Democrats across Washington State will file into their local caucus locations on March 26, argue with their neighbors, and allocate delegates to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Washington is expected to go for Sanders—but his chances at the nomination are dwindling. Clinton led Sanders at press time with 1,163 delegates to his 844 (not counting superdelegates, who can support either candidate). The rest of the country looks less primed for the revolution than deep-blue Seattle.
But even if Sanders is successful here, the process is antithetical to his radically democratic brand. Caucuses require voters to show up in person and reveal their political leanings to their neighbors at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. They draw a lower turnout and shut out people turned off by insider party politics. While voters with work or religious obligations can cast surrogate ballots, the process will inevitably disenfranchise some.
Yet, Democrats in Washington show no sign of changing their system.
Jamal Raad, a spokesperson for the Washington State Democrats, defends the party's "rich history of using the caucus process." He says the party's 176-member central committee voted overwhelmingly last year to keep the caucuses. Raad says nearly 70,000 people have already signed up for this year's caucus, many of them ages 18 to 34. (Find your caucus location at wa-democrats.org.)
"I think of this as a block party," Raad says. "This is your neighbors coming together and meeting on who should be the next president."
One undeniable benefit of the caucuses is their role as an organizing tool. Saturday's caucuses are likely to have signature gatherers for initiatives on the minimum wage, sick time, and new gun protection orders as well as representatives from various campaigns. Even if the national electorate looks resistant to Seattle's brand of progressivism, other races can still be won.
As they were rallying the crowd before Sanders spoke on Sunday, state senator Pramila Jayapal—a socialist-leaning Democrat running for Jim McDermott's seat in Congress—and freshman state representative Noel Frame used their time to draw attention to progressive candidates running for state and local offices.
"Every single issue that's inspired you to be here today for Bernie Sanders is playing out right now in this city and in this state," Frame said, citing income inequality, regressive taxes, and the fight against transphobic bathroom bills. "We need you to elect Bernie Sanders president, but we really need you right here at home to help us take back our state legislature from the Republicans... the political revolution doesn't stop at the presidential level."