By Marcus Lavergne
Saturday was the day that everyone was waiting for — it was Nevada’s Democratic caucus, an event that could give some insight into the future for Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. At the University of Nevada, Reno, the rooms for each precinct were packed with attendees ranging from old to young, and spanning a broad spectrum of races, genders and backgrounds.
Participants sported apparel and carried signs projecting their preferred choice for the democratic nomination. Once inside the rooms, the caucusing began, and the divide between Clinton and Sanders supporters became even more apparent.
For those who already stood firm behind their favorite candidate, caucusing was relatively simple — a person sat on one side of the room with other supporters, documented their choice, and, at times, argued with those on the opposite side of the room about which side was right.
For those scarce few caught between the divide, it became a game that involved listening and learning. The room resembled a small battlefield, with soldiers on both sides ready to draw firearms in the form of pitches for their candidates. For Nicholas-Martin Kearney, a first time caucusgoer and undecided voter, these events hold special importance.
Kearney is a middle-aged, gay, white man. He’s curious and open-minded, and he enjoys being a part of the democratic system. When he sat among the other attendees in the Schulich Lecture Hall room, he came in search of some answer, some new piece of information that would pull him off the fence.
He knows he’s only growing older, and this time around he’s realized just how important it is for him to place his confidence and, even more importantly, his vote in the right person. Bearing witness to all the excitement surrounding Sanders while being a fan of Bill Clinton’s administration has essentially split Kearney in two.
“I think at this point I’m old enough to be hopeful about Bernie,” Kearney said. “But, I’m realistic enough to believe that Hillary’s probably going to do it. I’m a long-standing Clinton supporter, but I want desperately to not choose [Clinton] this time.”
Sanders’ campaign has sparked a renewed excitement for politics for many, largely among young voters. He uses words like “revolution,” implying that if he’s elected president, people can expect true change within the U.S. political system. Kearney wants more. For him, there’s still something missing, something that isn’t being discussed. That’s why the senator can’t quite sway him yet.
After Clinton and Bernie supporters separated the room into two groups, Kearney was left in the middle. Precinct captains from each side were given five minutes to try to convince him to come to their sides. As he was subjected to arguments from both sides, his face remained stern and unimpressed. He’d heard it all before.
“What are you looking for?” That was the golden access key into Kearney’s inner thoughts and the issues he’s truly passionate about. Kearney works for the university as a Core Humanities administration assistant, but outside of campus he works in the nonprofit sector, calling it his “bread and butter” at this stage in his life.
“The Bernie Sanders side agrees that nobody’s talking about nonprofits,” Kearney said. “The Hillary side is saying, ‘Yes, well, she has a bleeding heart.’ OK?”
OK means “what else?” for Kearney. According to the Urban Institute, the national clearinghouse for data on the nonprofit sector in the U.S., over 1 million nonprofit organizations registered with the Internal Revenue Service in 2013. In 2014, around 25 percent of U.S. adults volunteered time to an organization for a total of more than 8 billion hours of service. Those hours are valued at close to $180 billion.
For Kearney, the job sector, which contributed over $900 billion to the U.S. economy in 2013, isn’t getting the attention it deserves and for some voters like him that could make all the difference.
“Employment for nonprofits,” Kearney said. “They’re talking about job crashes in all of these other markets, but nobody’s talking about nonprofit work. In this industry, there are huge numbers [of workers]. Someone here has to tell me how they’re going to help me and all of those other people who work in nonprofits.”
After the small number of Hillary supporters prevented her from receiving delegates, they left the room. Kearney stayed among the Bernie supporters until the delegate election began, but eventually walked out with a countenance of displeasure and concern.
When it was all said and done, Kearney had not found clarity. To him, the ultimate vote was precious, something that can’t be given without conviction, but his feelings were altered after the conclusion of the caucus.
Kearney was stranded in a gray area after looking down at his phone and checking out projections of Clinton’s win, while taking into account the majority of Bernie supporters in his precinct. He thought about what reality was versus what he perceived things to be.
“I guess there’s no fighting politics,” Kearney said. “I still have to figure out who to vote for. I’m even more undecided now.”
After taking another look at his phone, he pondered the projection. He questioned what a packed room full of Sanders supporters even symbolized when the numbers showed something completely different. In the end, he considered the actual importance of his vote, and left after solemnly saying, “maybe my vote doesn’t matter that much.”
On the contrary, voters like Kearney may have the ability to bring neglected issues into the spotlight. From start to finish, he came in search of answers and left disillusioned, but in the near future the mysterious power of the undecided voter could turn out to be, well, everything.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mlavergne21.