Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Iowa Caucus (I was there)

Let's take a little break from the despair of my Japan situation and talk about something the whole world is watching. Or at least the American expats of the world. Or just America. Okay, Iowa. Colin and I have been visiting for the holidays, and honestly, America has felt really nice. I'm such a real, bona fide human being here that I can even participate in the democratic process. Since I've been back, Iowa has been alive with caucus fever. We're just stupid little Iowa, but all the candidates were here paying attention to us, speaking directly to us, needing us, and the national media was covering it. I could actually be part of something significant.

I can't imagine anything like a caucus in Japan. It's hard to believe that it's still around in America. It involves publicly declaring your political opinion, counting bodies, not ballots, and having an open discourse to try to get people to come to your side. That is some crazy, old-fashioned democracy, but I kind of like it. The address on my U.S. driver's license is just outside of city limits, so my caucus location was a little town hall way out in the boonies. The building capacity was around forty-five people, but 270 showed up. You could barely move in the place, it was so packed with farmers and small-town Iowans. An old lady fainted. There was also a big stripey caucus cat wandering around, and I carried it to the Obama corner when it was time to pick sides. The first body count showed Obama in a definite lead, followed by Edwards and Clinton. Since the Kucinich, Richardson, and Biden groups had less than forty-one people each (15%), they either had to join a viable group or merge together under one previously nonviable candidate to make it over forty-one. The Kucinich supporters were almost immediately absorbed into Obama, and a couple Biden and Richardson people tried to rally the others to pick one and form a group. One man explained to the room that they were aware that neither of these candidates would win, but it would just be a nice statement to show that they had some support in Iowa. The man was immediately met by booing and jeering from mainly the Edwards and Clinton groups. An Edwards supporter shouted, "Are you here to vote, or to make a philosophical statement?" After the nonviable people either chose groups or stayed undecided, we worked on the final count. There were sixty-six for Clinton, eighty-eight for Edwards, and 112 for Obama. Here's where it gets a little complicated. The votes are actually determined by a ratio of bodies to delegates. In other words, 112 people is not 112 votes. It's rounded down to three delegates (chosen from that body) who can go on to vote for Obama at the convention in Des Moines. Edwards was rounded up to three delegates, and Clinton got two.

It was interesting to recognize people at my caucus location. I saw my high school humanities teacher with Edwards, the boy who was my main tormenter in middle school looking tall and skeezy in the Clinton corner. I caught a glimpse of a high school friend, just back from Iraq and in the Obama group. Most of the people I recognized from high school were with Obama. My sister's caucus location was a different story. She lives downtown, with bad neighborhoods about a block away in any direction from her house. Her turnout was about half the amount of my small-town, farmy location. She said the Clinton group was really obnoxious, and as soon as the undecideds/nonviables were identified, the other groups swarmed them, trying to scream at them and insult them into their group. One woman, who was a caucus observer, not a participant, began shouting, "Look! Someone in the Obama group just gave that woman fudge! They're trying to bribe her! That's illegal!" In the end, Clinton had the most people, followed by Obama and Edwards, but because of the ratio the delegate distribution was two to Clinton, two to Obama, and one to Edwards. A woman who volunteered to be a delegate to Obama explained her position by saying, "I'm a woman, so I could just as easily go for Hillary, but my kid's half black, so I think I'll go for Obama." Luckily, she wasn't chosen. But let that be a warning to all of you. If you don't vote, people like that woman are deciding for you.

Since being back, I've been getting back in touch with the climate and the sense of need here. There are a lot of things that are really fucked up. Honestly, I'm scared to move back because of the costs of healthcare. I had my blood drawn today, and after giving the nurse my information, she sent a paper across the counter:
"We need you to sign this release. Wellmark will only pay for this test if it turns out you have cancer, so if it comes up negative you have to cover the costs."
I read over the paper and said, "Um, I don't think I have cancer. Do I really need this?"
"Yeah, but your doctor thinks you should do this test."
I asked her the cost, and reluctantly signed the release. So if I don't have cancer, I get an eighty dollar bill. If I do have cancer, I have to pay for CANCER. Isn't American healthcare fun?

Anyway, I'm an activist, and America has a lot of room for improvement. Japan doesn't need me. It doesn't really even want me. I loved teaching, and I loved my students, but now I'm just one person with no Japanese institution to back me up, and the people I thought I could trust have turned on me. If Japan is based on your context within society, your social connections, then Japan can be a really, really nasty place. The nail that sticks out gets pounded down. I thought maybe that adage was out of date, but once I've become the nail, I think I get it. I'm stubborn, I'm a fighter, and I have a strong sense of justice. I didn't want to leave Japan defeated and with such bitterness in my heart. But Yoshiko's network of influence is much stronger than I can ever be. Maybe Japan is just telling me to get the fuck out. I want to resolve this. I don't want to leave hating Japan. Hopefully I can eventually work things out and find a place again in a country that needs me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yey Cassie!!! It's so nice to have you back, and writing in your blog. It's great to have someone who is willing to DO something to make America livable once again.

And, health care scares me, too. That was the worst thing about all of this. And it just keeps getting worse, even if you HAVE ;health insurance...thanks for watching Sicko with me. Health Care Sucks, in the US.

Love, Mom

6:16 AM  
Blogger GLE said...

It is scary here, isn't it? Everyone around me is talking in a state of panic. Sell all your stocks, buy gold, move to Australia. Things are a lot different looking post college when you have bills to pay and a future to think about. I don't know what to believe anymore.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous David Jonas said...

Wait, you didn't caucus for Romney? How can you look yourself in the mirror?

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today I read every single entry in this blog. I just want to tell you that you're fascinating and a much more talented writer than you seem to think. This kept me entertained for a very long time and I can't wait to see what you write next. Thank you! :)

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Natalie said...

Hay Cassie I'm sorry I was a raging bitch before you left for Japan, I felt bad all night and stayed up till 5 so I could catch you before you left. That was damn clever of me, I thought. Except then you weren't there.

How is Japan now? Does it still suck? Do you have any students still?

1:10 AM  

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