CLIENT WORK: Election’08: A People’s History

A People’s History Pt.1:
The Washington State Democratic Caucuses
A People’s History Pt.2:
The Democratic National Convention



A People’s History
When the Washington State delegation took its place on the floor of the Democratic National Convention it quite likely made history. Perhaps one of the most diverse delegations in Democratic Party history, the delegates from Washington State represented twenty ethnicities. There were an equal number of women and men and numerous representatives from the LGBTQ community. If this were not distinguishing enough, the delegation was also comprised of one of the highest percentages of political neophytes ever. More people than ever, seated as Washington state delegates at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, had never been involved in political process before, and for many with some background in politics, it was their first foray into presidential politics.

For all of these delegates their journey began on February 9 2008 when people all over Washington State crowded into churches, school classrooms, community centers and homes. Coming together to participate in Washington State’s Democratic Party’s precinct level caucuses, the delegates would throw themselves into the first in a series of four caucuses that would determine which of the democratic presidential nominees would carry the state and who, among the thousands of ordinary citizens, would have to opportunity to represent their candidate the Democratic National Convention.

Early in the 2008 election season it became clear that the presidential race would be unprecedented for many reasons. With an Barak Obama and a Hillary Clinton leading the host of Democratic party candidates vying for the parties presidential nomination, and Sarah Palin joining the Republican ticket as Vice Presidential hopeful, the array of candidates reflected of the American people more than in any presidential race in the nation’s history. For many the candidacy of Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton represented a fundamental change in American politics, opening up a sense of possibility that, through these candidate, people in communities color, LGBTQ communities, women and poor and working class Americans might have a greater say in shaping national politics.

In Washington State this historical mood was reflected in the massive influx of new participants engaging in the state’s Democratic Party caucus system.  African American, Asians, immigrants, women, people from the LGBTQ community and others who never before felt inspired to engage the political process beyond voting, suddenly recognized their stake in this aspect of the political process. Indeed history may argue that the groundswell of new political participants was the real force that shaped the events of the political season.

Recognizing this I set out to cover the experiences of people representing communities of ethnic minorities. My goal was to document in photographs the experiences citizens, new to the political process, as they moved through the caucus system in their quest to support their candidate of choice in the race to the White House.

The people I met along the way are almost too numerous to list in their entirety. One man who stood out amongst many was Peter Masundire, an immigrant from Zimbabwe and Media and Communications Director for Washington for Obama. I met Peter immediately after the precinct level caucuses and documented his journey toward becoming a national delegate for Barack Obama. Although Peter was firmly embedded in Washington State’s Democratic Party, his background as an recent African immigrant underscores the larger story of politically underrepresented people staking their claim in national politics.

This essay highlights every stage of the process, starting from the district caucuses and culminating with the nomination of Barak Obama as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate at the national convention in Denver, CO. National politics is a system that is slow to change. However history has shown that major changes in politics often start slow and are suddenly catalyzed into monumental shifts. It is not unreasonable to imagine that participation in the Washington State Democratic Party 2008 presidential election caucus was a foreshadowing civic participation in national politics in the 21st century.