For just one very brief moment last night, I thought about packing it in. It happened as I stood in the mud, ice pellets stinging into my face. I was near the back of an endless line, twisting this way and then that way, as we all waited our turn to enter a middle school building, where, of course, more lines awaited us.
“Fu*k it,” I muttered to myself (and, yes, those were my exact words). “My one vote in the caucus isn’t going to change anything anyway, and my fu*king ears are getting frostbitten. I’m out of . . .”
But I didn’t go. It wasn’t really for Obama himself, the candidate I had finally settled on, that I was freezing my butt off. And it wasn’t for the fun of the caucusing experience (it’s an extremely dumb process when there are only two candidates).
No, what kept me there was the thrill I was feeling soaking in the excitement around me. I’ve lived 52 years and have probably voted a hundred times, but this time was different. This was democracy the way they taught it in my civics class. This was democracy on fire: people thrilled to be participating — many of them doing so for the very first time.
There were about 1,600 hundred of us at this particular site. The Obama forces overflowed out of the caucus room and filled up a large gymnasium to the bursting point. I’ve been to caucuses in this state before, and in a normal election, they’d be lucky to get a tenth this many people to show up on a balmy day. But on this frigid night, in the middle of an ice storm, Democrats were not going to be denied.
Something big was happening, and ice storm or no ice storm, I was privileged to be part of it.
For decades, American politics has been of the walking dead, stumbling along uncertainly, stripped of life and passion. We vote for the lesser of two evils. We vote because we feel duty bound to. And for more and more Americans, we don’t even vote at all.
Well, what I discovered last night — what had not struck me in the same way just from hearing the reports of huge turnouts in other states — is, at least among Democrats, and at least for now, the passion is back. I know it may sound over the top, but the truth is that this is democracy reborn.
Opportunities for meaningful progressive change — the sort of change that only a dedication to public purpose instead of just private greed allows — come around only once in a great while. This is increasingly looking to be one of those rare times.
We need to embrace this with all of our strength and ride it not just to victory in November, but on to the birth of a new progressive era.
This is our time — if we have the smarts and the guts to take it.