Almost 20 years later, it was 2008 and Caucus was anything but boring! Hundreds of people poured into the local school and crammed into the cafeteria. It was a free for all, and by the time my husband and I found our table, we were surrounded by others who were just as confused as us. What were we supposed to do? Did we really choose our candidates this way? Why? Oh, plus we left with the title “Precinct Leaders,” and a vague idea that it had something to do with Getting Out The Vote.
In 2012, we found ourselves heading up Caucus because my husband, Andy, was the newly elected District Captain. Thank goodness for fellow Precinct Leaders, because the night could not have happened without all their help. After being inundated with 550 people (and only expecting about 300), we all left pretty exhausted and cursing the people who invented the caucus system. Whose idea was this and why do we still use it? Did it stem from the Latin word for “herding cats”? Latin is dead, in case you hadn’t heard…
Well, I still don’t know why we use the caucus system, but I did find some history on it*, and yes, there is some Latin there. However, I think the most intriguing tidbit is found in the writing of Captain John Smith’s “The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles,” published in 1624. He mentions an Algonquin Indian word, “Caw-cawaassough” and defines it as one who advises, or a counselor. Historians suggest that many New England clubs and secret associations used local Indian words to describe their groups. Now why
would they do that?
As we know, the original colonies were set up under the British Crown, and the Crown allowed little to no local input on how things were to be run. As distrust grew, it made perfect sense to adopt a foreign word—"Caucus”—that would be understood locally, but not by the British rulers. Groups would gather (often secretly), using this term, to discuss local issues, and it quickly became a political operation.
So, Caucus is an antiquated, dusty system. However, since it is what we use, let’s look for that silver lining. After all, antiques often have some value.
One thing I do like about Caucus is that I get to meet my neighbors. Since that fateful night in 2008, we have begun to create a network, meeting people from our own neighborhoods and building relationships that never would have happened otherwise. (I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to knock on people’s doors and ask, “Are you a Republican?”)
As I mentioned before, turnout was amazing this year. One of our precincts in District 12 had close to 70 people! How do you fit 70 people around a table? Bleachers? Another precinct had 100% turnout! Okay, okay, there’s only one Republican in that precinct, because it’s a rural area. But he came, joined forces with my precinct, and was able to participate. And after a long, nail-biting vote that ran into the night, he was elected as his precinct’s Leader.
We also had two high school students attend. Although they couldn’t vote, they directed the masses, looked up
addresses for people, and then collected and tallied our straw poll. They pretty much saved the night.
There were a couple of orphaned precincts, but people stepped up to lead—much as we had in 2008. I think they were encouraged to discover other Republicans in their neighborhoods who wanted to get involved.
So, while I’m still not convinced we should continue the Caucus system, at least I discovered the silver lining: Participation. Teenagers stepping up and contributing in critical ways. Citizens stepping up to lead orphaned precincts. Experienced Precinct Leaders helping my husband get through his first Caucus as District Captain. Over and over, we watched our neighbors find that special something in themselves that transforms good people into great leaders—just as it happened with those original Caucuses at America’s dawn.
And I’m convinced if the British ever take over America again, they can watch our Caucuses, and they still won’t know what we’re doing. They might even run away.
So take heart, my friends: We’re prepared.
*The historical information sited in this article was based on Professor William Harris’ article “The Caucus History and Etymology” http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/caucus.html