I spent 10 days at the Iowa State Fair. While I did lose my voice, I managed to gain something, too.
The historic Iowa State Fair is famous for many, many things. From kilos of deep-fried food, to a realistic sculpture of a cow made from butter, to swarms of presidential hopefuls circling the fairgrounds, shaking hands and swapping their favorite sport coat for a flannel, the State Fair has it all.
I spent ten days in a row right in the heart of it, wedged in my own ten-foot by ten-foot corner of the Varied Industries Building. Unlike the majority of the fair’s attendees, I was not there for the food (or even the candidates, if I’m being truthful). I was there on behalf of AARP Iowa, where I have been interning since June. Our mission for the fair was to raise awareness about the rising costs of pharmaceutical drugs and collect stories from fair-goers. To read more about AARP Iowa’s effort to educate and advocate for lower drug costs, check out this article from Iowa Starting Line.
By the end of the chaotic fair week, we had engaged with more than 5,800 people. 5,800 people who could not have been more dissimilar.
Men, women, and children adorned with M.A.G.A. hats. Crowds of people holding Women for Warren yard signs. Participants aged anywhere between 17 and 87 years old. We met queer folks, straight folks, farm types and yuppies. Some wore do-it-yourself jean shorts, others carried Louis Vuitton bags. Our audience was predominantly white, but that’s what you get at the Iowa State Fair. Some were drunk on $11 beer by noon; others were sober and pushing their mother’s wheelchair from corner to corner of the fairgrounds. We had veterans and self-proclaimed draft-dodgers. We even had a member of Congress (Senator Chuck Grassley) stop by our booth. Not all were Iowans, either. Many had traveled hundreds of miles just to attend the fair to see what all of the commotion was about.
There was one thing, seemingly, that bound them all together – and this was my grand realization – that there is a strong, general resentment towards pharmaceutical companies and dismay over the rising costs of prescription drugs.
As we’ve already begun to observe, the Democratic candidates for President (as well as President Trump, himself), have armed themselves with policies and actionable solutions to lower drug prices. Since the summer, pharmaceutical drug costs have centered themselves as the ultimate unifying issue between the two major parties. Other issues, it seems, deepen the wedge between the two coalitions, forcing each side closer to the brink and further from one another.
Illness and disease, as we know, do not know party lines. Regardless of race, region, or religion, rising drug costs are an easy enemy to combat. In 2019, it can seem next to impossible to find an issue that Democrats and Republicans can agree on, let alone agree to work with one another on. Where you yourself, a family member, a friend, or a neighbor are feeling the effects of ballooning drug costs as a side effect of the American healthcare system, it is easy to understand why the majority of Americans place this among their top 3 issues for 2020.
This is what we mean when political scientists claim that Iowa is, indeed, a diverse place. We have strength in the diversity of our ideologies, a tool that proves itself useful when the precinct caucuses happen in February.