Notes from the ground: A San Franciscan in Iowa
January 4, 2008
The morning after the Iowa Caucus, Des Moines is eerily quiet.
Media and campaign staffers and volunteers are fleeing en-masse
from the city. This last week has seen Des Moines become a strange
and almost fictional city; a temporarily overfilled city based
on the premise that history, one way or another, might just have
been written by the outcome here.
And history was made yesterday, when a predominantly white state
nominated Senator Barack Obama to represent America's yearning
for change, a change from corrupt corporate establishment politics,
to politics for the millions of average citizens who daily keep
this country running. And with Mike Huckabee's Republican caucus
victory, we may ultimately witness a watershed showdown between
a Republican Party theocratic agenda and Obama's agenda for change.
Walking the streets of Des Moines this last week, if it wasn't
for the frigid temperatures and overabundance of Republicans,
you could almost forget you're not in San Francisco. Every Democratic
campaign includes its own who's-who of the Bay Area political
District Attorney Kamala Harris has been donning warm clothes
and canvassing for Senator Barack Obama. Mayor Gavin Newsom was
in town for Senator Hillary Clinton. Political donors and volunteers
for every campaign include robust representation of Bay Area residents.
Mission District resident Steve Grove of YouTube's CitizenTube
fame is providing new media coverage. David Binder and his crew
can be seen at all the happening dinner soirees. All the campaign
headquarters, and just about every restaurant, are packed with
More than in any recent Presidential selection process, Iowa
has been framed as a crucial deciding point, in particular, for
the Democratic Party. Whereas Bay Area Democrats have always been
strongly involved in fundraising for the primary process, this
year's fundraising alone has not satisfied many Bay Area politicos.
Many have decided that there is nowhere more important for them
to be this week than on the ground in Iowa.
Californians are in Iowa as campaign staffers, volunteers, high
profile supporters, journalists, and attention-raisers for specific
causes. Those who work together for candidates or causes in the
Bay Area are now finding themselves surrounded by cold pizza in
campaign offices across town from each other.
Today, Iowa will have gone back to being Iowa again.
For a little bit of context - this year's Caucus was about double
the size, and at least twenty fold the energy of the last Caucus.
With winners not able to be predicted in advance, twice the number
of media representatives were drawn to the state. Democratic Caucusers
felt excited about their numerous choices, making the excitement
and energy level of this year's Caucus phenomenally higher than
it was last time around. Turnout was around double what it was
four years ago. First time Caucusers were plentiful! Independents
and Republicans switched over to Democratic candidates they wanted.
The youth vote jumped! Lines to get into the Caucus, and for new
Caucusers to register, were often running out doors and down hallways.
Neighbors excitedly debated with each other. Many had never seen
democracy like this. Many did not believe a democracy like this
would possibly occur on a cold day in a January in Iowa. Enough
did believe, however, to make it happen.
As we all pack up to leave Des Moines - Bay Area residents hoping
to not get stuck in Denver due to the storm in California! - it
looks as if San Franciscans might have played a formidable role
in what took place in Iowa. This was no repeat of four years ago,
where Dean was widely criticized for his influx of out of state
volunteers. Canvassing cold streets, making calls, doing visibility,
and monitoring Caucuses, San Franciscans mirrored the general
spirit in Iowa this last week. We found a way to come together,
work for what we're passionate about, and to respectfully and
robustly debate where we think this country should be heading.
San Franciscans in Iowa this week participated in this building
of a temporary city and, hopefully, a changing country - one where
politics are engaging, democracy is alive and well, and where
we can momentarily pause in the belief that the reason we all
do this is that sometimes politics actually do reflect the best
of who we can make ourselves to be as a community.