Tuesday, March 13, 2012

From Winter to Spring at the County Political Convention

I saw my first robin Saturday morning, a sign of an early Spring. It’s been a short winter, and early spring.

Surely we could have been outside Saturday doing early yard work. Or, just have gone for a walk on the river front. But, no we had received a postcard with a reminder of the Dubuque, Iowa, County Convention of the political party to which we belong. The news media were all over those famous Iowa Caucuses in early January; Saturday, Mach 10, 130 delegates selected at the precincts arrived at Northeast Iowa Community College for a day of deliberation. No news media. Just us citizens.

We began with prayer by a pastor who was in the role of citizen delegate that day. The prayer was inclusive of all faiths. Then we said the pledge to the flag. Then, not unlike an ecclesial assembly, we were invited to look around and greet one another with handshakes. We heard words from county elected officials, words of encouragement and challenge. With redistricting, there will be challenges to fair representation. Our state senator’s words were kind and inspiring. Our state representative, who had been Speaker of the Iowa House until the 2010 election, spoke. He lives in a modest house in Dubuque and each year invites people to his home on St. Patrick’s day. At the county level, people know each other and are known. (I was surprised leaders knew my name.)

With voter suppression laws are a huge issue across the nation (see my earlier blog). Iowa has been able to hold back that initiative by Democrats retaining, by a small margin, control of the Senate. Still, helping people—all sorts of people—be able and empowered to vote this year is our task.

The day proceeded in what I thought was a wonderfully civil manner. Through proper procedure and careful listening to one another we chose 21 males and 21 females to represent Dubuque County at the District Convention in April and the State Convention in June. Some of the party leaders stepped back and put their names on the alternate list so that more “regular people” could be delegates.

After lunch, hard work of deliberation on the Platform began (15 pages, 763 lines). Surely the nice weather outside would entice people away. And would the work of these 130 delegates at a mere “county” convention matter in the large scheme of things? But the Platform Committee had done their work and now these delegates did theirs. I have been to many, many church conventions. Some are collaborative; some full of rancor. But this day at NE Iowa Community College, the delegates deliberated for three more hours, listening carefully to one another. Each section began with a “Mission Statement” which summarized our “commitments” to Agriculture; Climate and Environmental Integrity/Stewardship; Education; Energy; Environment; Government and Law; Health and Human Services; International Policy; Taxes; and Veterans.

A person took the microphone to say, that “Immigration” was emerging as a significant enough issue to be a separate section, not just part of “Government and Law.” It was agreed upon by consensus. Another person quickly noted that “Immigration” would then need a “Mission Statement” and that perhaps lines 465-467 from the section could be moved to serve that purpose. Agreed!

That was the tone of the afternoon! People paid attention—to the issues and to one another. A platform plank under “Environmental Integrity/Stewardship” on open leaf burning, composting and mulching, could not be resolved quickly, because of rural concerns of open country in this prairie/savanna context. “Could some of you work on that and we’ll come back to it?”

We proceeded with conversations about commerce and collective bargaining, about rebuilding the financial support for public education that has been cut in the past 15 months, about international trade policies and nuclear weapons. If someone wanted to amend the Platform with a substantive change, one had to submit it in writing with 20 signatures. During the course of the afternoon that happened a number of times.

One proposed an amendment related to the “under God” words that were added to the Pledge of Allegiance during the Cold War period a few decades ago. Dubuque County is highly Roman Catholic and very churched. Even so, there was good, clear conversation about why removing those words might be very good to say this is a pluralistic nation of many faiths, people who believe in other than a monotheistic god or in no god. It was decided that such an amendment, at this time, might not serve well.

Another proposed amendment related to contraceptives. Again, this is a highly Roman Catholic area. The amendment was not opposed because of religious reasons. In fact a man suggested changing the words “women” to “people,” saying that birth control is a responsibility of men and women. Conversation continued about words for “access” and “insurance” and these 130 people worked it all out by consensus: “We support birth control being accessible for all people through their health insurance with no co-pays.”

The afternoon was growing long. People monitored their time at the microphones, and so did the leaders. Still they gave fair time to individuals who had submitted written minority reports. It was clear to most, including the ones who proposed them, that they would not pass, but they were considered, seriously considered and through debate the assembly learned. Then, we returned to the issue of open leaf burning with the addition of “except for resource management.” And we ratified our deliberated Platform, now to be sent on to the District Convention. There our voices would be joined with many others, and likewise at the state and eventually the national conventions.

The day that began with my seeing of a robin, a sign of Spring, concluded with a strong sign that I had seen participatory democracy; I had witnessed intelligence, wisdom and pragmatism. These people had deliberated all afternoon…when surely they could had been outdoors on that amazingly warm Iowa March day. Did it matter? It does!

When we returned home we saw crocuses blooming in our yard where only a week before all the trees had been covered with snow.

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