In Search of a Tampon at the State Democratic Convention
Last weekend, I attended my first ever state convention of the Democratic Party of New Mexico. My first few weeks in local party leadership have been packed with epiphanies. Unfortunately, these did not include remembering to stash the all-important box of feminine hygiene products in my suitcase before I hit the highway.
It's a five hour drive from Española to Las Cruces, and I was rushing, not wanting to miss the opening reception where I would meet politically connected Democrats from around the state. I stopped somewhere south of Socorro for gas and noticed a Walgreens.
I looked at my watch. If I drove quickly, I would just make it. I decided to forgo Walgreens, reasoning that in a room full of at least 350 women, I'd be able to scrounge a few corks from someone.
I entered the basketball arena where the convention was being held and quickly signed in. Having dispatched with the necessities, I was free to engage in a hunt for feminine hygiene products. I moseyed on over to the bathroom. I figured I'd probably find a dispenser selling individually wrapped joy sticks for seventy-five thousand cents apiece.
I was in the ladies room at the Aggies' basketball arena. No amenities and no genital gouging, even at inflated prices.
I trotted out and snared a friend from Santa Fe. "Hi!" I greeted her before asking discretely, "You don't have a tampon in your purse, do you?"
She hooted with laughter. "Honey, I stopped needing those decades ago! Good riddance too!"
I moved along to the next woman I knew. "Oh sweetie, do I really look that young to you?" She cackled with delight.
I scanned the bleachers. Grey heads everywhere!
I took a seat with our Rio Arriba delegation next to Ashley Martinez. Ashley is a beautiful young woman in her early twenties, with a thick mane of brown curls falling almost to her waist. She wears black, geek glasses, imparting a serious air to her face. "Do you have a tampon?" I asked.
"No, sorry," she answered. Neither did any of the other women with us.
Then the proceedings began. Several members of our Congressional delegation made rousing speeches. I was barely listening because I was surveying the crowd for potential tampon targets. Suddenly, Congressman Ben-Ray Lujan broadcast into the microphone, "Will Ashley Martinez of Rio Arriba County please stand up?"
Ashley was gazing at her phone, oblivious to the summons.
"Is Ashley Martinez in the room?" he asked again.
I poked her in the ribs and she jumped. "That's you!" I told her. "Ben-Ray just asked you to stand up!"
She looked startled. "Me?" she squeaked. "Why would he ask me to stand up?"
She stood up.
"Let's give a great big hand to Ashley!" the Congressman shouted. "She's the youngest person at the convention!"
Ashley turned bright red as the crowd applauded her.
"Congratulations, Ashley," I told her. "He picked a very bright lady to call out." Then I added, "You know, I think you're probably the only woman of childbearing age in this entire stadium."
I wondered how the dearth of female participants with small children might effect legislative priorities. It certainly seemed to have impacted our choice of venue. We had somehow selected the only feminine-hygiene-free zone in the state of New Mexico. Fortunately, there were no obviously pregnant women. They would have been incredibly uncomfortable sitting in bleachers.
My very first move a few weeks prior, as our new County Vice-Chair, was to establish an Outreach and Youth Involvement Committee for Rio Arriba. I asked Henry Ochoa, a respected elder and one of the best organizers in Rio Arriba, to bring a few blank resolutions to a youth convention, and have them put a platform plank together.
Henry's a bespectacled rancher in his seventies. He can usually be found in an El Rito field tending to his cattle. Now he was reporting out at our first State Central Committee meeting.
"I asked the kids to put together a resolution about ethics for us," he explained. Henry, Pablo (our chair), and I had concocted that plan as a means of holding ourselves to a code of conduct. "Pablo and I thought we could publish their resolution in the paper.
"But the kids surprised me. They had much more to say about immigration. Most of them were Mexican nationals who've lived here all their lives. I didn't know we had so many young Mexican immigrants in our community. They're worried about not being able to go to college because of their status as undocumented, and they'd like us to address it. Also, they wanted us to lower the voting age."
"Why are we doing this?" someone asked Henry.
"Well," I responded. "Rio Arriba County's 5,858 square miles and very little of it is under 6,000 feet. Who's gonna do all that door knocking? Are we gonna walk it all by ourselves?
"Young people can cover a lot of ground, but I bet they'd be more excited about it if we asked their opinions about things and incorporated their input into our platform. Also, If we start recruiting high school and college students, we'll be building a democratic organization that'll last 40 years."
One of the things I'm enjoying most about my new position is the opportunity to teach younger people to organize. Our SCC appears to be unique because about half of our participants are 30 or under.
In our County in the past, the Democratic Party resembled a street gang. Because most of the good paying jobs with benefits in Rio Arriba were local government, our political life has been rooted in patronage. People are chosen to fill posts based on how many votes they can bring in. And they brought in votes in colorful ways.
I'm trying to encourage our new SCC to select people to fill posts based on ability to do the work and to meet our organizational needs. Usually, I ask questions: "Really? Does he like to write? Why would you appoint a person secretary who doesn't enjoy note taking? If he doesn't take minutes, how will we get them done?"
Before we went to the State Convention, the SCC instructed me to send a list of questions to all the candidates for state party leadership. The questions concerned topics such as fracking, immigration and Native American Sovereignty that matter to our community. We would vote as a bloc for those candidates whose answers most satisfied us. I collected the questions and sent them to the candidates. Then I followed up with phone calls.
"Oh my God! It's so exciting that your SCC is asking these questions!" was the most frequent response. "I think its great that Rio Arriba is taking this so seriously!"
One candidate for State Chair was a little bit sarcastic. "You do realize I'm running for state chair and not Governor, don't you?" he asked. "Do you know what a state chair does? We don't make decisions about fracking. We raise money and build party structure."
"Well actually," I said. "We don't, and I don't. Most of us are completely new. You could be very helpful if you would write a paragraph about the role of the Chair and why you think you're the best candidate and include it with your answers to the questions."
"You'll never manage to vote as a bloc," one former elected official told us. "Nobody ever votes as a bloc." She didn't say it, but I was pretty sure she was thinking that Rio Arriba has a reputation for factional infighting.
I presented all the candidates' answers to our SCC along with summaries of our phone discussions. Some candidates and surrogates came to Rio Arriba to meet with us as well. We listened to all the responses and discussed them. Everybody was engaged and many points of view were brought forward. In the end, it was agreed that the sarcastic candidate probably best understood the role of chair and how to fill it.
We voted for him, and for our other choices, as a bloc.