This is one of my favorite times of year in Iowa, and I’m not talking about the leaves changing or the start of Hawkeye football.
It’s caucus season! I can’t speak for all of my fellow Iowans, but I absolutely love this crazy time when we are the center of the political universe.
Politics and civic engagement are things I’ve been interested in from an unnaturally early age. I have been an active volunteer in local and national campaigns before I was old enough to vote.
I credit my interest to three important influences:
1. My mom. I am deeply passionate about issues relating to social justice, and I inherited this compassion for others from my mother. My mom didn’t just talk the talk—she lived her values. She spent 25 years as a social worker, caring for vulnerable children and their families. For instance, early in her career she spent two years working in a domestic violence safe house on the weekends. Every Friday night she would leave and we had no idea where she was going; the shelter’s address was kept secret to protect the women fleeing from their abusive relationships. My mom taught me that as a society we are all connected and responsible for each other’s well-being.
2. My Grandma. My grandma was a staunch Republican. She didn’t just agree with her party of choice, she was a straight up fan girl! She collected Republican memorabilia, and was especially fond of anything that had an elephant on it. One of our treasured family heirlooms is her collection of elephant coffee mugs—each mug is branded with the year of a presidential election. She was a leader in her county Republican Party for many years and was an extremely active volunteer. She would often try to recruit me to participate in her efforts, but even at a young age I refused unless her candidates aligned with my beliefs.
3. My Dad. My dad was a history teacher for 35 years. The most important lesson he taught me is that you can’t spout an opinion without being informed. You need to study the issues carefully, and have enough knowledge to justify your point of view. Even if he agreed with me on an issue, he would purposefully take the opposite view to test my debating skills. Fortunately I was usually well informed and could hold my own during our discussions. I had plenty of opportunity to study; I loved reading the issues of “Time” and “Newsweek” that were laying around our house. And every Sunday morning the TV was on either “Meet the Press” or “The McLaughlin Group.” Instead of complaining, I watched every episode.
Beyond shaping any type of ideology, I learned a valuable lesson from these members of my family. In their own separate ways, they taught me it’s important to be an engaged, informed citizen. This is a lesson I hope to pass on to my children as well.
Over the years my kids have been willing (and sometimes not so willing) participants in my political hobby. They’ve helped with door knocking efforts. They’ve attended campaign events since they were babies.
They don’t quite understand why I force them to dress in blue every Election Day, but they play along.
They’ve had several encounters with candidates. My oldest kids still remember the time we were trapped in a tiny party room at a Pizza Ranch with Joe Biden. We wanted to slip out because the younger kids were getting antsy, but he kept talking. And talking. And talking. They’ve sat through more stump speeches than they can count. We’ve dragged them to caucuses, and they’ve even had a brush with the President.
And although it’s pretty clear where I stand on the issues, the main thing I want to teach my children that democracy isn’t passive. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you #FeeltheBern or if you’re Ready for Hillary. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Jeb! or if you think Trump would be the classiest, most luxurious president we’ve ever had. The most important thing is to care, and to not take the rights we have as citizens for granted.
This is what I tell my kids: read up on the issues. Think about where you stand. Weigh your belief system. Find candidates, issues and causes that inspire you. Work your butt off to make your community and your world a better place, whether it’s through political activism, advocacy, or volunteerism.
And, of course, VOTE!