Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Caucus or kakas - thoughts on my first Caucus

I'm an American, and in our massively convoluted election system, it's time for preliminary votes for the upcoming presidential election. We have two political parties, the Republican and Democratic, and both parties (as well as the minor parties) usually hold events before the preliminary elections, including Caucuses (which are logistic meetings to choose delegates and discuss how to get more involved in advertising or rallying support). Often, the preliminary votes are cast at caucuses, and that was the case in Utah this year.

I attended the caucuses for both parties last night, and I want to just hit on a few thoughts I had about that experience, and then tie this into other ideas I've been thinking about for this blog.
Huge Crowds at Caucuses

I attended the Democratic caucus first, which started at 18.00 (6PM). The lines were long, so I took the opportunity to people watch and talk with some of them. The first thing I noticed was how different everyone was. I saw people with 2-4 inch gauges in their ears, brightly died hair styled in inverse mohawks or similar. I saw people with rainbow ribbons and buttons for many different issues. I also saw retirees and college students. I saw a guy in a picachu beanie fiddling with the pokeballs at the end as well as a kid dressed like Spock, make-up and all.
Picachu Beanie Spock Cosplay

I was shocked by how people were dressed, but talking for the 30 minutes I was in line, I found many commonalities and differences in my opinions, and was pleasantly surprised by how little anger or hatred there was in our discussions.

I got out of the school in about 45 minutes, and headed over to the Republican caucus. Things were starkly different there, as nobody really stood out as far as appearance went. There were no piercings anywhere but the ears, no intense hair styles, nobody cosplaying. Everyone looked about the same. My discussions there, however, were pretty similar, but had less variability than at the democratic one. I was likewise out of that one after 45 minutes.

Overall, I was very interested in seeing why people were out to vote, who they liked, and how they differed from myself, and I learned to respect almost everyone I talked to, even if I vehemently disagreed with their opinions. I made an extra effort to acknowledge the positive merits of their thoughts, and noticed that almost all of them reciprocated.

Now, on to my rhetorical topic.

I have been discussing misinformation, and the need to verify the information that we act on. This is very true in politics, where discussions about policies and ideas can get very emotionally charged. Reading articles about the caucuses, and seeing the comments from people about why they voted how they did, combined with my conversations with people at both caucuses, I found something very interesting. Most people didn't cite policies or platforms as reasons for their votes.

The main reasons given were about candidates' character. An example from the article above is about how Trump's character is not one the voters I liked, and they felt he didn't represent their values. A retiree I spoke with was impressed with how Clinton responded to tough questions during a debate, and has chosen to support her based on that show of competence.

Others cite leads in poles that caused them to vote against the candidate that they like best for more serious political reasons (like platform). Essentially saying they would be "throwing away" their vote. Others talked about gender, and how it's "now or never" to get a woman in the white house, or how more female delegates should be picked, etc.

I find this interesting, because we want our elected leaders to do something for us, to push (or specifically not push) certain policies, and to make actions that lead our country to a better place. But it seems we don't vote that way--at least, not based on my experience.

I almost feel that everyone should be required to take something like the I Side With survey, which allows you to answer several policy issues and provides non-biased sources for learning more about the issues. It will ask something like, "Should the government increase environmental regulations to prevent global warming?" With your options being Yes, No, and Other stances, which expands to yes, because of this reason, or no, because of this reason, allowing you to really nail down your opinion and see how others think about the issue. After you finish selecting your thoughts on the issues, it shows you where you are on the political landscape and how well you align to the beliefs of the candidates.

In any case, it takes an inordinate amount of personal effort to arrive at objective conclusions about politics, since news outlets are heavily jaded, and social media is as much or more so. Perhaps this is why many voters make their decision on other metrics, but I wonder how we can avoid relying too heavily on measures that don't factor heavily into the work the politicians will be doing when they start working, and how to make access to that information easier, like I Side With has done.

Oh, and the title of my post? Kakas (pronounced the same as caucus) is crap, or poop, in Latvian, and every time I talked about attending the caucus, my wife (who is Latvian) would chuckle, and honestly, sometimes politics can be a bunch of crap, but this experience showed me a totally different side of the American political world that I had not seen before, and it gave me some things to think about.

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