Tag Archives: Iowa

The Secret Conversations of Kids

Alice sat in the café in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and sipped her coffee, watching her daughter Priscilla romp around, burning off excess energy. The other moms were discussing toilet training, but luckily Alice was through that by now.

“Mom, I want my cell phone,” Priscilla said. Alice pulled the plastic flip phone from her purse and handed it to her four-year-old daughter. It was a dollar-store variety that didn’t even take batteries and had a sticker for a screen.

Priscilla grabbed the phone and flipped it open with one hand. For a while, she went around the café, holding the phone up and pretending to take pictures of the display of baked goods, the walls, the cups for sale, even other patrons.  A few stopped to flash smiles and pose while Priscilla squinted at the sticker screen, moving the phone until it was in just the right position. Alice tried to keep an eye on her as she moved around.

Priscilla wandered back, flipping the phone open and shut. Then she looked down at it, flipped it open and put it to her ear.

“Hello?” She listened a moment. “Oh, really? I’m at the coffee shop now. Where are you?”

One of the other moms asked Alice a question and she turned to answer. Priscilla continued to talk and listen for a long time. She started to pace back and forth, her frizzy hair bouncing. At one point, she held the phone between her cheek and her shoulder to use both hands to gesticulate.

“I-O-WA,” she said, making lines in the air with her finger as if she were spelling the word. “I-O-WA.” She stopped and listened for a bit. “No!” she exclaimed. “Oh. My. Goodness.”

“They start early, don’t they?” one of the moms said, and the others tittered and agreed. They were all watching Priscilla’s antics now. A two-year-old of one of the other moms toddled up to Priscilla, reaching for the phone. Priscilla made a shushing gesture and turned away, cupping her hand around the phone.

“It’s amazing the things they pick up from us,” Alice said. “It makes me worried what else they notice.”

“Okay, bye!” Priscilla snapped the phone shut.

“Have a good talk?” Alice asked. Priscilla only nodded happily and bounced away to take more pictures.

*     *     *

“That’s quite a talk you had,” Subin said to her son Hojun when he stopped talking. They were walked from his preschool back to their apartment in Pohang, Korea.

She put the toy cell phone back in her purse. “I don’t know where you come up with this stuff sometimes. Honestly, I don’t even know where Iowa is.”

 

This was inspired by sitting in my local coffee shop today, seeing a little girl carry on a similar conversation on her toy cellphone.


5 Things I Learned at the Fayette County Democratic Convention

What do you usually do on Saturday morning? I usually sleep in slightly, then maybe go over to the coffee shop for a cup of coffee and a few hours of writing.

Not a few Saturdays ago though. Instead, I got up early and drove to the county courthouse, where I sat and listened to people talk for five hours. It was an interesting experience, however. It was the Fayette County Democratic Convention. Here are 5 things I learned there.

Fayette county

  1. The caucus system is pretty messy

The caucus system has none of the clean-cut mechanistic feel of a secret ballot, where every vote is (supposedly) methodically counted. In the caucus system, it’s all out in the open, in a way that probably worked better a long time ago when there were less people. At the county convention they did get the Bernie Sanders delegates to sit on one side and the Hillary Clinton ones to sit on the other. However, there were observers mixed in with them, along with alternate delegates and no way to tell them apart unless they volunteered the information. True, all the delegates had hand-written name stickers on, which, to be fair, are pretty hard to fake without a trip to Dollar General.

  1. Picking a presidential nominee is democratic-ish

Another thing that surprised me is that although none of the delegates changed sides, they technically could have. This means that although the results of the caucus were announced on February 1st, at any stage of the process, the delegates could decide to change their vote to anyone.

“Under the Democratic Party’s Rules, pledged delegates are not legally “bound” or required to vote according to their presidential preference on the first ballot at the Convention. Rather, these delegates are, pledged “in all good conscience [to] reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.” [Rule 12.J]” (Time.com)

This means that the higher you get as a delegate, the more power you have, and democracy transforms slowly into an oligarchy.

  1. Some people get addicted to local politics

That kind of power, even at the district or state level, can be quite appealing, and there are people there that have gotten used to having it.

The caucus on February 1st lasted about 2 hours maybe. The county convention was about 5 hours. One woman told us all about how the district one was at least 8 hours and the state convention could be even longer. She went on and on about how tiring it was, but then when it came time to elect the delegates, she was one of the first to volunteer. I’m not saying that what she said was untrue, but I wonder if she was trying to discourage people from volunteering so she could go.

I can understand it. Even at the county convention, there was a special feeling, like you were part of an elite group. That only increases as you go up the scale. It’s like being part of the in-crowd.

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Our state senator telling us about troubles in Des Moines

  1. You get to see what your neighbors think

What took the most time, just like at the caucus, was debating the party planks. At the caucus, people suggested things that they thought were important and we debated them and then voted on whether to send them on to the county convention.

At the county convention, we debated on those and decided whether to send them on to the district and state levels, which is why those conventions take so long. Some of the ideas, like increasing funding for mental health treatment and increasing the minimum wage were pretty normal. Then there the ones that clearly were important to a very specific group, like the resolution to get wild parsnip labeled as a noxious plant.

