Fog Machines and Foam Cowboy Boots: My Liberty & Justice Celebration Experience
DES MOINES, Iowa – Imagine this: you’re at the Super Bowl, but it’s simultaneously the World Series and a sold-out concert. It also is New Year’s Eve and the Oscars and prom and New York Fashion Week. This was the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2019 Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Iowa Events Center, and it was basically a six-hour fever dream for the 13,000 attendees.
A Polk County field organizer gifted me two floor tickets (asking price: $250!). This meant that I received a full dinner and was about ten feet from the runway where the thirteen candidates strutted towards the stage. Before Runal Patel and I even sat down to eat, we had met three candidates: Governor Steve Bullock, Senator Cory Booker, and Senator Michael Bennet. Rosario Dawson, actress and Cory Booker’s girlfriend, reposted our picture onto her Instagram story, and so did Sen. Bennet. Each candidate gave us time to talk about our passions and wish them luck during their speech. Gov. Bullock gave us one piece of advice: “Stay until the end.”
Runal and I continued to be distracted by the attendees of the event. Over there was Deidre DeJear, the Iowa chair for Kamala Harris! On the right was Professor Jennifer Glover Konfrst, a State Representative. Behind us was Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie. Wait – were we seated next to Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s mom? False alarm, but Mayor Pete definitely made eye contact with us as he walked off the stage.
As the event started, the lights in the arena dimmed to darkness, replaced by loud chants and glow sticks. Each campaign had its own section in the arena, allowing them to use creative methods to draw the attention of the undecided caucusgoers. Sen. Booker’s team had giant letters spelling “RISE.” Pete’s team took up portions of all three levels so that each level could have their own letters, spelling out “Boot” and “Edge” and “Edge,” an homage to the pronunciation of his name. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s team was decked out in “liberty” green, with green glowing throughout their section.
Music echoed throughout the arena, and at least two fog machines near the stage sent out waves of smoke as Iowa Democratic Party chair Troy Price walked to the front of the stage. The bass dropped, and the cheers throughout the arena were deafening. After his speech, Price brought out prominent Iowa Democrats, calling them one-by-one as if they were the starting lineup. Price definitely could have a future career as an announcer if he’s ever done with politics. With all of the Iowa Democratic Congressmen, state officials, and major candidates on stage surrounded by fog, it was obvious that the Iowa Democratic Party was throwing a party, and it was just getting started.
Honestly, I do not remember much about the speeches. After thirteen candidates, two-party officials, and three Congressmen, the actual substance of the event blurs. I do remember DNC Chair Tom Perez having more energy that every Iowa wind turbine combined. Senator Kamala Harris emphasized that “justice is on the ballot” as their team lit up letters that said “Justice for the People.” I remember Mayor Pete’s team of seemingly thousands with bracelets that flashed blue, green, and red during his speech. Senator Warren’s giant flag unrolled from the nosebleed seats to the floor of the Event Center that said: “Win with Warren.” The standing ovations, the cheers, the bathroom that was a mile away, the hugs from Drake friends, the endless march of candidate after candidate.
Mostly, though, I remember how I felt. The pride I felt knowing that every one of the thirteen thousand people in that room deeply cared about the success of our democracy. The joy I felt running with two other Iowa Caucus Project staffers around the outside of the Events Center, grabbing the oddest campaign gear from the various stations, most notably Steve Bullock’s foam cowboy boot that said: “Give Trump the Boot.” The awe I felt at the immense organization of it all, the flashing lights during the speeches, the fog machines welcoming every candidate. And the hope I felt, knowing that we weren’t facing the end of this country, but looking out at the beginning of its future.
We often say “Only in Iowa” as a joke nodding at the crazy and weird things that happen to us during caucus season in the Hawkeye state. For the first time, I really understood what that meant. This kind of event could only happen here, in Iowa. We know the responsibility we have as the first in the nation. And we also know how to throw a party.