If you live in Iowa, caucusing is a BIG DEAL; most residents take great pride in their ability to participate and exercise their political voice. I've only been here the past three years, so 2016 was my first opportunity to get involved.
And... I didn't really know where to start. I consider myself fairly civic-minded, but I didn't totally understand the full purpose of a caucus, where the parties occur, how the process works for both Dems and the GOP as well as how you "caucus" as a verb. So I texted a bunch of my smartest friends with questions like, "Are you caucusing?" and "How do I know where to go?" and "What do you DO at a caucus?"
PRO: people who are very into politics are more than happy to answer all your questions without making you feel dumb.
CON: they're also quick to try to convince you who you should vote for and why you should have this or that opinion and how you can be more involved.
PRO: I know we all live this truth already but the Internet is so helpful! I Googled a bunch of stuff, which provided a wealth of resources (see 1, 2, 3 for quick reference, but there are hundreds of articles with a similar synopsis) and helped me find my caucus location easy enough. And then I was able to walk half a mile from my apartment to the Des Moines Social Club...
CON: ...where I stood in a massive line for 45 minutes with about 200 other people...
PRO: ... but my precinct location was pretty hip and energetic! I saw many familiar faces from my neighborhood with an overall wide variety of people -- families with small children, young couples standing hand in hand, small clusters of college students. Men and women of all ages, appearances, physical abilities and ethnicity.
CON: There were two lines, one for people pre-registered and one for those who had to update their registration information via change of address or name, and it was... pretty unclear where you were supposed to stand? Some organizers (that seemed to be affiliated with Sanders, as opposed to the venue) handed out paper forms (without any clipboard, which functionally makes it hard to fill them out) and pens (that didn't work) but it was not clear who was in charge, which line meant what, and what would happen once you got inside.
PRO: I had already registered the last time I updated my driver's license.
CON: I still had to stand in line and it was cold.
PRO: Once inside, the process was simple enough: you checked in, signed your name, indicated if you had a party affiliation and circled that you attended.
CON: Then we went into a main room and... stood around.
PRO: With Democratic caucuses, it's essentially a giant adult game of picking sides, like you would for kickball on the playground, only it's for your candidate. Kind of hilarious to witness. Chairs had been set up to each side, and people handed out buttons and stickers for Clinton, O'Malley and Sanders.
CON: I expected, I don't know, a little more enthusiasm or drama inside in comparison to the outside crowd? Instead, it was like one big waiting room with polite conversation all around; nobody got fiery regarding their political opinions or trying to change minds.
PRO: We received updates via front stage microphone about going to different rooms and delays.
CON: ...from a woman who seemed VERY tired, which made all of her information confusing as every sentence either didn't make sense or trailed off entirely. This was unfortunate for other newbies in the room like me who would have benefited a little more information and guidance as to what was happening and what would happen next.
PRO: I ran into an acquaintance from Chicago who recently moved to Des Moines, but we had only ever talked on the phone via career opportunities, so it was awesome to say hello in person randomly!
CON: It became clear that any counting wouldn't occur for another solid hour or two due to the number of people outside, so I went home. I know. Awful. But at 37 weeks pregnant after a full day of work and standing for 1.5 hours already in a hot, crowded room? Nope. Not worth it. Don't hate me.
PRO: I went home and watched the live results pour in via local media and CNN.com from the comfort of my couch, and texted with friends at various caucus locations around Des Moines proper and the suburbs, and followed #IowaCaucus on Twitter and Instagram.
CON: Most friends still caucusing shared similar sentiments: it was really busy (which is technically good in terms of voter turnout), very little drama (boring), hot and crowded (to be expected).
Final takaways: My precinct finished count after 9 p.m. with Sanders getting the majority of the delegates, and it sounded like most other Dem locations were pretty split between he and Clinton, which made the final tie results unsurprising.
Would I do it again? Probably. Overall, I absolutely believe that it's cool to care about who is or will be in office. But next time, I'd likely try to be a little more informed BEFORE going as well as set aside several hours to do it, and I also didn't feel like it completely mattered if I physically showed up or not. (And that's probably because I personally feel split between the two biggest DNC contenders.)
I'm glad I went as I now know what "caucusing" means and more importantly, I feel more engaged to stay tuned for the rest of the year's political craziness and eventual election.