Four years ago, I was lugging camera equipment (weird role for me, but other duties as assigned!) around the State Historical Building following an undecided Democratic voter named Frank during the 2008 Iowa Caucus for a short video chronicling his experience. That undecided voter later went on to become a good friend, and I was able to witness a caucus firsthand, but I wasn’t able to participate as a voter. This year, I donned my Obama shirt for the first time in public in anticipation of my first experience as a caucus participant. My mom bought it for me after I attended Obama’s campaign announcement in Springfield, Ill., (Joe likened it to wearing the band T-shirt to the concert).
It was strange to see so many people flocking to Roosevelt High School (which is gorgeous, by the way) after dark. Everyone seemed subdued but excited/proud at the same time. I was totally surprised by how many Democrats caucused even though Obama is an incumbent and we wouldn’t be standing in different corners to select a candidate. (Check out this Register graphic on how the caucuses work.)
It was neat to run into so many neighbors and be in a room of people who were excited to be feel part of the political process. President Obama even addressed us Iowans via a video chat to help kick things off.
Then, we split up into our precincts — shuffling off to different high school rooms where citizens from our nearby streets presented resolutions that they wanted to be brought before a larger committee. I didn’t take a picture inside our classroom because it was such an intimate-feeling gathering, with 45 or so of us bunched into desks, though most gave seats to the elderly and stood. I felt like it would be invading privacy. A few people brought their kids and babies, and it looked like one had rolled in an oxygen tank.
We decided to hear one minute of presentation on each resolution (10 in all, I think) and then voted as a group whether or not we wanted them to pass to the larger committee. Topics ranged from immigration to underwater mortgages to big bank bailouts and regulations for genetically modified organisms. It made me catch my breath, the bravery of Iowans to stand before their neighbors and stump for issues near to their hearts. The whole thing felt a little bit like being in a boat in one of those life or death scenarios, where you have to choose who get to stay in and who must tread. This wasn’t life-or-death, but it was thoughtful and cramped. The proceedings were orderly, with just a few small outbursts of disapproval. Not everyone agreed, but civility reigned.
Here’s a peek into another precinct, through the windows:
Joe and I walked the mile or so home in the crisp Iowa night and I felt happy to be a part of the community. Glad I’d spent the evening listening to my neighbors because, whoever wins the election this fall, these are the people whose values make up the place I’ve chosen to live.