This year is the first time we Coloradans had a caucus. Until now, Colorado was a late primary state. So barely anyone showed up. This year, we had about ten times the usual participation in the Presidential primary.
Caucusing was a real revelation to me about the power and significance of community. Sure, not everyone could show up. There were surely late-night workers who just could not make it at 7:00 PM. Still, I’m convinced the caucus system is far superior to the primary one, especially nowadays, when Americans’ sense of community has eroded almost completely. Polls show most Americans confess to not even knowing their next-door neighbors, let alone who lives down the street.
At the caucus, I was struck by how much I began to feel part of a community, especially since we were all in the same political party, which added a tangible sense of civic identity and reaffirming comraderie. I discovered that I actually knew several people in my neighborhood that I had met through entirely different circumstances. There was the postman with whom I already had felt some uncanny sense of connection at the post office. There was the history professor from the local college. And that interesting artist I’d met at the street fair and never got a chance to see again. And so on. I waved at each and even got to reconnect with more than just a few.
Once we had divided the hordes of people who showed up at our local elementary school into each respective precinct, I looked around the roughly 110 people who showed from my own neighborhood and it hit me like a ton of bricks: For the first time in my life, I felt a real sense of civic union with a real community. Not some online cyber-community of virtual neighbors and facebook friends. But real neighbors with genuine geographic connection. Here we were, brought together in shared hope, vision, and duty to help determine where our country should be going.
Even though it was the first caucus most of us had ever attended, it all happened quite smoothly. We divided ourselves into two groups, each supporting one candidate, and had a real town meeting—not one of those so-called town meetings we see televised in which each and every member is carefully hand-picked for the demographic appeal they represent to the latest focus group data. No, this was real. It almost seemed surreal.
But that’s what is so troubling. We rarely have these kinds of experiences anymore. We are increasingly wrapped in a kind of hyper-individualism in which we see society for what it can do for us. Thus, each of us is increasingly expected to vote for our own personal interests in the privacy of the voting booth. But governing is not about pursuing merely one’s own interests. It’s about considering the interests of the whole and voting for the greater good. And standing up for one’s beliefs for all to see. In that caucus room, full of concerned neighbor-citizens, that simple, basic, and fundamental truth could not be ignored. Each of us was entrusted to consider what was best, not for ourselves, but for everyone: For the greater collective good.
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