By Joe Wlos
Grinnell has a program in Washington D.C., but students don’t have too travel far to experience politics firsthand. Iowa is playing a starring role in this year’s election, and Grinnellians are at its center.
The Campus Democrats hosted Congressman Bruce Braley and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky on August 31, and dozens of Grinnellians attended President Barack Obama’s rally outside Des Moines the following day.
“You here at Grinnell, you really are the heart, the soul, the history, the past, and the future of the College and Young Democrats of Iowa,” Dvorsky said.
The Campus Democrats have been hosting voter registration drives in the JRC and are hoping to open several satellite voting locations on campus. The Democrats are also planning a major effort to get out the vote, both for Obama and Grinnell administrator Rachel Bly. Bly is Grinnell’s Director of Conference Operations and Events, and she is running for a seat as a Democrat in Iowa’s House.
“We are counting on [Grinnell] to a degree that we didn’t last time,” Dvorsky said, referring to the number of races that students can impact this election cycle.
Braley, in his appearance on campus, echoed this message, and he expressed his connection to the Grinnell community. Braley was raised in neighboring Brooklyn, Iowa, and he was born in Grinnell on the eve of his father’s election as mayor of Brooklyn.
“One of the best things that I get to do is work with amazing young people,” Braley said. “If I win this election, and get another two year contract to serve Iowa in the House of Representatives, I will then represent almost half of all of the colleges and universities in the state of Iowa, and that’s exciting to me because of all of the energy that comes from these great communities.”
That energy was present in Braley’s office this summer. Darwin Manning ’13 and Steph Haines ’14 both interned for the congressman, and they spoke with him after the speech.
Some students weren’t as impressed by the energy, though. Samuel Curry ’16 volunteered to help hold down the signs attached to the podium during the windy event, but he thought that both Braley and Dvorsky were full of hot air.
“While the speeches complained about the lack of bipartisanship in America,” Curry said, “I found that they contributed to that phenomenon.”
“With all of the division and all of the fighting that goes on, it’s hard to get young people to understand why politics matters,” Braley said in his speech.
However, many Grinnellians expressed a great interest in politics by travelling to Des Moines to hear Obama speak in one of his first appearances after the Republican National Convention.
The speech—a rousing rendition of his stump speech—addressed many issues pertinent to young Americans, including education and health care, one of Obama’s signature issues. While students from the University of Iowa, Iowa State, and other schools joined Grinnellians in applause, some international students in attendance were disturbed by the tenor of the Obama’s remarks.
“I was surprised when Obama said that he wants to restore the U.S. to [its position as] the greatest nation on Earth,” Carolin Scholz ’13 said. “Making the U.S. bigger than everyone else makes me uncomfortable. … [In Germany,] it’s a lot quieter. It’s a lot calmer. No politician would be able to hold a speech like that.”
Andrea Nemecek ’13 got a chance to hear Obama’s oratorical skills in person. She introduced the Iowa delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday. Her remarks were carried live on several major networks.
Several Grinnell students also got the chance to have their concerns addressed by Braley earlier in the week. Brian Silberberg ’14 complimented the congressman on his work in rural areas, but asked for his plans to help the urban poor. Leah Lucas ’14 broadened the question to include the poor around the world, who struggle to find food without the help of American foreign aid.
“The sad reality is that we can’t get people to focus on food insecurity in this country, in this state, let alone global food insecurity,” Braley said, blasting the Republican Party’s attempts to halt the progress of the Obama Administration.
To protect his party’s work to fight inequality, Braley encouraged Grinnellians to continue their work in politics.
“We aren’t asking you to give until it hurts,” Braley said. “We are asking you to give your time until it feels good.”