Soapbox: The Day Long Sit

Posted: September 19, 2019 | By: Adam Koch Tagged: Blog

The Iowa State Fair is considered to be the unofficial kickoff for the Iowa Caucuses. A staple of the Fair, the Des Moines Register Soapbox, is the opportunity for every candidate to stake their case before Iowa voters. However, not every soapbox is created equal. The higher polling candidates are usually slated to speak at the end of the speaking order because more fairgoers attend and it better fits the candidates’ schedules. While this provides an easier solution for the fair, candidates, and media, voters and advocacy groups had a different experience – the battle for the seats.

I worked for Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) over the summer, and one of my responsibilities was to engage with candidates about early childhood education issues. Since all of the candidates would be at the same place on the same weekend, the Iowa State Fair was a perfect opportunity to engage them in a conversation about early childhood education.

SCAN had already been at the Soapbox in previous years, so I already knew the strategy for access to some of the major candidates at the end of the day – sit and wait.

August 11th was the day of Bernie Sanders. With about eight or so candidates speaking at the State Fair, the majority of folks who wanted to listen only came for Bernie. I knew that fact, so I showed up (with my mom as a volunteer) at 9 am – six hours before Bernie and one hour before any of the other candidates. One hour before the first candidate spoke, employees from the Des Moines Registered gave out chairs like it was a church potluck – one at a time and whoever gets it, gets it. Fortunately, my mom and I showed up early enough to sit in the front row. But that was only half of the battle. Let’s just say that it was a good idea for us to bring ponchos.

We sat through the pouring rain, the burning sun, and the drone of blabber from out-of-staters pronouncing Des Moines like Dez Moynez and Adel like the singer. My mom and I took turns to eat and use the restroom in between candidates. We felt like fools for the majority of the day, but by the time Bernie Sanders came up to speak, we knew we had made the correct decision. I’ll just let the photo speak for itself. (My mom and I are in the front wearing red t-shirts.)

Pfannenstiel, Brianne. “Bernie at the Soapbox.” Twitter, Twitter, 11 Aug. 2019,

In a crowd of thousands, we were up close and personal. It was a lot of waiting, a lot of raining, a lot of sweating, and a lot of fun.