As Hannah mentioned, I found myself in the precinct-level Republican Party convention last night. I thought I was going to experience something similar to the caucuses Hannah attended and went with the intention of casting a vote and leaving. Civic duty discharged, time to go home.
What I found instead was in stark contrast to the line-out-the-door Democratic caucuses: a small room with 18 other souls, 6 of them children, and all eyes on me when I entered. To make matters more interesting, I know the family who constituted 2 of the adults (one of them the session chairman) and 4 of the children in the room, and I know that while we are close in our Christian faith and general life morals, we have a few differences when it comes to politics.
In any case, I decided not to turn around and walk out, and thus began one of the most interesting evenings I've had in a long time. After all of the business about election of officers, etc., the heart of the meeting was voting on several resolutions which the leader of the meeting, my acquaintance, brought forth. The first issue was my favorite why-is-this-a-hot-button, illegal immigration. The resolution was a motion to make part of the Republican Party platform the requirement that state and local law enforcement officials vigorous prosecute illegal immigration and condemn any sort of amnesty, etc. I'm sure you've heard the arguments. When he opened the floor for discussion, a lot of people were just looking around the room at each other, so I swallowed hard and raised my hand. When I do things like that, I become intensely aware of the sound of my own voice in my ears, and it makes me very self conscious and is not a comfortable feeling, but I had to know, "Can somebody explain to me why this is such a big deal? I've heard a lot of arguments about why we should focus on this, but so far, I'm unconvinced. I'm willing to change my mind, but convince me..." So I listened to the standard spiel about costs to hospitals and schools, the drain on the government budgets, the risks of terrorism, and so forth. Another man spoke up to point out that whatever the merits of prosecuting illegal immigration, strongly worded resolutions as had been proposed were not doing the Republican party any service among the unconvinced and that we should tone down the rhetoric. Amen. In the end, I remained unconvinced (I find myself feeling better about a more compassionate attitude, click here for a thought provoking example), and the measure passed with a 7-4 with one abstention. While I was not satisfied with the result, I felt a lot better about the process, and in the end I was glad that I went. I feel the GOP is getting a little extreme because the conventions are attended only by activists like my friend and there are relatively few moderate voices, like I discovered my own to be.
I'll spare you the complete details, but in the course of the evening, we voted on measures dealing with illegal immigration, English as a national language (why, again, is this important?), a photo ID requirement for voting, a voter verifiable paper trail for elections is Texas (I got to amend this one not to take us back 100 years to hand counted paper ballots), a limitation of government growth to inflation and population increase except by ballot measure, and protection and affirmation of parental rights and responsibilities. There were plenty of times when I felt very out of place in that crowd, voting on those issues. But rather than feel like the party is out of touch with me and my family, it was good to speak up and make my views known.
I have no delusions about the magnitude of what we accomplished; we were a small voice and one of many many precincts in the state that voted on similar measures. However, I found out a lot of things, I got to meet and have substantive discussion with a few of my neighbors, and by speaking out, I was able to influence others and have my own views refined and sharpened.
If you've never been to any kind of neighborhood or local government function, it's a neat experience, and I recommend it, whether it's the party convention or caucus, or a neighborhood association meeting. You may not change the world, but you'll be involved, engaged, a little more connected, and you might just make a difference.