An ORMN member’s reflections on the caucus system.

Confusing? Not really.
Important? Absolutely.
Fun? Sure, and I recommend bringing a friend.

On Tuesday Dec. 13, I showed up at the Solar Arts Building for the Our Revolution Minnesota (ORMN) hosted panel discussion called “Caucus 101: Why Caucus Matters” in hopes to better understand the caucus process and feel less intimidated. I was joined by an eager crowd of citizens ready to get involved in the local political process.

The Panelists included:
Dan Cox, Campaign Manager for Ilhan Omar, State Representative elect for Minnesota
Seeing Lee, Campaign Manager for Fue Lee for State Representative
Lynne Bolton, Coordinator of Minneapolis School Board Campaigns.

They shared insights with us, from campaigns they’ve run, about just how hard that can be in the Caucus system, and just how important it is that we do get involved.

Wading into local politics starts with going to your local caucus. A whole lot of political action originates in the caucus system. This is how we decide which candidates and issues get on the ballot!

A caucus, in a nutshell, is a group of neighbors getting together to decide which candidates and issues will be on the ballot. However, there may be a large group of said neighbors so the the process can be cumbersome, multi-layered and downright confusing if you’re not familiar with it. Thankfully, ORMN is determined to help its members be prepared for the complexity and demands of the system. And ready for action when the next round of caucuses comes around. (hint: April of 2017)

The following is one eager citizen’s take on the experience. But before we start, I want to make it completely clear: you will NOT understand the Caucus system at the end of this piece.

1) It feels so good just to show up. I have long been one of those people with strong feelings, good intentions, and little action. The 2016 election showed me that for me, voting was not enough, and that I had to become involved in a personal and active way to fully realize my citizenship. Stepping into a room full of energized, passionate people for the sole purpose of political action feels so, so good. Just showing up, like so many things in my life, is 90% of the work. OK, maybe 80%.

2) Caucusing is personal. One of the first things we were told was that we, in the crowd, would ‘build the power’ to effect change in our local Caucuses, but that the Caucus would fail if we didn’t interact with each other and ourselves. Throughout the evening, I found myself in intense exchanges that were inspiring, challenging, and thought-provoking. As vulnerable as this felt, it seemed like much needed practice to put myself out there.

Speaking of personal, when it comes to getting your issues heard, Lynne explained that “every single vote counts. Every single one.” At the local level, winning can come down to the decision of one or two individuals to vote or not. In a Caucus, educating yourself on local issues and voting on them has real power. Getting others to vote has incredible power.

3) Our pamphlet included this definition for a Caucus: “A Tuesday evening neighborhood meeting that starts a process to build political power for candidates & issues. Caucuses are held within political parties.” So Caucuses are where a lot of political action stems from. Want to get something done? Caucus. How does the Caucus work? IN AN EXTREMELY COMPLICATED WAY. So how do you get it? ORMN is aiming to help train leaders and mobilize citizens to engage the Caucus system and to upset the political establishment so that citizens’ issues are better represented.

4) Caucuses are where political neglect happens. If it’s not a presidential event, Caucuses tend to be cozy affairs, often made up of party insiders. If you feel like your elected official, local or national, doesn’t represent you, you should know that they were brought to power, in large part, because of who showed up at the Caucuses pertaining to their election. As Dan put it, “[Who shows up on] Caucus night sets the boundaries on what happens during the entire campaign.”

Our Democracy is shaped as much by Caucuses as it is by votes. Yes, we elect (indirectly or directly) candidates and pass issues by our votes, but the candidates we vote for, and the issues we vote on, are determined by the Caucus, and the participation in that process is woefully small.

5) Yes, Caucuses can be intimidating, as well as long. Most are 2 to 4 hours long (Ilhan Omar’s convention lasted 17 hours!). So, ORMN wants you to help to make Caucuses as accessible as possible, by getting trained and then teaching citizens how to engage with Caucuses. If Caucuses seem Byzantine, they are, but there’s only one way to get better at something: learn and practice! How? Our Revolution is organizing a training in the future for anyone ready to organize or participate in a Caucus in February- sign up!

Dan, Lynne, and Seeing all emphasized the importance of bringing supporters to a Caucus, and helping them stay there, as long as it may last. This includes providing childcare, providing food, and providing transportation. Endurance is one of the primary tools that established power brokers in the Caucus system use to keep power; they simply wait until most of the room has gone home, and they are left to vote with more influence.

6) Delegates are the people who hold the most power at conventions because it is their vote that ultimately nominates candidates or supports issues, so what’s their deal? Where did they come from? Who are they? Delegates are picked a the caucus so they could be you. Or they could be a party insider bucking for the status quo. To overcome such entrenched, delegates, we have a lot of work to do. For example, Ilhan Omar’s campaign organized to have people at every precinct during the representative Caucus to make sure their delegates would be elected to vote Ilhan in, since those delegates were at risk of simply being edged out of the voting process. His crush of supporters is what was required to break thru the Caucus system.

7) So, are you fed up, and just want a simple explanation of a Caucus? Keeping in mind that it can be complicated, take a gander at this diagram for a general, general overview of the system:

Do I understand Caucuses now? No; in many ways, I am more confused. What I do know is that to effect change in the DFL it starts with cacausing. I also know that Our Revolution is working to train folks to lead citizens thru the Caucus maze, bringing issues that matter to them into the political discussion.

Want change? Show up. Caucus. Make your voice count.

Next Steps:

1) Caucus Training – February, date TBD

2) Minneapolis City Caucus- Tuesday, April 4th:

3) Become a Delegate and start making change happen