Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Politics of Human Power

Politics effects public policy and those policies effect the places we live and how we travel through the world. This post expresses some of my views on the current political situation and does not necessarily represent those views of my employer, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. There are many people, many cyclists, who hold a wide range of views and I have friends (and family) whose politics run across a wide range of political thought. Whatever your views, I appreciate the time you take to read my blog.

Saturday, February 9th 2008, political caucuses were held across Washington state. Unlike primaries, where people simply vote (and in many places can vote by mail), in a caucus you actually show up. In a primary vote, your ballot is secret. In a caucus, you are physically in a room with your neighbors, making your preference known, discussing candidates and issues and possibly swaying others to your point of view.

Mark Thomas, Kevin Humphreys, Matt Newlin and I skipped the Seattle International Randonneurs ride on Vashon Island, opting instead for a more local morning ride that would get us back to our respective homes in time to attend our local caucuses. My precinct caucus was at a school on up on the Issaquah Plateau, about three miles from my home.

My wife and I live human-powered, human-sized lives and have opted not to own an automobile. We get around mostly by foot or bicycle and sometimes use various forms of mass transit. Christine is predominantly a walker, she walks to her job as a shopper for Safeway.com about a mile from our home and at work she walks up and down the grocery aisles, filling home delivery orders that customers have placed on the internet. Even though I'm a professional bike commuter, Christine and I often walk around Issaquah together rather than bike. It's simpler, more conducive to conversation and we're in no rush. We hold hands like young lovers.

Naturally, we walked up to our caucus.

The area east of Seattle, including the Cascade foothill town of Issaquah where I live, has grown tremendously over the past several decades. The downtown core of Issaquah is boxed in by low mountains to the south, Lake Sammamish to the north and the Issaquah Plateau to the northwest. The Issaquah Highlands, up on the Plateau, is where many of the new homes, businesses and schools have been constructed in the past few years.

Traffic is a problem here, but Issaquah's mayor (herself a walker) and city council recognize that cycling and walking are part of the transportation solution, so we have things like sidewalks and trails and we're working on getting more. A local group called Getting Around Issaquah Together (GAIT) works at the grassroots level to keep our city walkable, bikeable and liveable.

Christine and I walk from our home in downtown, along streets with sidewalks, complete streets, and up the Plateau via a pedestrian and cycling path. The last half mile, along the busy Issaquah-Fall City Road, has a narrow shoulder and a thin strip of grass where we walk, but this could be better.

As we walk to our caucus, Christine notes that the Republican caucus is happening over at Clark Elementary school, a much closer walk. Our family is fairly diverse politically, our 22 year old son Peter, who is currently attending Eastern Washington University in Cheney, has explained to me "I don't ride a bicycle because I'm a damn hippie like you, Dad. I ride a bike because I'm fiscally conservative." His 19 year old brother Eric, who is attending Bellevue Community College and working as an office manager for AOA Dental Lab in Seattle, is similarly more right-leaning than Christine and I and he gets exasperated with our low-consumption lifestyle. "You always say things like 'money can't buy happiness', Dad but how do you know? It can buy some pretty cool stuff! Maybe if you made more of it you'd see that." Christine and I are just happy that we've raised a couple of boys who can think for themselves, fend for themselves, figure things out and make the choices that they think are best.

Despite Eric's close following of the presidential election process, he's not going to his caucus. Things seem to be more settled on that side of things and he seems confident that Senator McCain will get the Republican nomination whether or not Eric Peterson of Issaquah Washington attends his caucus.

On the Democratic side, things are not so settled. Although I have a great affinity for Congressman Dennis Kucinich since, like me, he is short, carries a lot of stuff in his pockets and has a gorgeous wife. But even the quixotic Mr. Kuchinich has determined at this date that he cannot win the presidency. Christine and I are attending our caucus to have our say, to advance the cause of the candidate we feel best represents our views and has the best chance of winning the election.