And then there were the other kind of idea…

  1. People really don’t like Washington politicians

One of the first planks that was debated was whether to strip members of Congress of their pensions. One of the main arguments for this was that they’re all corrupt anyway and can engage in legalized insider trading, so they all leave office rich. This seemed cynical to me, and I voted against this idea, but in the end it passed overwhelmingly among the group there. Of course, I don’t think Congress will ever vote to take away their own pensions, but it shows the anger and general dissatisfaction people have with federal politicians when they are quite willing to strip high-level public servants of their pensions.

Another more radical idea that got floated was to make members of Congress work for minimum wage. I’m not sure how it got to the county level and it was voted down easily but it still shows how much people want to stick it the politicians. It is easy to see that sort of thing on the news, but it’s another thing to see it in person.


I Just Caucused in Iowa

If you’re an American, you’re probably sick of hearing about the Iowa caucuses already, and if you’re not American, you might have some idea of what is going on. It is the very first step in that long, tortuous road to electing the American president, and it’s also somewhat of a quadrennial sideshow.

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As a rule, I’m not particularly active in politics. Actually, I have only voted twice in my life: once in Canada and once in the United States and I have always been proudly independent. But when you are in Iowa in an election year, you got to join in on the fun. So last night I attended my very first caucus.

I went to the Democratic one in order to caucus for Bernie Sanders. I don’t usually talk about politics because it can be so divisive so if you’re not a Bernie fan, let’s stay friends. Still, even though I don’t agree with him 100% on everything, I agree with his ideas a lot more than the other candidates, he is very intelligent, and he really cares about people.

Anyway, back to last night. Here’s what happened. The doors closed at 7:00, so I went up to the campus around 6:30 and filled out the paperwork. Our township was the biggest of the ones there, so they put us in our own room and we had our own caucus. The first thing they did was to elect a permanent chair and secretary for the local political party. Not many people wanted to do it, but they found a couple people to do it. Then it was time for the main event.

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The first thing they did was count the people in the room. This is important since if any candidate has less than 15% support in a caucus, they are not considered viable. There were 86 people there so every candidate needed 13 people to be viable. Then we all got up and walked to one corner: one for Hillary Clinton, one for Bernie Sanders, one for Martin O’Malley, and one for undecided.

As it turns out, Fayette is a very Bernie place, probably because of the university. The Bernie corner spilled over into the Martin O’Malley corner, which was okay, since he didn’t have any supporters there. There were about 4 undecided people there. I think it would be fun to be undecided, since then everyone tries to be your friend and have you come to their side.

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Counting off Bernie supporters.

We counted off and found that there were about 55 people there for Bernie. Then the mixing up part began. I think most of the undecideds came over to Bernie, and there were cheers when one of them did. Bernie’s camp might have lost one or two to Hillary, I’m not sure. I am very curious why someone would change their support that easily. There was no shouting or arguing. I was wondering if there would be some on the Republican side, with so many candidates, but in those they just do a secret ballot.

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Bernie supporters on the left, Hillary supporters on the far right.

Our township could nominate 12 delegates to the county convention, so we counted off and found that Bernie had gotten 8 of them and Hillary had gotten 4. Then we needed to elect who the delegates would actually be.

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People waiting around while the delegates information was written down.

Apparently, most people don’t have much interest in getting up at 8:30 on a Saturday morning to go to the courthouse for a rubber-stamp convention. At least, it was hard to get 8 people to volunteer to do it. I said I would do it, just for the experience, so on March 12, I am going to the county courthouse to be a delegate for Bernie Sanders. From there, our county will elect delegates for the state convention, who will then elect those for the national convention in Philadelphia. I doubt they pay our way though.

And that was it, except it was not it for the caucus. Next, they had to elect members to various committees to take care of the convention, including the rather oddly named “committee on committees” who apparently made sure everything else worked okay.

Last was what they called the “Bubbling Up” time. This is where people suggested planks for the party’s platform, which would go on to the various conventions to be voted on again. All of them passed, although not all unanimously. Here is what people suggested:

  1. Term limits for Congress
  2. Getting money out of politics, including overturning the Citizen’s United ruling and having publicly funded elections.
  3. Rolling back mental health cuts in the state
  4. Getting a national single-payer healthcare system like Veterans Affairs has
  5. Getting the ability to move 401(k) money to local banks (this was one man’s idea and it narrowly passed, although no one else seemed very enthusiastic about it)
  6. Labeling foods that are GMOs (I actually was the only one to vote against this one. It’s not that I’m against specific labeling, but it’s more complicated than the way they were framing it and it seemed the person who suggested it muddled several issues together. Actually, my “no” in the totally quiet room kind of slipped out).
  7. Getting more funding for K-12 education in the state
  8. Setting a livable minimum wage

All in all, it was an interesting experience. Even though the caucuses were closely scrutinized by the media and the whole country, it also had such a small-town feel, hanging out and talking with people from the town. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to do it again, but I’m glad I was a part of it.

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