Still America

The teenaged girl did not want to attend the Democratic mayoral caucus with me, but I didn’t give her a choice.

Burlington will hold a mayoral election the first Tuesday of March, town meeting day.  Four candidates put themselves forward for the Democratic nomination.  Vermont caucuses and primaries are open to all registered voters in a given jurisdiction, which sometimes leads to mischief, but usually results in a pure form of democracy.

“You’re going to be voting soon, you need to see how this works,” I said.
“That’s twooo yeeears awaaay,” she replied.  A lifetime for teens.  She brought her phone, so she could distract herself by texting friends.

The streets around Memorial Auditorium were filled with citizens, discussing the merits (and demerits) of the various candidates.  The afternoon was pleasantly warm.  Occupy Burlington protesters formed a brass band and marched to the auditorium’s steps, politely moving out of the way so people could enter.

Inside, the atmosphere was chaotic, as Democratic Party events always and everywhere seem to be, but the mood was upbeat and the left-of-center urban Vermonters milled in the aisles, many sporting stickers or signs proclaiming their choice, but everyone cordial.

After a glitch-ridden registration period and brief speeches by nominators and candidates, thirteen hundred and nine voters participated in the first round.  State Rep. Jason Lorber, the low vote-getter despite an endorsement from the Burlington Free Press, graciously bowed out.

By now, the teenager was hooked.  She no longer rolled her eyes when I identified friends or politicians in the crowd.  “Senator Hinda Miller?  She’s the jog-bra lady!  I remember her from fifth grade!”  (For the record, the teen will deny she was ever interested.  She’s lying, but needs to maintain her side of the generation gap.  I respect this.)

A cookie from the snack bar helped maintain her mood (and blood sugar) but after four hours, I had only just dropped my round two ballot.  Back home, a neighborhood potato roast (as mentioned last week) was about to get started and since ballot counting was taking about an hour, we left.

Walking out, she said, “Remember how big the snowbanks here were last winter?”  I do remember.  I remember sitting beside them in the car, waiting to pick her up from basketball practice, listening to radio reports of anti-government protests in Tunisia following the self-immolation suicide/protest of Mohamed Bouazizi.

I walked the teen home, checked on the potato preparations (as ever, I contributed little to the feast), grabbed my bike and got back to the caucus just in time to hear that City Councilor Bram Kranichfeld had been eliminated in the second round.  He too, was gracious in defeat.

I made out my third-round ballot, dropped it in the box and headed home.  Down to two candidates, why stick around?  Most of the crowd agreed and the street corners were thick with small-town punditry as I pedaled away.

A few blocks south, Jarred and Caitlin, who still vote in New Hampshire, pulled up beside me and we cruised along updating the day’s events.  “This is what democracy feels like,” I thought.

Back yard punditry around the fire as we ate wild mushroom soup and waited for the potatoes to roast.  My cell phone rang; it was my friend Chris, still at the auditorium.  “Can you come back for another round?  It looks like neither candidate has a majority.  They’re tied.”

Tied they were – and are.  Remaining candidates Miro Weinberger and Tim Ashe agreed it was senseless to try and bring voters back Sunday night, so the caucus will continue as soon as the city Democrats figure out when, where and how.  Only those who registered Sunday will participate.

In New York and Oakland, police shut the Occupy camps.  The camp in Burlington was shut down as well, after a man tragically committed suicide in one of the tents.  Although these developments are unwelcome, they have been peaceful.

We need change in this country, change for the better.  The year which began with radio reports of a nascent Arab spring has seen governments toppled with varying degrees of violence while some undemocratic leaders violently hang on.  There have been bitter protests and riots in European cities from Athens to London.  Here in American we cling, however tenaciously, to peaceful processes of democratic change.  Let’s hope we can continue this; let’s hope our leaders recognize this and respond in kind.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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