternoon of Waiting. We sprawled in the lawn in front of the expo center, we napped in the grass, we tossed rocks into holes and shredded blades of grass. It was a lot like this:

Eventually we went inside to begin several hours of Buddhist-style sitting meditation.

The expo center is huge and well-suited for rodeos. But on Saturday, we were herdin' Democrats. The bleachers and chairs on the expo floor were divided up by precinct, and we dutifully took our place with our precinct on the floor. The day's entertainment was an endless parade of local politicians who all gave variations on the same speech: "Is today a great day to be a Democrat in Texas, or what???? WOOOOOOOOOOO!!! We gotta get those Republicans out of office! WOOOOOOOOOOOO." As you might imagine, we began to crave the brief moments of silence between speeches. I entertained myself by watching the sign language interpreter, who signed with such emotion and gusto that I could have understood most of the speeches with earplugs in.

Every so often, someone would assure us that we were mere moments from getting started with our caucus . We knew better. The crowd became restless. The food was expensive and inadequate; it was extremely hot and noisy inside the giant expo center; the lights were all blue generator lights that gave everything a sickly pallor and seemed to give everyone the same headache; the feedback from the microphone created an intense constant background throbbing that must be akin to the sound of being inside a womb. A woman passed out. Someone started the wave and it traveled around and around the expo center, gaining intensity. People would half-heartedly start chants: O-BA-MA versus HIL-LA-RY or just Sí se puede! Sí se puede! By far the highlight of the day was a frazzled father, who approached the podium clutching a screaming baby. "If anyone has Huggies size 3 diapers, please--please approach the podium. Thank you." He was mobbed by concerned-looking woman with diaperbags. Someone snapped a photo of him with his new stack of diapers and still-screaming baby.

Finally, around 5:30, things started happening and we actually conducted our caucus. What anti-climax! We were handed post-it notes by our precinct captain and instructed that we would vote when she held up a clipboard with our number. They predetermined our votes to maximize the number of delegates we got...or something. Basically, we were good little ducklings and we raised our hands when the nice lady told us to.

And then...that was it. We were free! The folks who drove us over decided to stay until the bitter end and sign up to be at-large delegates. We didn't know what that meant and we did not care to stick around to find out. I grabbed literally the next person who walked by who was wearing our precinct teeshirt and begged a ride back to town from her. We ended up piling 5 deep in the cab of a pick-up with two seats. On the way home, we rolled down the windows and shouted platitudes to other Obama folks. We also bypassed approximately two miles of cars lined up patiently, waiting to turn right, and at the last minute cut in front of a lagging car. I had spent all day hating the people who were cutting in line ahead of me, but I was so thankful that the stranger driving the truck decided to be a jerk. All the sooner to come home and collapse in exhaustion.

--31 March 2008, Austin, Texas

And that, my friends, is how I helped get Obama elected: by shredding blades of grass outside of a rodeo arena in Texas for twelve hours. I suppose there are many ways to get something like that accomplished. Sí se puede, y'all!

Discussion Question:
What’s your favorite way to get involved in the political process?

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