To Iowa? That sounds like travel not time. We know what the media means. Or do we? I live in Iowa. So, a few things I would like to say “on the way to Iowa” from one who is already here: Misconceptions about Iowa; Curiosity about a Caucus; Disbelief about Participatory Democracy; and Even the children, Especially the children.
First, people in Iowa do not use hay bales for chairs. Iowa is not totally flat. (We live in hilly Dubuque, on the bluffs of the Mississippi.) You don’t drive through miles of corn at this time of year. We are covered with snow. Iowa is an urban as well as a rural state. Most important, Iowans are diverse in religion (no, not all Evangelicals), ethnicity, race, age, occupations, sexual orientation, and more. Iowans are well educated and informed. Iowans, both rural and urban, have a global perspective. And Iowans take their responsibility of being the first-in-the nation caucus state very seriously.
Second, my friends from Michigan to North Carolina to Australia are curious about the Iowa Caucus. They ask, “What really goes on there?” So I try to explain, “Where do you vote?” One responds, “At the high school about 2 miles from my home.” I go on, “Imagine that everyone who votes there all day long comes together at, 7:00 p.m. Imagine that instead of going into a private voting booth, you all sit together in the auditorium and talk to each other in a civil way. You have a conversation about important issues. You listen to one another.” (No, people do not wave banners and shout at each other, and senselessly follow the loudest leader.) It’s well organized and orderly. My friend is incredulous. Anyone can attend. The caucus is open to the public and the press. You can register as a Republican or Democrat that night, but that does not obligate you to vote that party ticket in November. Observers who are not eligible to vote because of age or residency in another state or country, watch and learn. It’s fascinating.
Third, Caucus night is about participatory democracy. When international students from the seminary where I teach observed 4 and 8 years ago, they were amazed that people could express their political views in public without fear of losing their jobs, or worse. That is still true here, and I trust it will continue, even with the proliferation of gun violence in our society. The first amendment is as important as the second. We need people of all faith traditions to participate: institutional separation and functional interaction. Faith leaders should not tell people how to vote but encourage people to vote and be engaged in working for good government for the welfare of all.
Participatory democracy is about much more than casting a vote for a candidate, although that is what will be reported in the news, even before caucus-goers enter the building from the parking lot. It is about being a participant rather than a spectator. Republicans begin with a straw poll and then in precincts build a party platform and choose delegates. Democrats begin with preference groups, test for numeric viability, realign, count, and then discuss issues. They choose delegates to the country and state conventions, “regardless of race, sex, age, color, creed, national origin, religion, ethnic identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic status.”
Fourth, even children in Iowa are informed participants. Eight years ago when our granddaughter, Jennaya, was 3 ½, and reporters were swarming all over Iowa, a Washington correspondent in an ice cream shop, possibly running out of adults to interview, asked Jennaya, whom she was for. Jennaya spoke right up, “I like Hillary, but I think I’m going for Barack Obanga.” She has followed the political process ever since. Iowa schools provide opportunity to discuss government and the political process and take straw polls.
Our son, Joel Everist, sent a picture this morning, of Jennaya, now 11 and her brother, Jackson, 9, with Bill Clinton, who spoke in Mason City, Iowa, last night. Joel told how Jennaya and Jackson suffer from diseases with no cure. “We thank the Clintons and President Obama for their work to ensure access to healthcare throughout their lifelong battles. We stand with Hillary Clinton who stands to protect, continue, and improve healthcare coverage for all. The future must be inclusive, not exclusive.” Jennaya texted to me, “Bill Clinton talked about how Hillary says ‘What can I do to help?’” What that must mean to Jennaya who faces surgery next month!
So, come to the real Iowa! Especially the children, but all of us need to not passively be led by the most outrageous angry rhetoric, but to think carefully and participate actively in building an inclusive democracy.