The school cafeteria is packed when we get there and becomes more even more packed as the time approaches 1:00 PM. The Democratic caucus organizer truthfully jokes that George Bush has been the most effective person for Democratic recruitment ever. Christine and I find our precinct table and settle in.

The turnout is huge. Families with young kids, a hunched and wrinkled old woman with a walker, teachers, software engineers, retired folks, moms, dads, singles, couples, veterans, Americans.

We get instructions, a lot of us are new to this process. At 1:30 PM we sign in. We fill out our names, addresses, contact information and finally initial presidential preference. There is a second blank, one that we can fill in if we wish to change our selection after discussion. There are more people than blank sign-in sheets but tablet paper can be used.

Almost every on in our precinct votes initially for Senator Clinton or Senator Obama. One person cast a vote of Mr. Kucinich and a couple listed as undecided but the bulk of the votes went to the two Senators. And of the forty or so people gathered around our precinct's couple of tables more than thirty voted for Senator Obama initially.

We could speak to make our case for the candidates we chose. A young school teacher introduced herself and said why she was supporting Senator Clinton. She talked about Clinton's health-plan, how it would cover more people. I spoke after her and I spoke in support of Senator Obama.

I talked about my sister who lives back in the midwest, my sister whose son is currently on active duty in Iraq. I recounted a conversation I had with my sister where she stated flatly that she'd never vote for Senator Clinton. My sister is not alone in that sentiment. It may or may not be fair. While there are many folks who support Senator Clinton and her policies, there are many others who are steadfast in their dislike of her. Just as George Bush can mobilize the Democrats and independents against him, Senator Clinton can move the Republicans and independents against her.

And Senator Obama is bringing more people in. In terms of policy there is very little difference between Obama's and Clinton's positions. Earlier in the campaign Senator Obama filled a stadium in Boise with people eager to hear him speak. Boise, Idaho, a state not known for it's Democratic leanings. On Friday, Senator Obama over-filled the Key Arena in Seattle. He took time outside the arena to speak to those who could not get in. Senator Obama is bringing more people in, people anxious to change this country for the better. I don't think the large caucus turnout is just anti-Bush, there are a large number of people out to support Senator Obama.

A few members of our precinct caucus changed their initial votes. I believe one vote changed to Clinton and two changed to Obama. In the end when the ratios were calculated and the delegates assigned, our precinct allocated three delagates to Senator Obama and one to Senator Clinton.

Now, hours later, the caucus results for Washington are in. Democratic turnout was high state-wide. The radio tells me that in Kirkland the caucus was too big for the school cafeteria and overflowed into the parking lot. Senator Obama won Washington by a factor of about two to one.

I believe Senator Obama is good man and I think he has the best chance of any Democrat running to win the presidency this fall. I also believe in a lot of his positions and what he stands for. I like that he reaches out to work with others, a trait that also is apparent in his likely opponent Senator McCain. I'll also restate what I have often said about the job of President of the United States. Mr. T said it best, "I pity the fool" who gets that job.

Of course there is more to life than bicycles, but I do feel good about supporting a candidate who recognizes human power as a valid component of human life. Over on the Bicycle Diaries Blog I found this from Senator Obama's response to a letter asking for his support of Senate Bill 858: the Bicycle Commuters Benefits Act of 2007:

The benefits of commuting by bicycle is almost an endless list — reducing harmful emissions, reducing congestion, reducing petroleum consumption, promoting personal health — but our public policies have evolved to where smart and sustainable transportation uses are discouraged.
Roads are designed without pedestrian or bike paths, office and shopping parks are designed around the automobile, and even the best transit systems may be incompatible with bike use. It is time to revisit all federal policies to better accommodate the energy and environmental health priorities of the 21st century.
Also on that site I found this picture of a young Barack Obama on a trike. Even today, he looks like a man who still remembers what it was like to be that smiling kid. A man who hopes for a better world and tries to make the world be that better place.

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