Senator Elizabeth Warren was the first top-tier candidate to announce, and it was surprising that her launch came right at the start of the new year. Over a year before the Iowa Caucuses is plenty early, but it did ensure that she would have the corner on media coverage. Her initial launch schedule also was unexpected. She had a bunch of events in western Iowa, the most conservative part of the state where Steve King is the U. S. representative. Des Moines was the closest she was going to get to those of us in the bluer, eastern part of the state.
It was winter break, and we’d been wanting to get out of town anyway, so we decided to make an overnight trip of it for the whole family. We spent the day milling about the East Village and ate at Zombie Burger. It was a Sunday afternoon so there wasn’t a whole lot going on, but it was an unseasonably nice day, so we didn’t mind walking around, and all three of my kids, Nic, Devin and Ian were on board for the event.
When Nic wanted to get there an hour before the event was scheduled to begin, I didn’t object. Devin had last campaign’s Mt. Nasty t-shirt for the occasion (it had Elizabeth Warren as one of the faces on a female Mt. Rushmore), and Ian was up for the wait as well. The event was going to be in what looked like a converted warehouse, which could now be rented for hipster weddings. There was already a line when we got there.
It was late afternoon, which I realized suddenly when I saw the guy in front of me with a cup of coffee. I had not had any coffee. About five minutes after we got in line, Devin said she was thirsty. I saw my chance. I looked online for the nearest coffee shop and told Devin she could go get something to drink if she brought me back a coffee. Ian was getting squirmy, so he went with her. After they left I texted them to use a bathroom while they had the chance.
The line to get in continued to grow, turning a corner. I think a line has to go around two corners before it can be said to be “wrapping around the block,” and it never made it quite that far, but it was still a good turnout. I noticed that the vibe in the line was not at all like rallies or protests early in the Trump presidency. People weren’t angry, and they weren’t cynical. While it is common for Iowans to complain about the length of the election season, particularly when broadcast TV becomes dominated by campaign ads, there was none of that. People were just anxious to get started already. Call it the Trump Effect.
Whenever the door to the event center opened, we would look up with anticipation, only to see it slam shut after a staffer scurried in, but eventually the line did begin moving and we finally got inside. It was a multi-purpose space with a stage against the far wall and a concrete floor that I could see was not going to be enjoyable to stand on. But we didn’t take time to look around, because the main point of getting there early was to get a good spot in front of the stage. We pushed our way as far forward as we could and waited while the crowd filled in behind us.
And we waited. We talked, we played on our phones, we took turns squatting on the floor when our backs got sore. No political event in the history of political events has ever started on time, and this one was no exception. Ian announced that he had, in fact, not gone to the bathroom at the coffee shop. As I looked at the crowd between us and the bathroom, I grew concerned this might not end well. At one point, Elizabeth Warren tried to take a peek out at the crowd from behind the stage curtain. That never works. People saw her and started cheering, but to no avail. We continued to wait. Eventually, we got loopy. Ian and Devin began playing around with a faceswapping app. Here’s a picture of me with Nic’s beard. Other pictures were weirder than this.
When the song “9 to 5” began playing loudly from the speakers, I thought maybe it was a sign that things were ready to begin, but that was a false hope. Then, just when it seemed like the event would never start, it began. Elizabeth Warren took the stage to a big cheer from the crowd, and immediately she told us that she had a cold and her voice was shot. This is actually pretty common among presidential candidates, so no one expected it to make a difference.
It didn’t. Warren began with a personal story, talking about her family’s close-to-the-bone experiences in Oklahoma, and making some powerful connections between her career and the big policy decisions that made it possible (like a meaningful minimum wage and support for education). I realized that that aspect of Elizabeth Warren’s story isn’t as well known, and it will be interesting to see if it comes up a lot during the campaign.
It was noteworthy that Trump’s name never came up in her remarks, as if when you’re talking about Trump you’re losing. And, in fact, the media coverage of this event zeroed in on the one audience question that referenced Trump. She had a lot to say about policy and, as expected, she could give chapter and verse of legislation, if asked. But she also had an eye for what issues were likely to be persuasive. There are no end of challenges to take on at this moment in time. The issue is which ones come first.
That would have been my question for her: “where do you begin?” but though I had a ticket for a lottery to ask a question, my number wasn’t called. However, because we were close to the stage, we were able to push to the front for pictures.
Picture taking was a serious operation here with an assembly line of staffers to control the crowd, take our jackets, and take the picture. The Senator had basically pledged not to leave until everyone who wanted a candidate selfie got one. She was all in with seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm as we wormed our way to the stage with her and all got our shots taken. Warren complimented Devin on her t-shirt, which may have made the whole trip worthwhile for her.
Afterward, we made our way into the now-cooler night. Finally, things were starting.
The postscript: apparently, Time magazine published a shot of the whole crowd. A relative was kind enough to scan the whole picture, find us and blow this picture up. It’s me, not my kids, who has a phone out, but in my defense I was sending out live video. We look rather somber.