Notes from the ground: A San Franciscan in Iowa

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Politics

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Published on January 04, 2008 with No Comments

By Tanene Allison

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 scene.

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 familiar faces.

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.

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