Chances are I walked through the doors of at least one more caucus than most folks this week — as an observer in both cases of course, rather than a participant. With a news staff our size and three caucus locations to cover in Dickinson County, I pulled a little bit of double duty and took photos at both the local Republican Caucus at Arrowwood Resort and the Democratic Caucus at the Expo Building. The lack of results from the Democratic side turned out to be an unforeseen obstacle, especially considering print deadlines — not that you don't want to read week-old caucus results. So, I'm glad I got the go ahead to call it a night early, rather than waiting for results in vain.
But I think the more important lesson from Monday night was this.
Between the two caucuses, three people asked me not to take their photo — one was joking, one was so quick I couldn't tell if they meant it or not and the third was dead serious. Believe it or not, I get that request a lot while out on the job — along with jokes about Photoshopping more hair on bald men. This third case happened to be at the Democratic caucus, and this particular caucus goer didn't want to face taunts and jeers from their coworkers come Tuesday morning.
I can empathize on a certain level.
I've had some pretty juvenile insults hurled my way from the keyboards of my elders because of my expressed opinions. It's not always fun or comfortable to put yourself out there in this part of the state.
But that's what caucusing is all about.
Caucusing at its very core is a visible, public expression of support for a particular political candidate. It's open to anyone. There is no anonymity. The camera is allowed to capture whomever and whatever it happens to capture within certain limits. So, to ask that a particular person be excluded from the lens' scope chips away at the public nature of a caucus. What's more, if the fear of being ridiculed by our coworkers is indeed so justified in this region that it merits censorship of a public gathering like a caucus, then we have a greater problem on our hands. We have an issue of civility.
It's true this county is typically red in any given election. It's true the Democrats are the minority among Dickinson County's voting public, but it's also true I saw friends, neighbors and work contacts at both — let me stress both — caucuses. I saw business people. I saw school teachers. I saw ministers. I saw former coworkers.
I saw our community — two halves of the same whole.
One would hope the community in which we live and the businesses in which we work would recognize the varying political views we happen to have in this corner of Iowa. I know it's not exactly a 50-50 split, but it's not a complete blackout on the political bingo card either. And, if aligning ourselves with one political party ostracizes us at work, while allegiance to the opposite party gains us silent acceptance, then I question whether our community is as open minded as we might think.
Homogeny provides comfort in many cases, but diversity provides growth — if not economically then socially. I'm not saying we need to support and agree with every idea that comes our way. I'm saying differing viewpoints need to be met with a civil discussion aimed at understanding, rather than taunts and insults aimed at browbeating a new idea. Healthy discussion may seem like a small thing, but if our state's first-in-the-nation caucuses have taught us anything over the decades it's that small things can gain momentum and have big results across the country.
So, talk to your coworkers, friends and neighbors about their caucus experience. Have a discussion and not an argument. That's the first step on the road to acceptance, but the decision to cross into the realm of support is up to you — always has been. And, if enough of us take just a few steps to understand a greater number of viewpoints in our community, maybe we won't have to worry about what the camera captures at the caucus.
Maybe we can speak our beliefs without fear.