As an individual who is relatively new to politics, my time in Iowa was eye-opening. It is so easy to avoid the current events, the elections, and just everything politics—you know, if you live under a rock, which is something I did for the majority of my life. But in Des Moines the pervasiveness of politics finally sank in.
I went to Des Moines, Iowa not knowing what to expect. All I knew was that I was assigned to Jeb!
and that I was going to phone bank for him. Was I an expert on Jeb Bush and his stances on all of the political platforms? No. Did I have any idea how phone banking worked? Absolutely not. Did I try to research and find out so that I didn’t look like a fool? Of course, but it was a rather modest attempt. Nevertheless, I got on the bus, traveled from Wake Forest to Charlotte, got on the plane(s), and finally arrived in Des Moines on Sunday night. I got into bed that night with my mind full of questions and qualms about the quagmire that was to come the next morning.
However, the ridiculously enormous, scary monster called “Politics” that I had tirelessly dreamt up in my head for the past week was not what I encountered on Monday. My group and I arrived at the Bush campaign early in the morning and, to my surprise, it was a small suite in a hotel with about eight tables and around ten people in the room. I had imagined a huge office with a person inside each and every one of the 2,371 cubicles furiously dialing away, talking up a storm, and being either incredibly elated over another guaranteed support in the caucus or incredibly angry after hanging up on a heated debate. My imagination may have gone off the edge just a little bit, I am aware, but I was genuinely surprised—I think I even said, “Oh?”, when I first entered the suite. But that wasn’t the end of it. Starting from the amount of pleasant people who weren’t nasty to me when they picked up the phone, to the kindness the rest of the volunteers showed me, Sophia, and Alex as they offered rides to go to Bush’s town hall together—despite the fact that we were complete strangers who had met just about two hours ago—to my witnessing the repeated amount of respectful interactions between Democrats and Republicans throughout the day, my day was full of surprises.
All these surprises amounted to a new, or at least more evolved, perspective of politics. I know that in the past I personally never regarded politics that relevant of a topic to me. I had a rather jaded, cynical view on politics: “There’s no point to voting or getting politically engaged because I’m just one person, one tiny person whose vote won’t make that much of an impact in the scope of it all.” My experience in Iowa shed some light on another kind of perspective—a hopeful one. Throughout the whole day, I was constantly surrounded by people who made it seem like their life had culminated to this one pivotal point—the Iowa caucus—and from that description one would think that the people I was around were die-hard politicians, but no. They were just average Joes and plain Janes and just simple, ordinary people. Ordinary people whose faces aren’t featured on TV, ordinary people who have just as much trouble parking as I do, ordinary people who pressed “Pause” on their daily lives to devote their time and effort to their candidates’ campaigns because at their very core these ordinary people are citizens who know and believe that through the process of democracy their voices and their concerns and their desires will be heard. After witnessing that first-hand, how could my apathetic attitude not start to chip away?
A fellow member, Alex, compared the workings of the political process to cogs and I can’t think of a better way to describe what I witnessed. I was always told that individual votes mattered because without them, the process would crumble, but I didn’t believe it to be true until now. Like a cog in a bigger machine, each person, each average, ordinary person who was present at the caucuses and campaigns really served a crucial role. No matter how insignificant each person’s task might have seemed (even phone banking with the return of two proclaimed supporters), his/her/their presence contributed to instigating a chain reaction of the movement of gears in the big machine of democracy. For that realization, for that notion to have finally sunk in, I am so grateful.
A perfect (but cheesy) way for me to end this blogpost would be to say that this experience has made me have a change of heart and that my cynicism towards politics has been overturned, but that sadly is not true. I don’t think that is something that can happen within one night, but Iowa was a good place to start. I still consider myself an outsider to the big, intimidating world of politics and as an outsider looking in, I have much more to learn and a lot of room to grow. I have a lot more assumptions and thoughts that deserve to be challenged and even negated. I hope that as I continue to Wake the Vote I will delve deeper into understanding politics and maybe even discover my own role as a cog in this big machine I call democracy.
Until next time!