The idea for this post has been simmering on the back burner of my mind for some time now – since last fall, as a matter of fact. I decided to finally write it after having a conversation with my mom yesterday morning, and my desire to write this post grew even stronger after reading about something related to it last night.
Iowa plays a major role in the US presidential election process. Iowa and New Hampshire, actually. Our votes are given inordinate importance in the primary elections designed to narrow the field of presidential candidates in the spring before the general election. There is no logical reason for this – it would be much more fair if all the states held their primaries at the same time – but this is the current political situation.
New Hampshire holds the first primary in the nation. They actually have a law that states they must be first! Iowa cleverly bypasses this law by holding a caucus before New Hampshire’s primary. A caucus is… well, as I understand it, it’s basically an election, but not quite?
The main difference is that we don’t vote directly – instead, we select delegates to vote for our preferred candidates at the county conventions, then the district conventions, then the state convention. Eventually, some of the state delegates are chosen to help select candidates during the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention.
It’s all very complicated and makes my head feel as if it’s about to explode, but the gist is this: The election results in Iowa and New Hampshire serve as early indications of which presidential candidate may receive the nomination from their political party. If my research is correct, this has only been the case for New Hampshire since the fifties, and for Iowa since the seventies, but despite the relative newness of these practices, they are incredibly important.
According to good old Wikipedia, “in recent decades the two states received about as much media attention as all other state contests combined.” The presidential candidates are obsessive about these two states; they spend a huge chunk of their time (and money!) campaigning there.
And, well, 2016 is an election year.
I knew about the political importance of Iowa long before I enrolled in school here – I’m a student at the University of Iowa – but somehow the implications of that hadn’t fully sunk in. I was just kind of like, “Oh, Iowa during an election year? Yeah. Cool.” And that was that.
Last fall, I moved to Iowa (from Indiana) to begin my freshman year, and… wow.
Every four years, I slowly but surely become more politically-minded. The first presidential election I can remember was in 2004. I was ridiculously excited when Barack Obama won in 2008, but I have to admit that most of my excitement was due to the fact that there would be kids in the White House again after so many years of not having any. Yeah, I wasn’t exactly the most politically literate person. (And I don’t claim to be so today – I know there’s plenty more for me to read and learn, but at least I know more than my twelve-year-old self did. YAY PROGRESS.)
2012 was the first election that really, really mattered to me. I was worried that Obama wouldn’t be reelected, because at that point I’d become a feminist and realized that I was queer, and I was terrified by the possibility of a Republican presidency, and the implications that would have for my country – and for a young queer woman like me.
I stayed up until two or three AM on election night, watching and waiting as election results came in, and I got a C on my Spanish test later that day because I was so exhausted. It was worth it, though. It was so worth it.
And now in 2016, I’m more interested in politics than I was in 2012. This is attributable to a number of factors: I’m older, I can finally vote, there is a viable candidate (Bernie Sanders!) whose political views are pretty much exactly the same as mine, which I never thought would happen because I’m super liberal. (Although I will vote for Hillary in the general election if I have to because, like I said, Republicans terrify me.)
And, yeah, there is that whole “currently residing in Iowa” thing. I have been exposed to SO MUCH that I simply would not have otherwise been exposed to, because Indiana doesn’t rank very highly as a campaign destination.
I saw a lot of signs advertising rallies for Martin O’Malley, Marco Rubio, and others this fall, and the candidates themselves were in attendance. I had to take a different route back to my dorm because the Secret Service had closed off the sidewalk I normally use – Hillary Clinton was in the building next door, so there was heightened security. I went to a Bernie Sanders rally last October and took a selfie with him. Hillary spoke at the student union just last week. And on and on it goes.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.
Donald Trump visited yesterday, and before he arrived there was already talk of a protest. That’s what my mom and I were talking about – she wondered if I was going to go.
Well, I thought about it, but I really didn’t want to have to take a bus halfway across Iowa City and then walk further to my destination in the cold all for a guy I despise. I’d rather exert that kind of effort for someone I appreciate. Apparently it was a rally to remember, though? Some guy threw tomatoes at Trump and got arrested.
Anyway, that was what made me stop procrastinating on writing this post. As I said at the beginning, I’ve had this subject on my mind for a long time, but hearing about the upcoming rally and the protest that was planned made me go, “OK, I need to write this thing. NOW.”
…aaaaaand then last night, I finished my homework and started aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed. And I found this. A Bernie Sanders rally! In Iowa City! It’s a concert and there are even bands I like! (Vampire Weekend and Foster The People!) And it’s free! I texted some of my friends the news, and I already have like six or seven people who want to go with me. (One of whom I met at the Bernie rally this fall!)
My first reaction to finding out about this event was, “WAIT WHAT. OH MY GOD.” My second? “OHHHH MY GOD THIS IS EXACTLY WHY I NEED TO WRITE THAT POST TOMORROW.”
I am ridiculously happy that I chose to attend school here… for a lot of reasons. The writing instruction is excellent (as in, world-renowned), and I love the honors program. I’ve made a ton of friends here. It’s a very literary place, and while it may not be a small town, it definitely doesn’t make me feel the dreary, soul-crushing feeling that so many cities do.
And it’s given me a fantastic political education. As I said before, I’ve had experiences here that I would not have received anywhere else – except for New Hampshire, I suppose! Experience is a huge part of one’s education, and I think that it’s probably the most important part? You can read and study and read and study, but in the end I think what matters most is actually getting out there and experiencing it for yourself, when and if you are given that opportunity.
Because it makes all those facts that you’ve read about and studied seem so much more concrete. I think it inspires you to read and study more, as well. I didn’t know much about the Iowa caucuses – just that they existed – until coming here, and then I was motivated to learn more. (Shout-out to Brian from Hawkeyes For Bernie for so patiently explaining how this whole process works! I must have looked REALLY confused at first, but you stuck with it.)
I never expected to have this experience, mostly because in high school I swore I would not attend college in the Midwest. Well, you all know how that turned out… anyway, I look forward to seeing what the next few months will bring. And I can’t wait to caucus for the first (and probably only) time on February first!