Politics is such a dirty word. It conjures up pictures of old men with cigars, smoke filled rooms, constant wheeling and dealing -- kind of like what some people think conventions are. And I'll grant ya, at one time these pictures were accurate. But a lot has changed (And lots hasn't) in the last 70 years. Or even 50.
I've gone to more caucuses than most people I know. I was a Minnesotan, the caucus is the mainstay of political life there. Sure, there are primaries, conventions, and there's some backstabbing going on...that's all part of the political process. I was at the caucuses every caucus year from 1980-2006. I missed 2008 because I couldn't get the night off, and I missed 2010 due to influenza A.
The caucus process isn't difficult, not in the least. The rules are general, you do need to acknowledge the chair.
Just what happens?
1) You sign in. In essence, you are pledging to vote for this party in the election. This isn't a closed primary in which you must vote for the people. You declare if you'd like to be a delegate to the county convention, or district, or state... You pick up some info from the candidates. You mingle with a few of the others, learning about what they think. At 7 PM (for MN) The meeting is called to order. We give the Pledge of Allegiance.
Then we listen to a statement by the chair. It is general only a few minutes. At that time, statements are given by representatives of the major candidates. Those may be 5 minutes each. Then we get a kind of "State of the party, and state of the state/union address." So far, not much is going on, right?
THEN comes a straw poll. In MN, it's not binding. Neither is it in Iowa. But it helps to narrow down who the people believe have the best shot of doing the job right.
Then, what's next? We start writing out suggestions, ideas that we want our candidates to support. That could be a balanced budget amendment. It could be something to do with gay rights. It may be something to do with credit reports and employment (I did one like that in 2000). It may do with jobs, health care, Social security. Almost anything goes, here.
The plank suggestions are read by the chair. There is a debate (if needed). Then it's a simple "AYE" or "NAY" vote. If the item is approved, it is forwarded to the next step -- generally a local convention (in my case, it was congressional district). If not, it dies -- generally. But with hundreds of caucuses around the state, someone else may have it brought up and approved.
We then elect the delegates. This is done by secret ballot (Like the straw poll). We have to learn about them, or trust them with our opinions. But we are generally bound by our honor to the desires of the people attending the caucus.
Towards the end, we may request rule modifications for the next caucus. We could do that early for anything at the start, but it's very limited. The Chair can call for candidates to fill the positions that may open up. Ever caucus I went to, we voted on who would want to be chair for next time, recording secretary, or along that line. Only 2 times that I recall was someone stepping down...and generally not many wanted to take the position. Not that I blame 'em, of course.
The caucus can continue for hours, but it must last at least one hour, by rule. I had one that went 2.5 hours. most were under 1 hour 15 minutes. I'm not sure if that tells you if we're of one mind, or if there just aren't a lot of people. Sometimes it's both. But none of the caucuses I attended in the cities had fewer than 50, and the 4 I had in the country had at least 30.
The caucus isn't so difficult to understand. The CONVENTIONS, on the other hand -- well, I leave that to your imagination. Politics may not be "FUN", but it is a needed part of political life in non-primary states...AS I SEE IT!