Monday, April 14, 2008
highwayscribery at the Obama Caucus
The Obama caucus in Los Angeles was the first ever attended by highwayscribery and it may be the last.
Excited like never before by the campaign of Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the scribe signed up both he and Mrs. Scribe to the list of candidates for delegate to the Democratic Convention.
Ours is the 30th Congressional District (C-30) represented by Rep. Henry Waxman, which should tell you a lot. If it doesn't, suffice it too say the parcel in question is habitat to some of the loopiest, most wonderful agglomerations of human subspecies on the planet.
With campaign stickers bearing our names and pulling a four-year old boy in tow, we arrived at the caucus location on a hot and bright Sunday afternoon and took our places in the long line outside the Rancho Park Recreation Center.
It became clear that minor politicians and super-actives in the local Democratic Party enjoyed a built-in network of supporters they could get out to the event and provide the umph to make them one of the three Obama delegates allotted the C-30.
Candidates and their supporters were gladhanding the length of the queue. Leslie Weisberg-Hyman appeared an obvious heavy-hitter along with another lady named Marcy Winograd.
A Weisberg-Hyman representative introduced herself. She was from the Pink Diaper Changers Progressive Coalition or something and talked about her candidate's "positions" on the issues.
Mr. Scribe explained our position as being that we like Barack Obama and would do whatever he said needed to be done. Furthermore, the scribe would be voting for his wife, and she would be returning the favor.
And the Weisberg-Hyman representative then told us that we were wasting our votes, because neither of us could win.
And good luck to you too!
For the most part we came across nice people, all local activists of some sort or another. We got quite a shock to finally meet our former Assemblyman, Paul Koretz, who was going for one of the delegate slots the scribe was there to contest. Ah Democracy!
Anyway, everybody signed up and wound their way into a gym with folding chairs where folks seemingly familiar with one another commiserated and, suffice it to say, Obama has no problem with white men around here.
The district's diversity was reflected in small fragments but, other than the white men, you saw many women of a kind and age that the media has placed firmly in Sen. Clinton's camp.
They are what Rutgers professor Dorothy Sue Cobble would call "labor feminists" and seemed to hail from health care unions and public teachers syndicates; a serious female type, the type, to borrow from John Sayles, who mean it when they say fuck you.
The job of conducting this event fell to a curly-haired lady in her mid -20s, although that's a little harder to discern in Los Angeles than it is in other places. She explained the orderly fashion in which the affair would be conducted and directed female candidates to sit on the right hand side of the gym, males to the left...in alphabetical order, and she would call them up in a sequence that "alternated genders."
The young mistress of ceremonies announced that each candidate would have 30 seconds to speak.
highwayscribery was in trouble because he'd spent the night committing to memory a favorite passage from Obama's book, "Dreams of My Father," that would be cleverly wrapped around a little electioneering.
It was shaped to the prior one-minute limit detailed on the California Democratic Party Web site, so the idea was shelved in lieu of a briefer personal pitch.
But the speeches mostly followed the same formula which focused on the candidate's degree of engagement in local politics, participation being the ultimate virtue in the activist's reality.
There was a microphone and a number of times, even when a candidate was clearly wrapping up their remarks, the young emcee stepped up and pulled it from their hands.
Jack McKeown who was/is(?) a Santa Monica city councilman, burned half his allotment to observe how the format, "makes speed dating seem easy."
When an attendee verily demanded that one candidate be allowed to finish, the emcee took measure of the gathered who were, naturally, there to hear speeches anyway, so why not a complete one?
A rule permitting people to vote and depart before the speeches even began thinned out the caucus. By the time the scribe's turn came up (Mrs. Scribe chickened out) there was little chance of coaxing a majority through eloquence.
So a decision was made to simply read the book passage instead and skip the personal stuff. The literary turn would give the proceedings some texture and summons the candidate whose spirit was sorely missing.
As the scribe hit the stage, the curly-conductor approached with the microphone, but was waved off because she had been using it as an instrument of control.
"From 'Dreams of My Father,'" the scribe belted out, calling the attendees to attention. "'Come Barry,' my father said, 'You are going to learn from the master.' And suddenly his slender body began swaying back and forth, the lush sound risings, his arms swinging as if casting an invisible net, his feet wove over the floor in off-beats, his bad leg stiff, but his rump high, his head back, and his hips moving in a tight circle..."
About this point highwayscribery made a pivotal mistake and paused three precious seconds for dramatic affect.
"The rhythm quickened, the horns sounded. He closed his eyes in his pleasure. And then one eye opened to peek down at me and his somber face spread into a silly grin. My mother-"
And suddenly there she was, standing directly between speaker and audience, the blurry outlines of the delegation a dreamy backdrop for her Mona Lisa's smile: the curly-haired emcee.
And then it was over.
Years ago, the young scribe belonged to a local poetry troupe known as "the Elegant mob" that attended readings en masse, each carrying a red rose in identification with the mutual project.
At the time there was an "underground celebrity" named "El Duce," who was Chicano, but bald like the Italian dictator of similar name. He stopped in to our homegrown revue one time, continued the long-drunk night that his life was (may he rest in peace), and made great sport of insulting the poets and filmmakers plying their trades.
the scribe, an overly earnest twentysomething, stood up on behalf of the group and challenged El Duce to approach the microphone if he wanted to make a comment. El Duce complied, stumbling forward. The scribe sat directly in front of him, legs crossed and arms folded.
The poem El Duce read is not worthy of repeating, but its last line involved him pointing one of our trademark flowers in the scribe's face and saying...
"Suck my rose."
That's what the caucus felt like.
Now the scribe can take a hit, but the event was not what he'd expected. It was not fun, not an inclusive carnival of democracy, and certainly nothing new.
We left and, after discussing the sour taste in our mouths, turned back to find the curly-haired Mona Lisa whom we accused of being rude and unkind to a supporter.
She informed that "California Democratic Party rules" dictated her actions. the scribe countered that it was stupid to cut short what amounted to a brief celebration of the candidate; that if your campaign lacks poetic conception, what you get is Hillary Clinton - Second Amendment champion.
She was unmoved; her eyes, her mind elsewhere, a petty bureaucrat with an Obama button.
Our sense is that the event was run by the California Party and not the Obama camp specifically. Obama actually lost here and we suspect lacks sufficient penetration in the local apparatus. But we can't be sure and we won't be attending another event any time soon.
Life's too short.
Here's the rest of the passage:
"My mother smiled and my grandparents came into the room to see what all the commotion was about. I took my first tentative steps, my eyes closed, down, up, arms swinging; the voices lifting. And I hear him still. As I follow my father into the sound he lets out a quick shout - bright and high - it is a shout the leaves much behind and that reaches for more. A shout that cries for laughter."