From the Bleachers
Political opinions tend to get spat out without much substantial fact–more so by word of mouth or what we read on the internet. I thought I was a well-informed voter, keeping up with polls and watching the debates. But, there’s only so much the interwebs can teach you. That’s why I made the decision to attend every political event in Iowa I could. My first stop: Hillary Clinton’s rally in Council Bluffs. For all of you interested in politics but not completely immersed, this story’s for you.
My peers–Samantha, Mackenzie, Megan–and I trekked across Iowa to Council Bluffs. As the political novice of the group, I had no idea what to expect besides a thorough search from the Secret Service. On our way to the rally, we came up with a list of interview questions to ask the attendees. Originally, this story was focused on Clinton’s push for free public college. I prepared myself to spark conversations with strangers, particularly Iowans and hopefully college students.
We, four college-aged girls donned in boots and parkas, breezed through the line and security and were immediately ushered to the reserved bleachers. These bleachers were strategically placed in front of a large Iowa flag and an incredibly bright light. We assumed this was because we were Clinton’s dream come true: young, college women who actually came out to her event when the Spring semester hadn’t even started. We were ready for the cameras.
More college kids filled up the bleachers, and I noticed how different we all looked from the rest of the crowd of middle-aged people. At this point, it was about 4:30 p.m., and Clinton wouldn’t be arriving for another hour or so. Time for more people watching, of course.
A Clinton volunteer went on stage and encouraged us to all take out or phones and subscribe to some text messages about the campaign; at this point, I was getting anxious from sitting on those bleachers. Megan made a great point when she leaned over and said how interesting it was that Clinton’s campaign was making a digital push on an older audience. I think that Clinton’s campaign wants the younger audience to Caucus, but this event was wishful thinking at best.
By now, the bleachers became a bit more diverse. Some passionate supporters, including a firefighter (he was wearing a fire department shirt), a veteran, and some older women filled in the gaps. The same volunteer who ushered us to the bleachers coached us. She told us to “keep the excitement going” when the candidate approached the stage, and she handed out signs. Megan was given a large, round handmade sign. I’m assuming this was supposed to look like her own work of art to the media. But she wasn’t fooling any of us bleacher-dwellers; Some poor sap spent hours working on this and would never see it again.
It seemed once the veteran realized we were going to be faking it for the camera, he wanted nothing to do with it, got up, and moved. More people filled in behind the stage, holding more signs and keeping up their “excitement.” It was then that I realized believing in a presidential candidate is a lot like believing in Santa. It’s sugar-coated and probably pretty fake, but you still have this glimmer of hope that what you see in the media (much like what your parents tell you) is the truth. I felt a shudder of disappointment. Of course some coaching would be necessary to show Clinton’s supporters were passionate, but the bleachers were not where most of the passionate people sat. Did the true supporters of this event just not fit the aesthetic?
Clinton said her first words. Everyone stood and cheered. We gave the cameras energy, and we even sat up straight. I felt obligated to. Once everyone sat down, us college kids were all on our iPhones, snapchatting our friends. My aha moment of the event: The college kids sat for Clinton’s final words while everyone else stood and cheered. I wonder if the media caught and reported on that.
If you were there to experience this event, you could easily tell who really belonged in the bleachers, and it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t the out-of-state students who were clearly there because they had to be for class. It was the middle-aged, middle class, agrarian Iowans who cheered in agreement with what Hillary Clinton said.
Samantha Ohlson, Megan Johns, Skylar Borchardt, and Mackenzie Allison all contributed to this article.