Monday, February 11, 2008

Caucused out and loving it

I am not a political person.

Sure, I like to talk about issues and candidates and moan about the current state of affairs in the White House. But I have no illusions about one person being able to make the world better, or that politicians are not driven by their own hunger for power, or that all voters truly think deeply about what is really best for them and this country.

But this year, I just can’t help myself.

As a recent American citizen, this will be my very first presidential election and I just can’t shake the feeling that maybe my vote does matter and that maybe the world will be made better – or least a little more pleasant – with the vision of one person. (And no, I am not talking about Barack Obama.)

I have never voted in a “serious” election before. I left my native Hungary just after I turned 18 and was never able to vote there. I lived in the U.S. for more than a decade before becoming a citizen, so in past elections, I was just a spectator. During the last two presidential elections I remember feeling so powerless – not just because the outcomes were so disappointing, but because I didn’t have a say in them. I knew that those elections didn’t hinge on my one lonely vote, but the act of voting would have made the loss a little more bearable. I could have said that “well, at least I tried.”

So, wanting to milk this election experience for all it's worth, I participated in my first- ever caucus on Sunday. My other option for that afternoon was spending time with my husband at the Chocolate Extravaganza in Kennebunk. I passed up chocolate for a stinky, hot gym in Saco. I must be crazy.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I got to the Fairfield School early and there were about 30 people milling about in the gym. I was hit up for a couple of signatures for various candidates and tried to figure out who was handing out the Hillary for President stickers.

Soon, the crowds swelled and as the official business of the caucus got underway, I couldn’t help but wonder about how sort of “basic” this all felt. A bunch of people in a gym on a Sunday afternoon get to decide important stuff? Only in America.

The caucus itself was a bit anti-climactic in the end. It consisted of a lot of sitting around and eating doughnuts and my patience was tested while organizers tried to figure out the best way to count the 70 people in my ward without coming up with a different result after each count.
My ward voted right down the middle: 35-35 to Obama and Hillary. As I left there was no sense of real victory, or resolution – and I assume there won’t be for a while until just one candidate is left standing.

In the evening, as I found out that Hillary didn’t win the Maine caucuses, I did feel disappointed. I might have even been a little miffed at my fellow caucus-goers.

I didn’t want to belong to the losing team. But the fact that I did belong somewhere, that I had a voice, that I took the time and was there, that I dared to put my political bitterness aside and believe that change is possible, made all the difference.