My Iowa Caucus Experience And The Peace I Found With The O’Malley People

Election season started off slowly for me. In October, I think it was, I saw the first Democratic debate of this election cycle. I was already familiar with Hillary Clinton, of course, and it was my assumption that this election cycle would be all about backing her.  And at this debate, I was introduced to Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley (oh yeah and there were two others, what were their names again?)

I remembered being fairly bored with the debate, some things were said, nothing (to me) was particularly remarkable.  I posted on Facebook about how unenlightening it was, that Hillary seemed like the obvious choice and Bernie Sanders I saw was a lot like Donald Trump, in that he said a lot of things that would get people energized, but probably weren’t realistic.

I live in Iowa City, arguably the most liberal city in Iowa, the nation’s first primary state.  Later that fall, people in my neighborhood started putting “Bernie” signs in their yards and my housemates adorned the ‘fridge with “Bernie” stickers.  All throughout the past year or two, I had seen peoples’ cars touting bumper stickers that said “Ready for Hillary”.  Suddenly, in Iowa City, it was becoming hard to find any Hillary artifacts at all. While running one day, I saw a small Hillary sign hanging fairly discreetly in the window of the upstairs of a house, like Anne Frank peeking her head out to see if the Nazis had passed.

Hillary came to Iowa City in December and my boyfriend and I went.  The rally was held in a fairly large church which has been renovated for social events.  The room was packed, but wasn’t in a place you would think would house the amount of spectators who would want to come see the former First Lady, former senate member, former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  But by that time, the mood had been set in Iowa City and everyone felt it: The Liberals Were Not Behind Hillary.

She spoke forcefully but sweetly and listened with the delicate patience only a woman can employ, to everyone’s words.  When the event was over, we circled the room as she milled amongst the spectators, shaking hands, taking selfies with young college-aged girls.  We found a spot ahead of her, by the door, just as she would be about to retreat to the back for peace and privacy.

‘What would I say to her if I actually came face-to-face with her?!’ the question raced through my head.  The only thing I could think of was to ask what her favorite dog breed was (the only question I can ever think to ask every famous person I encounter)!  So when she came near, I thrust my hand in front of her and shook it; she kind of half-smiled at me and went to turn away (I think she was getting tired, wouldn’t you be?!), but then I shouted, “you are a badass!” and she turned back, her gaze set upon me and with that characteristic smirk and twinkle in her eyes said, “Oh!  Thank you!”

When I got home, excited about my fleeting interaction with one of the most powerful women in our country, I decided to make a Facebook post about it, followed by #Hillary2016.  …which I soon learned is largely a big no-no in my community.

Since I went to school in Iowa City, was an Art major, worked on an organic farm and now a natural foods store, and lived in an extremely liberal community in Washington state, most of my friends are very liberal.  And they had fallen in love with Bernie Sanders.  …and some regarded his words as scripture, raising him to the level of a deity and had proclaimed Hillary Clinton the devil.

Now, that last bit only describes a select few of my friends and most those who responded were just wondering where I was coming from and it astonished many of them that I would choose by-the-book Hillary to a candidate who spoke of radically dismantling our entire political system for the good of the people!  I mean, I had read Howard Zinn and had agreed vehemently with him at the time (I’d have to read “A People’s History” again, but I probably still do).  I had participated in (and even led) groups rallying against GMOs.  I had agreed we should have a state-sponsored health-care system like most of Europe and Canada.  Bernie should speak to me… 8 years ago.

8 years ago, I stood up in a caucus group in my small Washington town to tell everyone why I thought we should support Obama… over Hillary.  Later that year, I was back in rural Iowa and volunteering, calling people to support Obama.  And lo and behold, we did it!  Change was here!  After 8 horrible years of “W”, we finally had a true leader, AND the first black man to hold office.  Things were looking up, I believed.

However, one of the first things Obama did was appoint Iowan Tom Vilsack as his Secretary of Agriculture… it was well known his connections with Monsanto and big Ag.  After that, my enthusiasm quickly vanished like the sun setting beyond the last stalks of corn in one of Iowa’s many cornfields and I resigned myself to “politics as usual”.

