June 10, 2008
As PCC readers know I was fortunate enough to be elected as an Obama Delegate to the Texas Democratic Convention, which took place June 5-7. I'd never been to something like this before and so I was psyched. The political true fan in me was excited to be a part of the process on such an important election year and the academic in me was excited to see what happens when 15,000 politically active citizens convene at their state convention. The Texass Democratic Convention satisfied both my true fan and my academic hopes.
True Fan Observations:
1. People will dress up in all of their political true fan glory, which shows that 1) you are among your people and 2) the TDC is a safe space for you to let loose your real political true fan self. Costumes, flags, co-ordinated true fan outfits, donkey furries, etc. are all accepted here. If it is befeathered, bejeweled, besparkled, beflagged, or betexased, then it is appropriate for the TDC.
For example, HuffPo ran this story on the fashions of the TDC (pics are better than sounds)
2. As a political true fan your main job at the TDC is to cheer for your candidate (even if she is no longer a candidate), but also make sure to acquire as many t-shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers as you can carry/ wear on your person (these only enhance your pre-planned true fan outfit!). Before you leave you must commit your heart and soul to "Turning Texas Blue" this November. You will not be asked to make any important decisions over the course of the DTC, so don't worry your pretty true fan self about that. Yay!
3. Texas political true fans in particular will have the opportunity to pledge, sing, pray, hand-hold, dance, and party it up with their fellow Texas true fans, which number around 15,000. All of this closeness can only help you to reach the nirvana of your true political true fan self, so do not under any circumstances attempt to separate yourself from your fellow true fans, even if you are a little bit frightened. Remember, we are all one now. U-N-I-T-Y.
1. The official tasks of the TDC are: 1) County Delegates sign in for their candidates, which in effect, is their vote for who should be the presidential nominee; 2) Elections are held for the Texas State Democratic Party offices and committees; 3) Elections are held for DNC Delegates and Electors (yes, this is where the Electoral College is formed!); 4) the Texas Party Platform is debated and ratified. The first tasks happens easily as Delegates sign in and get their credentials, but the other tasks will require Delegates to vote within their Texas Senate District Delegation (by county). Everyone who wants to stand for an office gets the opportunity to make a speech. There will be run-offs for each election.
It took nearly an hour just for our Senate District to figure out how to sit together in our County Delegations. After gathering together and finding our seats we discovered that Williamson County Delegates out-numbered the other 13 county delegations put together and if we didn't pool all of the little counties together, then we would always be out-voted by Williamson County. Williamson County, to their credit, was very organized. They didn't put up so many candidates for each post that it divided their Delegation (like we did), they voted as a block, and they had t-shirts! Our Senate District deliberations lasted until almost 2 a.m. Friday night, but in the end we got folks elected where we needed to. I could say a lot more about the details of this, but it isn't that interesting after the fact. There was much politicking--some of it was not quite honorable, I fear. But, in the end I'm very happy with they whom we elected as Obama Delegates to the DNC and that is all that really mattered to me.
The other functions of the Convention (electing State Officers and debating the Platform) will occur in the Committee of the Whole by voice vote and by District-level votes. This part of the process seemed even less organized for it was difficult to know by how loud 15,000 Ayed whether a particular item passed or not. Calls to Divide the Question (count the vote) led to agonizing delays. The first order of business tabled the question of whether or not to debate eliminating the controversial "Texas Two-Step" and many other proposed Platform items suffered the same fate. The Platform debates lasted well into the night, which meant that many things passed by the sheer determination of those who could stay up past midnight after the long two days of deliberations.
2. Because of precisely when the TDC fell in the primary calendar--just after Obama claimed to be the presumptive nominee and before Hillary dropped out--the main theme of the Convention was unity. We heard all about unity, uniting the party, Clinton and Obama supporters joining together to "Turn Texas Blue" and other such things ad nauseum. On the one hand, the timing of the Convention meant that we were already less divisive--I even talked quite a bit with the Clinton Delegates who had tried to steal my Obama Delegates away from me at the County Convention--but it also meant that every speaker hit the same notes and stressed the same ideas in their speeches. From a rhetorical standpoint, the Convention was crap. The only real rhetorical highlight was when David Van Os took the stage in his quest to replace Boss Hogg doppelganger Boyd Ritchie (who Van Os said represented Old School Texas Politics). Van Os was not only (a little nuts) inspiring, but he offered some real problems and specific solutions and vowed to really try to win Texas for Obama, not merely "rebuild" the Party. While Van Os electrified the crowd and changed a few votes in my Delegation, he won less than 20% of the vote. Boss Hogg will continue to reign over the TDP.
Prior to attending the TDC Delegates received email after email supplicating them for their votes for the various positions. Once we got to the TDC we were bombarded with stickers, flyers, posters, and speeches all advocating for candidates. I rejected the flyers and pocketed most of the stickers, but I noticed that when someone peeled a sticker off of its backing and then handed it to me that I was more likely to do something with it. It's a simple observation, perhaps, but when you give someone a sticker they are more likely to stick it somewhere if they have to. I've got a sticky sticker in my hand, it needs to go somewhere, shrug, I guess I'll put it on my tag/bag/shirt. Obviously stickers show support, but they also help folks to remember who they said that they would vote for (an important point when the night gets long)
3. Upon reflection, I believe that the Texas Democratic Convention can best be understood as political carnival. Merriam-Webster says that a carnival is "an instance of merrymaking, feasting, or masquerading; an instance of riotous excess; an organized program of entertainment or exhibition," all of which I believe fit what I saw at the TDC: Delegates were certainly merrymaking, feasting, masquerading, and indulging in riotous excess and the TDC seemed to be much more about entertainment and exhibition than it was about real politics. I hardly heard anyone talk about the real problems that Americans face today and I didn't hear a single solution to any problem. I heard many calls to colors, party unity, and winning offices, but I didn't hear anything about what any leader hoped to do with power once it was theirs. Once again, I fear that party politics is more concerned with organizing people to win elections than it is concerned with problem solving or the common good. Alas.
There is another sense of the word "carnival," which Mikhail Bakhtin has made central to his work that might help us here. For Bakhtin carnival was a space where “all were considered equal" and "a special form of free and familiar contact reigned among people who were usually divided by the barriers of caste, property, profession, and age.” I think that there is a way in which the TDC was carnival in this radically egalitarian sense, but only among the Delegates.
It didn't matter if you were African American, White, Brown, Young, Old, Rich, Poor or whatever, because you were a Delegate and so the status of Delegate trumped any other identifiers within the space of the TDC. We elected two Delegates in their 90s and one who had just turned 18. All 3 of our Obama DNC Delegates from Senate District 5 are African-American. We 15,000 of us all hung out, shared stories, offered one another a smile of support when things went long, and generally formed a community over the course of the TDC and in that sense it was carnival in the best sense of the word. The Delegates formed a community (yes, we united) and we worked together.
However, there was definitely hierarchy at the TDC and so Bakhtin's radically egalitarian sense of carnival does not quite fit here. While the Delegates formed a semi-united and egalitarian community, the Democratic Party leadership was not in anyway a part of that community. The leadership stood apart from the community, it instructed, it lectured, it urged, but it did not join with us. Elected officials dutifully came by and talked to us, but they didn't talk with us. They didn't sit with us. They didn't enjoy our long hours of decision making. They didn't listen to what we had to say about them or the nation.
The whole TDC was top-down, one-way communication between political leaders and political true fans, not at all the egalitarian space that one would hope for in a party that claims to be democratic.