Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ridiculous America

I worked five shifts at the bar between Saturday and Saturday this week, and saw some things that really got me thinking about the nature of this nation. I knew this already, but my week on the sidewalk really brought it home: this is a truly ridiculous country, in every positive and negative sense of the word.

The week began with a swarm of union delegates arriving at the hotels down the street. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was holding its 39th International Convention at the hall down the way. For those not in the know, AFSCME is part of the AFL-CIO, and is one of the largest unions in the country. It represents some 1.4 million workers through 3,600 locals in 46 states. On the table at their convention were a variety of resolutions, but none more significant than the election of a Secretary-Treasurer, an incredibly important position in any union. Two main candidates were in the running - Lee Saunders and Danny Donohue - and at the outset of the week, the conventional wisdom had Saunders winning in a walk.

Supporters of Donohue, however, had other ideas. The election was slated for Thursday morning, and starting on the Saturday before, Donohue's people turned my bar into a makeshift headquarters/decompression chamber while they plotted an insurgent campaign to get their man in. A great many of them smoked, so the sidewalk where I stand post became a very small, butt-littered public square, and I was able to gather exactly what was going on. By Tuesday, the excrement had hit the wind machine after a tense confrontation on the convention floor, and by Wednesday, all available data suggested the race was tied. Only a few of Dohonue's people came in Wednesday night; they all had to be sharp for the vote in the morning, but the few I did see told me there was absolutely no way to tell how the thing was going to shake out.

When I got to work Thursday afternoon, a clutch of my new regulars were gathered at the corner of the bar staring quietly into their beers. I asked what happened, and they shook their heads; Lee Saunders had defeated Danny Donohue 652,660 to 648,356, a margin of 4,304 votes. Some 3,900 blank ballots had been turned in, several more had been double-marked and were therefore invalid, and a third minor candidate named Mark Foley had pulled 1,489 votes for himself.

The margin was excruciating, but as the evening progressed, I watched those guys slowly but steadily shake it off. None of them had ever done anything like this, never organized a campaign of any kind, and certainly had never made a run at a well-entrenched and heavily-favored opponent. Coming within 4,000 votes of victory was, they realized, a tremendous accomplishment. Now they had an organization, willing volunteers, and a very viable candidate, and the next election for Secretary-Treasurer was only two years away. They would be ready next time, and I wouldn't bet against them. Later that night, one of them came back to the bar and gave me a little green pin representing his local. I've been wearing it ever since.


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