Portraits Of A Chattanooga Caucus

Portraits Of A Chattanooga Caucus

One website that has proven particularly useful to me in finding my interview subjects is Reddit. Not long after I posted in the Chattanooga community on Reddit, I was made aware of a meeting of the Democratic Party in Hamilton County. Chattanooga is the seat of that county. The event turned out to be the so-called “biennal reorganization”, during which registered members of the party vote for new leadership.

Intrigued by the opportunity to witness local politics first-hand, on Saturday, March 25th, I made my way to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in East Chattanooga. Turnout was twice what it normally was – having everything to do with aversion to Trump. The outcome was described by one party member as “a complete rout of the party’s current establishment in favor of younger, more progressive leadership.”

Caucus Hamilton County Democrats Districts
All the districts in Hamilton County were grouped together. First order of business was to elect four precinct officers for each district. In most districts, more than four party members were interested in the posts. In true caucus fashion, they then argued in front of their district members why they considered themselves the best man or woman for the job. One of them told me: “I’m from a rural district. A tough place for us Democrats. What makes it worse, is that seventy percent of the 400+ Democratic seats in the county are unfilled. GOP candidates often run uncontested.”
Caucus Hamilton County Democrats Leadership
For sitting representatives, the reorganization meeting was a great opportunity to meet members from all districts in the county and draw attention to their platforms. The turnout was the highest the party had seen in a long time. Said the chairman: “More people are wanting to run for local office and Congress than in the last ten years. I feel encouraged that we can turn Hamilton County, the state and eventually the country blue.
Caucus Hamilton County Democrats Chair
The last order of business was to elect the county-wide officials: the chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer. All those who were elected precinct officer earlier that day, were eligible to vote. Voting was done by a show of hands and by having everyone divide into two groups on either side of the room. All four spots were taken by non-establishment members of the party, constituting a change in course that reflects the diversity of thought in the Democratic Party at large. The parting treasurer had some words of wisdom: “Let us leave today as a cohesive unit. If not in mind, then in purpose.”
Caucus Hamilton County Democrats Signs
I talked for a little while with Demetrus Coonrod. She’s in a run-off election against an incumbent for a seat on the city council representing District 9. Her strategy, she told me, was to “talk to everyone, especially those who didn’t vote last time.” She also took aim at her opponent: “We have to take the torch to the next level. Reduce crime, integrate ex-convicts back into society and fix the budget. We were failed on all of these issues.” Posing next to the sign is Cody, the co-owner of the cozy En Route House hostel in Chattanooga where I stayed for two nights.

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