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COMMENTARY: Making friends at the Hamilton Elector rally

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Trump isn’t even inaugurated

By Jennifer H. Catto

Special to The Sopris Sun

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“He hasn’t been inaugurated yet … he hasn’t been inaugurated yet.” This had been my mantra for weeks. My way to keep the toxicity of today’s political climate from poisoning my heart and mind. My way to not shut down, to stay in the present moment.

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Before I go any further, I’d like to acknowledge any Trump supporters who may be reading this. I know you’re out there, even in Carbondale, our blue-leaning, liberal, “hippie” town. I know because I’ve seen some of your posts on Facebook — or because we’ve had a chat when I found out, sometimes to my surprise, where your allegiance lies. With the country in such deep political disarray, we can’t pretend the opposition doesn’t exist anymore. We can’t keep retreating like boxers to our own corners.

So, hello.

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Right now, I’m talking about my perspective though. So I will tell you, that when I saw a photo of Ivanka Trump in a meeting with her father and the Prime Minister of Japan, I told myself, “He hasn’t been inaugurated yet.” When I heard of Trump’s plan to limit his presence in the White House and to spend as much time as he can in the gilded bubble that is Trump Tower, I told myself, “He hasn’t been inaugurated yet.” And when I found out that our intelligence services concluded that Russia’s intention in meddling with the election was indeed to help seat Trump as president, I told myself, “He hasn’t been inaugurated yet.”

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Hamilton Elector initiative

I went to Denver last weekend in support of the Hamilton Elector initiative, which didn’t pan out how a lot of people had hoped. In case you don’t know, the purpose of the Hamilton Elector movement was to implement Alexander Hamilton’s intent for the Electoral College to act as a stop gap that would prevent a demagogue from becoming president. According to Hamilton, the electors have a constitutional duty to gauge whether or not a president-elect is qualified and temperamentally fit for the office. And in order pass scrutiny of the electors, the president elect should not have financial conflicts of interest and should be free of the influence of a foreign power.

The recent Hamilton Elector campaign to deny Trump the presidency on the basis that he does not meet these criteria began in Colorado, spearheaded by Michael Baca, a 24-year-old Colorado elector, who wanted his fellow electors across the country to exercise their constitutional rights, vote their conscience, and pick a qualified and stable Republican as a unity candidate to be our next president, rather than Donald Trump. The Hamilton Elector initiative wasn’t as far fetched as it sounded. Only 37 Republican electors would have needed to change their vote to send the question to the House of Representatives.

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Of course, many democrats would have wanted the candidate selected by the Electoral College to be Hillary Clinton, but in such a republican dominated political reality, the Hamilton Elector leaders knew that idea just wouldn’t fly. To me, Michael Baca is just the kind of free thinker and visionary this country needs to help lead us back on track, and so I was happy to see him on the steps of the State Capitol building in Denver on Saturday morning, speaking to a crowd of almost 300 people, thanking everyone for coming. And I was grateful to be able to thank him later in the day for his service face-to-face.

I was also at the State Capitol building the night before, wearing a purple scarf and waving a purple glow stick. (Purple is red and blue together, the color of unity. Many of the Hamilton Elector supporters were wearing it). I stood with about 40 others in the twilight on a frigid night, with my feet going through several painful freeze/thaw cycles, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, because I was there, and that meant to me that I hadn’t given up. I was feeling sad that my country seemed to be heading down a perilous road, sure, but I was also feeling some hope that that might change, and some tenderness and solidarity with the strangers holding signs around me who had also shown up to brave the cold. And occasionally, I’d feel a fleeting wave of joy in my heart when a zooming rush-hour driver honked a horn in support.

Saturday morning

On Saturday morning the sun was shining, the skies were blue, and the large crowd of nearly 300 folks rallying in support of the Hamilton Elector initiative in front of the State Capitol building was feeling hopeful. Organizers and regular citizens — democrats and a few republicans — took turns with a megaphone, addressing the crowd from atop a mound of snow, a makeshift pedestal. Then, to our surprise, we were all invited inside the building to watch the vote first hand. So we put down our signs and filed through security into the domed government building.

The vote was slated for noon, but there was a delay for legal reasons, and the electors stayed cloistered in a side room for nearly a half hour, keeping the crowd of us waiting in a fancy, open meeting space where the vote would take place amid marble columns and polished floors. A respectful hush was peppered by quiet conversation, and the sound of Colorado residents, old and young, introducing themselves to each other and chatting. And then, when it was past noon and the electors still hadn’t come out, we started to sing.

“America the Beautiful” came first. Then “The Star Spangled Banner.” The empty table where the vote was to take place was in the center of the room and we stood in circle around it, singing. The way everyone was facing each other brought to my mind the final scene in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” when all the Who’s in Whoville stand in a circle and sing holiday carols together despite the fact that the Grinch has just stolen all of their presents.

So there we were, all of us, claiming the present moment and singing.

“This Land is Your Land,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” “If I had a Hammer.” And several more. It was a beautiful time, and I will never forget it.

When the electors came out, all the votes went to Hillary Clinton, the winner of the state’s popular vote, except for Michael Baca’s. Michael had voted for somebody else, presumably one of the Hamilton Elector choices (Most likely Mitt Romney, John Kasich or Colin Powell) but the secretary of state for Colorado told us that Michael’s vote could not be accepted. This was due to a court ruling just the day before, when lawyers for Donald Trump won a case against the Hamilton Electors in a Colorado court.

When Wayne Williams, Colorado’s secretary of state, asked Michael Baca to step down as an elector and for a replacement elector to be nominated, some booing erupted from the crowd, and a couple men yelled out that the request was unconstitutional. But in the end, a replacement elector was nominated and all the votes went to Hillary Clinton. After some calls for Wayne Williams to resign, the crowd quieted down and people began chatting again as they left the building.

Not an option

In such overwhelming and confusing political times it would be easy to shut down. But for me, shutting down doesn’t feel like an option. I feel the need to speak, to act, to feel. And I also feel the need to keep in touch with some of the new friends I just met in Denver. Who knows? I may be going back there sooner than I think.

After all, he still hasn’t been inaugurated yet.

Published in The Sopris Sun on December 22, 2016.

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