Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Participatory democracy and caucuses

The participatory democracy argument in favor of caucuses is disingenuous at worst and misguided at best. Last night when we were debating whether to support a primary election or caucus system for next year's choosing of presidential delegates, two people argued the participatory democracy side of the caucuses.

This isn't a direct quote, but it gets pretty close to what one of the guys was talking about:

It takes more of a commitment to come to a caucus, very little commitment to vote in a primary. We want to encourage commitment, not just drop in participation.
The caucus system is where people are coming together, and talking, it’s a real plus. It shows that the people in the state of Washington are really interested in creating relationships with people in their communities.
I agree with the sentiment of both of those arguments, caucuses are awesome in that they are participatory. People come together and chat, which is much more what democracy should be about than just indicating your preference in private.

That said, the Washington State Democratic Party does nothing else beyond the caucuses to encourage participatory democracy. Actually, its even worse. Before last night's vote state party chairman Dwight Pelz gave a talk to the 22nd LD meeting (which every quarter happens right before the TCD meeting). He spelled out the ground game plan for 2008, which centered around a lot of people coming to the caucuses.

When all those folks are sitting on their hands while the precinct results are being tabulated, we PCOs are supposed to chat them up to see who we can get interested in volunteering with the party until election day. "We can use them for the next six months," was something he said towards the end of his talk.

The caucuses aren't about coming together and knowing your neighbors, if they were we would be doing them more often. They're about recruiting ground troops for the fall of 2008.

What was implied to me was that after November of 2008, we don't really care what happens to those folks. Some of them may stay on and stay engaged, but we're not really worried about that.

The precinct caucuses should be the end result of a civic engagement campaign, not the beginning of a faux engagement campaign. People should come to the caucuses because the party is relevant and important to them in their community, not because we're blackmailing them to come because its their only opportunity to vote in the Democratic primary.


Anonymous said...

I have heard this argument before. “ It takes more of a commitment to come to a caucus, very little commitment to vote in a primary. We want to encourage commitment, not just drop in participation.”

But this is not a valid argument. Because DNC rules do not allow a state to limit participation only to people who have a high level of commitment.

A. Participation in the delegate selection process shall be open to all voters who wish to participate as Democrats.
1. Democratic voters shall be those persons who publicly declare their Party preference and have that preference publicly recorded.

seajane said...

I'm disappointed to hear how the vote come out at Monday's meeting. I LOVE the caucus and agree that it should be part of on on-going connection within our communities -- but people are busy and are looking for short cuts . . .