About all I know about Robert’s Rules of Order comes from the game Mafia, which basically amounts to someone being nominated and seconded and all in favor say “aye” and possibly not interrupting the person speaking (although even that is flexible).
I learned a little bit more while caucusing earlier this month.
My roommates and I went to the caucus calling ourselves “The Disenfranchised Millennials,” which, incidentally, would be an awesome band name for anyone who wants to put the parody that is current politics to music. You’re welcome.
After filling out paperwork that will probably get me phone calls from politicians for the rest of my life, we found our way to the room for Precinct 12. Upon entering, I corrected the horrendous greeting written on the whiteboard—“Thank U 4 Coming”—into actual English, to a chortle from an elderly guy at the front. Then my roommates and I, accurately representing ourselves as the youngest people in the room, took a caucus selfie. (Seriously. I kind of look pained in it.)
Our stammering caucus convener admitted nervously that he had never done this before, and held the night’s script right in front of his face the whole time, except when he held up a picture of a flag on his smartphone so we could pledge allegiance to it. All of his statements came out like questions, and when there were actual questions, he didn’t know how to answer them.
That was okay, because we had the General in our corner. The upper right hand corner of the room, actually. The General was a white-bearded gentleman with a booming bass radio voice who basically took over the proceedings early on, along with many references to patriotism and the sacrifices of our veterans. He had no title. He had no official role. But he had something the rest of us did not: he knew Robert’s Rules of Order.
At one point, when a confused caucus-goer was giving misinformation about delegates, the General stood, a determined slant to his shoulders, like he was wearing the rippling cloak of George Washington himself handed down through the generations along with the dusty old book of Parliamentary procedures.
With all of the conviction and authority of a true patriot throwing down a gauntlet for a duel of honor, his voice rang out: “Point of order. Will you yield, sir?”
And I wanted to say, “Yes, he will yield. We will all yield. Do whatever you want, sir, because you clearly understand more than we mere mortals.” I was half in awe of him and half terrified of him, with an underlying sense of annoyance at how pretentious he sounded.
But it wasn’t his fault that the rest of us were suddenly politicized newbies, was it? He couldn’t help it that some of us had, just hours before, been chatting about how to write a breakup letter to the American government. (My favorite, submitted by Ruthie, “I just don’t think we’re at a level of commitment right now where I should support you financially.”) The General was the one doing things the proper way. I had just stumbled into this strange political thing.
Halfway through the caucus, which was about the same point as I was despairing for humanity (politics brings this out in me), I realized: this is how unbelievers feel when they walk into church.
The songs have strange lyrics (seriously, all those songs about Jesus’s blood have to sound creepy), they’re not sure what to expect next, and everyone is using big words and odd phrases as if everyone knows what they mean. When not everyone does.
I’m not saying it’s bad to sing those songs or to accidentally leave something unexplained that could raise a few questions or use words like “retribution” or “sanctification.” Go too far in the other direction, and I think the church can sacrifice a lot in a quest to be relevant and easily accessible.
Sometimes, though, I think it’s good for us to be outsiders. To remember what it feels like to assume the person with the secret inside knowledge is somehow better than us. To feel excluded, like we’re just a few seconds away from making a complete idiot of ourselves.
While yes, participating in a caucus increased my cynicism just a little bit (because politics), I hope it increased my compassion more. That I’ll be more careful next time when I can tell someone doesn’t understand what I just said. That I’ll refuse to let my knowledge puff me up. That I’ll go out of my way to make others feel included and welcome.
And maybe I’ll brush up on my Robert’s Rules of Order sometime soon. The General and I are both delegates for our precinct, which apparently means I show up at a convention in a month or so as punishment for a fit of millennium impulsivity in nominating myself.
This should be fun.