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For the 324 million Americans who don’t live in the Hawkeye State, the Iowa caucuses are a mysterious imbroglio. As the Democratic primary results continue to roll in on a slow drip, The Prompt checked in with our very own Jesse Stone, who participated in the Iowa caucuses this week, to get our answers to our own questions, like: What’s happening? Why are there so many white people in this gymnasium? Is this democracy? 

Kelaine Conochan: Can you set the scene for us?

What is it like?

Jesse Stone: This year we caucused in the gym at my kids’ elementary school.

It’s a nice gym—brand new school. Nets on the baskets are still in tip-top shape. Also a lot of people, 670 this year, which makes for a tight fit in what is otherwise a usually pretty spacious gym.

There are token chairs set around the room, if you happen to be one of the 34 lucky people who arrive in time to snag one. The rest of us are just packed in like farm animals. I’m not kidding, it’s shoulder to shoulder all night long. Oh, and we brought our three kids so I spent the entire night with a kid propped against each of my legs on the floor watching their iPads.

Did I mention my 3 year-old had one of the worst “out in public” meltdowns of her tiny life while we were in the check-in line?

KC: Can you describe the setup at one of these crazy Iowa caucuses?

Number of people, demographic break-down or character archetypes, type of chairs / their arrangement, vibe/mood… And are there snacks???

JS: Iowa City is a really liberal college town, so there are a lot of pretty progressive folks.

But also firefighters whose unions go for Biden. Mostly, it’s just your neighbors and people you’ve seen somewhere around town but can’t quite place them.

I wish I could tell you there are firebrands who stand on chairs and try to preach to the masses about Bernie’s healthcare plans or Amy’s “electability,” but that’s not really how these things mostly go.

Most people know who they like and stay in place, and there are a few roamers who walk around chit-chatting as if it’s some kind of mixer. Which I guess it actually is.

The mood is very upbeat and lively. People are excited to be good citizens and participate and pull for their favorite candidate. Again, these are the same people you would run into at a PTA meeting. You may not know them all, but you sort of “know” them, you know?

Sadly there are no snacks.

KC: How is the discussion moderated or facilitated?

By whom? Is this person adorably earnest, or no-nonsense?

JS: Facilitation is by some person whose face you cannot see over the throngs of people.

Her voice is steady and sure, but also limited in its power. She’s more pragmatic than adorably earnest.

KC: How often do people get ornery / passionate?

Is it like the play Twelve Angry Men? Do people get hurt feelings? Are people jack-asses? Is the Midwestern Niceness too strong?

JS: Nobody really gets angry.

If people’s feelings are hurt they don’t really show it. Midwestern niceness is very strong, and very underrated by you satirical assholes on the East Coast, so no I wouldn’t say it’s too strong. The meanest thing I heard of someone saying was, “That Butt guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

KC: Follow-up… how do you think a caucus would go in the asshole capital of the nation?

(You know, Staten Island.)

JS: I think a caucus anywhere in the Northeast would be an unmitigated disaster.

That said, as of Wednesday we still don’t know who won the Iowa caucus. So maybe the lesson is no one should be allowed to caucus?

KC: In your particular room, how (or how much) did people influence others?

How did it change the votes and mood of the room?

JS: After two hours to do the initial count of the whole room, the first round and a recount of the first round, we were finally able to leave.

We didn’t stay for the “resorting” that happens after the first round when some candidates aren’t viable (my first choice was viable, which is how I got to leave). I imagine there was more persuasion happening at that point, but I couldn’t tell you how much. My suspicion is most people know who their second or even third choice will be.

KC: How fun/boring is it?

I could see it either way, really.

JS: It’s fun in a “I feel like I’m participating in democracy in a very tangible way.”

And a “Hey, isn’t that so and so?” kind of way. It’s boring for anyone dragged along, like our children, and the fun part starts wearing off for adults after the second recount and the realization that we might be here until midnight if things don’t get moving quicker.

KC: Can you leave early?

What happens to your vote if you do?

JS: This year they allowed people whose first choice was viable (having > 15 percent of total number of people present) to leave after the first round.

We signed cards, so presumably our votes were counted. Although if you believe the conspiracy theories going around Twitter, Mayor Pete may have absconded with my card and buried it somewhere.

KC: What kind of surge pricing do babysitters have during the caucuses?

The people demand to know.

JS: This is an interesting question to which I don’t have an answer.

We brought our kids both times for some crazy reason.

KC: How seriously do you / did you take the responsibility of “going first?”

As a person who has moved to Iowa, what’s that like?

JS: I love the civic act of caucusing.

But I also think it’s probably a bad way to do primary voting and I think the idea of *any* state going first is dumb because I think people should vote for who they like, not who has done the best so far in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, etc.

KC: Did you wind up backing the same person you went in thinking you’d caucus for?

JS: Yes, though I was on the fence and didn’t know for sure until the day of.

Which is ironic because when we did this back in 2016, I thought anyone who hadn’t decided between Hillary and Bernie months ahead of time was a total loser and idiot.

KC: How do you feel about the caucus process, generally?

How did this year’s confusing results impact those feelings?

JS: I think it’s fun and inspiring and entertaining and silly and a bit stupid.

I feel a little defensive about Iowa getting shit on in the national media, and also I think it’s silly that people don’t know what to do with themselves if they have to wait a few days for Iowa results when the general election is almost a year away.

Kelaine Conochan

The editor-in-chief of this magazine, who should, in all honesty, be a gym teacher. Don’t sleep on your plucky kid sister.

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