As we are coming to the end of his 8 years in office, I am now 32 and am happy, in retrospect, with what Obama has done.  But I have witnessed the intense gridlock and heartache it has taken to get us here.

…something the Bernie people seem to have forgotten, though it’s only been… no time at all!  But somehow, THIS guy will get it all done!  They told me.  THIS guy is not going to be like the last!  THIS time, it will happen!  “How?!” I asked, “How?!”  “Revolution!  REVOLUTION!” They screamed…

About a week ago, after many long and sometimes gut-wrenching arguments and discussions with peers, reading and listening to many articles and videos, I finally stumbled upon some actual facts other than “trust us, it will work”: an outline of all the things Bernie has done during his 20 years in congress, the bills he’s gotten passed without compromising his values, and how he has effectively worked across the aisle with Republicans (1).  At that point, I said, “Alright, you all are so damned sure of this, I’ll tap into my 24-year-old self’s idealism an agree to give it a go.  Let’s do this!!!”  (I mean, it wasn’t as though I LOVED Hillary or anything, my pragmatic side had just said she was the more logical choice).

So, the night of the caucus, my housemate and I walked the block or so down to our caucus location and got in the line forming that stretched all the way down the next block.  We waited 30 minutes to get inside.  Caucus workers walked the length of the line handing out stickers and I captured a “Bernie” one and slapped it on my purse.  Minutes later, a group came yelling, “anyone caucusing for Hillary?!”  …to crickets.  So I said, “me!” and slapped a Hillary sticker on my purse next to the Bernie one.  The people behind me asked, “are you still undecided?!”  I just responded, “I aim to be as confusing as possible,” to which they chuckled.

After checking in, we entered the gymnasium and passed the block of Hillary supporters to the massive group of Bernie’s and parked ourselves on the outside, close to the middle between the two.  I looked over at the Hillary supporters: mostly elderly people and a fair amount of African Americans, as well.  I looked at the Bernie supporters and saw people mostly my age and younger and many, many friends and acquaintances.  I chatted with a young black girl for a little while, then a middle-aged woman (both in the Bernie crowd), then my housemate came by and said, “look at the O’Malley sign!”  I looked out across the people and on the far side of the gym was a small, hand-written sign that said “O’Malley”.  She wanted to go take a picture of it to show her boyfriend who couldn’t caucus and I followed her over there.

We stood before a group of about 10 people and they stared at us, as my housemate took her picture then quickly retreated, but I said “hi!”  Most of them were middle-aged to elderly, but there were a few perhaps my age or younger.  I asked them if they had any stickers, thinking I could add to my collection.  “No,” they trailed.  One stately-looking Ron Swanson-like fellow, who walked around our perimeter surveying the other “groups of idiots” (I could only imagine was what he was thinking) had handwritten “O’Malley” on a piece of paper and taped it to his chest.  A young Asian girl with a blue streak in her hair introduced herself (in a singing voice) as “Ray, a drop of golden sun!”

I told them that in all the Hillary and Bernie fervor, I hardly knew anything about O’Malley at all.  I had even said he should leave the race before the last debate, as I had been desiring a Bernie/Hillary “fist-fight”.  But everything I’d heard from him, I liked.  They told me how he wants to build on our current healthcare system, not dismantle it and start all over again.  Ray, who was an engineering student, started talking about this awesome water project he’s doing in Baltimore which would be an environmentalist’s dream from what I could gather (she was speaking in a lot of engineering jargon I couldn’t quite understand).

All-in-all, it was conveyed to me that Martin O’Malley is the candidate for the Democrat who doesn’t like Hillary’s ties to the establishment, but who thinks Bernie is a little too far out there.  Which is right where I’m at.  So when the first count came around, they said to me, “are you with us?!”  I nodded enthusiastically and said “YES.”

Then, we learned we were about 60-some people shy of being able to get a delegate which would make our group un-viable.  We either needed to join another group or not be counted at all.  Most of the others stayed put, but I gradually drifted back towards the Bernie camp… and joined my friends to caucus for the dream.

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(1) http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/bernie-gets-it-done-sanders-record-pushing-through-major-reforms-will-surprise-you

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