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  • Writer's pictureReid Stevens

The Future of Drone Shows on the Campaign Trail

There are decidedly very few things more American than spectating major sporting events, community gatherings, and patriotic festivals featuring a grandiose fireworks display. I, along with millions of others, have built an association that connects fireworks with celebrating the pastimes and traditions of the United States of America. I have spent nearly every Fourth of July night sitting in lawn chairs in the parking lot of the big-box store in the small(ish) town I grew up in, trying desperately to fend off mosquitos while taking in the spectacle of bright, loud blasts in the sky. Despite this tradition’s association with patriotism and celebration of America, it doesn’t usually translate to campaign politics, even to the large-scale events on the campaign trail for individuals making their dash for America’s top job. Many municipalities and event organizers have begun to shift from traditional fireworks to drone shows, which begs the question: will we see drone shows play a larger role in political events?

Vivek Ramaswamy, in his campaign’s nearly constant presence in Iowa relative to other candidates thus far, decided to include a drone show as the denouement of his October “Vektoberfest” event, held in West Des Moines at the Jamie Hurd Amphitheater. Following Vivek’s concluding remarks, the amphitheater’s speakers began to blast Imagine Dragons’ Thunder, as hundreds of white lights in perfect rows in the sky flew eastward toward the venue and began to disperse to form various depictions.

First was “Vivek,” followed by, “This is our 1776 moment” slogan, which I found a tad bit ironic considering the medium to display that message is only about 10 years old... Then the show transitioned into showing purely patriotic scenes, such as a soldier riding a horse — the drones moving to show the horse galloping in the night sky — and a drummer boy, featuring moving drumsticks.

Following another minute of rearrangement, Lady Liberty appeared with an outline of the U.S. behind her, then by the outline of Iowa with a star-and-striped spangled “V” in the middle and Vivek’s “Truth” slogan underneath. For the grand finale, the drones spelled out “Caucus for Vivek Jan 15," and then to conclude (and what I was the most impressed by), the drones arranged to form a QR code that attendees could scan to commit to caucus for him.

The crowd murmured the same “oohs” and “ahhs” that they would at any major fireworks display, but this was different. The specificity and detail of these formations allow for a storytelling aspect and can send a message — think “Caucus For Vivek" — much easier than some colorful blasts can. Speaking of which, the trademark BOOM of fireworks, which can be challenging for young kids or individuals who suffer from PTSD, was completely absent. The drones made no comparable noise at Vektoberfest, and even if they did, the sound was indiscernible from the music and cheers from the crowd, anyway. In the age of earbuds and headphones, which can create hearing problems later on, maybe it’s time we do ourselves a favor by ditching noisy fireworks.

Another trademark advantage of drone shows is their being environmentally friendly. The risk of starting a fire is almost zero, no smoke is produced, and overall, less energy is used. According to Good Morning America, many municipalities, including Salt Lake City, Utah, and Boulder, Colorado, opted to use drones instead of fireworks this year for the Fourth of July, citing concerns over air quality and fire danger. Plus, drone shows can take place almost anywhere in fair weather. Aside from some concerns over the environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries that used for power, drones seem like a sustainable option to raise the entertainment value of events for years to come. That said, it did strike me as a little strange that Vivek Ramaswamy would eagerly promote a drone show, considering his disbelief in climate change... I also overheard somebody say during the show, “Do you think those drones were made in China?” Considering Vivek’s strong anti-China message, the irony wasn’t lost on me.

What most surprised me about drone shows is that they are not a cheaper alternative compared to fireworks. According to Flying Magazine, even a small drone show costs upwards of $20,000, with large displays costing more than $500,000. This is no small sum, especially when compared to fireworks, with smaller-scale shows coming it at around $7,000 all the way up to Disney’s nightly Magic Kingdom show, which costs around $40,000, according to Forbes. Considering how recently the technology has appeared on the market, synchronized drone light shows may one day become a cheaper alternative as technology improves and fireworks are disincentivized due to their environmental and safety concerns.

So, do I think drone shows will have a strong future in political events? Despite their high cost, I believe that they will become more widely used, especially for bigger outdoor events. The limitless creative possibility to woo their potential supporters speaks to candidates, regardless of their party affiliation. If that proves as an effective way of gaining support, the expense slowly can be justified as worth it in the long run, especially for spendy campaigns. Plus, the mobility of these shows and the ability to have the show almost anywhere is super convenient for campaigns, especially in the early stages when a majority of events are in Iowa, New Hampshire, and other early primary states. I advise everyone in Iowa to (1) check out the Iowa Caucus Project and (2) to attend an event the next time a candidate rolls into town and has a drone show on their list of activities. I am confident you will be wowed by what the technology can accomplish.

Come for the drones, stay to keep democracy strong.


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