I live in the 13th Congressional District of California, which includes the cities of: Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont, and San Leandro. Barbara Lee (D) is currently our US congressional representative (who won 86.8% of the 288,582 votes cast in the 2012 election for her House seat). Today (1 May 2016), I participated in a Democratic Party caucus to select the prospective delegates pledged to Bernie Sanders, for the party convention in Philadelphia on 25-28 July 2016. Let me tell you about this caucus.
The Democratic Party primary election in California will occur on June 7. That election is one of a series of similar state-wide contests from which the party’s two remaining presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, hope to accumulate sufficient support (formally from within the party, but also from the general public) to become the party’s nominee for the national election in November. Only Californians registered as members of the Democratic Party (and registered independents who request a Democratic Party ballot) can vote in that party’s primary election on June 7. Clinton and Sanders will each win a number of delegates from each congressional district, on a proportional basis of the primary votes they win within each district.
In our 13th district, a minimum gain of 15% of the primary vote is required in order to be awarded one delegate. A total of 9 delegates have been allocated to the 13th district. So, in anticipation of the results on June 7, both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns have to select nine individuals, each, who can act as pledged delegates for them (respectively) at the national convention in July. That process occurred today as two caucuses (at different locations!). I caucused with the “Berners” at the ILWU Auditorium (International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union) in Oakland.
A prospective delegate for any district must be a registered Democrat residing within that district, who chooses to sign up (by a specific date) to run in the delegate elections. There were 115 Bernie enthusiasts signed up to run for the 9 slots of potential delegates from the 13th district. Among this group of delegate hopefuls were some of the most hardworking activists, canvassers, phone-bankers, petition-carriers and volunteers dedicated to the Bernie Sanders campaign. A total of 618 people signed in as attendees to this caucus, and a total of 608 ballots were eventually tallied.
The doors of the union hall had opened at 2 PM, and were closed to further entry at 3:15 PM. The convener of the caucus then explained the rules (both by state law and by Democratic Party regulation), so that by 3:30 PM the delegate candidates could each give short speeches (if they wished), which continued till 4 PM when the attendees were left to complete their ballots. By 4:30 PM, the ballots had been collected and the twenty volunteers assisting the convener began tallying the results.
Even with the numerous dropouts from today’s election for Bernie delegates, and the number of such candidates still running but who chose not to speak, there was still a very large contingent of speakers (about 60). By party rules, speeches by candidate delegates are limited to 30 seconds (strictly timed) in any delegate election with more than 20 candidates. It was quite a show.
Some attendees looked for strong speakers, who could hold their own in debates with Bernie’s opponents at the convention (and Hillary trolls generally). Others looked for less-confrontational speakers who were nevertheless articulate and persistent, who they thought might be able to persuade others into joining the revolution: like super-delegates (professional politicians looking out for #1) thinking about their political futures given the national preference for Bernie over Trump, and Hillary’s potentially fatal weakness in this regard. The candidate pool was evenly spilt between men and women.
I, along with many others, had arrived by 2 PM and had mixed and mingled and spoken with candidate delegates, had made my choices, marked my ballot (circling the names of 1 to 9 choices), and then inserted it into the taped cardboard ballot box. I chose people who had a history of union and progressive activism, had done a great deal of legwork for the Sanders campaign for many months, and who were diehard “Bernie or Bust” people. I thought they deserved the opportunity to carry the revolution to the national convention in Philadelphia, and to try to convert super-delegates (and not yet brain-dead Hillary delegates) into Bernie delegates. There were really no bad choices, since all the delegate hopefuls are committed to Bernie’s (and our) platform.
The nine delegates from the 13th district who will actually go to the national convention will be selected from the pool of Bernie’s nine and Hillary’s nine, by proportional representation based on the results of the June 7 primary.
The 13th’s nine (a delegation undoubtedly split between Bernie and Hillary supporters) will travel to Long Beach for a meeting of the state Democratic Party (June 17-19). There, the 317 district level delegates (for all of California) will participate in ratifying: 105 at-large delegates, 10 at-large alternates, and 53 party leaders and elected officials. All of these elected delegates, alternates and committee members, together with 71 un-pledged delegates (a.k.a “super-delegates,” who are California DNC members and members of Congress) will make up California’s delegation to the national convention: 546 delegates, 40 alternates and 51 committee members. Being initially a delegate-candidate and then an elected delegate can be quite a commitment both in time and personal expense. However, succeeding at becoming a delegate to the national convention can also be a very significant step toward initiating a political career.
At the national convention, the state’s elected delegates are required to vote for the presidential candidate they were pledged to at their district election. But this is only true for the first ballot cast at the national convention to determine the party’s nominee. In the case of a brokered convention, which can occur when there are multiple presidential candidates and none has won a clear (specified) majority through the primary process (as once seemed possible for the Republicans); or when two presidential candidates are closely matched in pledged (elected) delegates but there exists uncertainty and flux among the un-pledged (super) delegates (as possible for the Democrats); delegates are formally released from their pledges for subsequent ballots. In other words, back-room deals can be made (in what used to be smoke-filled rooms).
What everyone in our 13th district caucus wanted, and every prospective Bernie delegate promised, was for delegates who would always vote for Bernie in every ballot cast at the national convention. Most of these 13th district prospective delegates are also pure Bernie-or-Bust voters (like me), committed to never voting for Hillary ever (including in November).
It was very satisfying to be in an auditorium filled with people who share my socio-economic and political enthusiasms. Politically, most of the time I feel like a human on the Planet Of The Apes. I think that opposition to Bernie is of the same type as that to acknowledging climate change, it is a reluctance to relinquish selfishness.
Some of my favorite candidate-delegate personalities at the 13th district Berners’ event included: members of the California Nurses Association (fiercely compassionate, dedicated and organized); a longshoreman member of the ILWU (a past president of the local, and veteran organizer, negotiator, and strike leader); a founding member of the union of technical and health-care professionals and skilled trades employees at the University of California; an electronic musician working single mother and African-American (a good speaker and a presentable candidate, but sadly the only African American I noticed there); a democratic socialist Latina who leads a project to produce “people of color” murals related to the Sanders campaign; an arts management person (a person like the 19th century Theo van Gogh, enabling art by finding funding and other support for the flakey creative types) who emerged from a politically conservative (Trump-like) rural setting; and numerous young and middle-aged professionals (lawyers, teachers, computer types).
Today’s delegate election was the closest I have ever come to experiencing democracy-in-action of a type that would have been familiar to Pericles. The spirit of the 13th district Bernie event was one of shared vision: a democratic socialist “national union.” Today, I shared this vision on a face-to-face personal basis with a series of very varied individuals present in one gathering, instead of as an isolated abstract intellectual exercise with virtual connections through cyberspace to unseen and unknown humans.
If you live in California and you “feel the bern,” then note these imminent voting deadlines:
May 9, primary election vote-by-mail ballots are sent out (to current stay-at-home voters).
May 23, voter registration deadline; you must be a registered Democrat or No Party Preferred (NPP) to vote for Bernie on June 7.
May 31, deadline to request a Democratic ballot for NPP and vote-by-mail people.
June 7, the California Democratic Party primary election.
Albert Camus: “I rebel, therefore we exist.”