The Political Playground
When I think of Iowa voters, I typically do not think of children at all. I don’t think anyone does. You probably think of someone older – a grandparent or parent, perhaps, who looks like they just got done working on the farm. At least, that is what I think a typical Iowa voter would look like at a political event. To my surprise, children are actually quite common at political events in Iowa. They may not be interested in politics, but they are in attendance. Children are clearly not old enough to vote, but I guess sometimes you have to teach them young...
The children I saw in Ottumwa at a Trump rally or in West Des Moines at Vektoberfest were not there to see Donald Trump or Vivek Ramaswamy. They seemed far more interested in the food than a past President or current presidential candidate. At Vektoberfest, there were plenty of yard games to keep the children entertained. As their parents were perhaps there to learn more about the presidential candidate, the children spent their time playing outdoor games or painting pumpkins. One little girl was happy to show me her pumpkin that she was painting with stars and bright colors. For these kids, this was not a political event. It was an opportunity to spend time outside and partake in games or arts and crafts. While you won't see these children caucusing this January, they were still having fun with politics, and that is sometimes all that matters.
One young girl, however, was a very obvious fan of Vivek Ramaswamy. She wore a black t-shirt with a picture of herself and Ramaswamy. Her shirt in the picture? Another picture of her and Ramaswamy! After taking yet another photo with the candidate, she told a classmate of mine that she had plans to make yet another t-shirt. Most kids in attendance were focused on other activities, but at ten years old, she was clearly a fan of Ramaswamy. In fact, Ramaswamy even brought her on stage when he spoke! He told the crowd about how she passed the civics test required for immigrants to become a citizen of the United States, beaming as he stated that this ten-year-old girl had passed the test with 100 questions with 100% accuracy. The crowd was happy to hear this story and cheered as the young girl smiled onstage next to Ramaswamy.
As the night progressed, the wind and lack of sunlight made it a cold night. Despite the chill, she still wore her t-shirt proudly in the front row. In fact, throughout the entire evening this young girl was arguably the most engaged in the audience. Although she cannot vote yet, she is already interested in politics and how the Iowa Caucuses contribute to the presidential election.
At the end of Vektoberfest, there was a show enjoyable for both kids and adults. Rising to the sky in darkness were hundreds of bright lights in shades of red, white, and blue, marking the start of the Vektoberfest drone show. The display included an outline of Paul Revere, a map of the United States, and of course, a campaign message asking Iowans to caucus for Ramaswamy on January 15th, complete with a light-up QR code. The drone show was something that adults and kids could enjoy; it was essentially a firework show without the noise or fire! The kids who did stay until the end of the relatively late evening perked up at the sight of the bright drones against the dark sky. My inner child was also excited to see such a fun campaign message through bright lights that transformed into new shapes!
At another political event I attended, a Donald Trump rally in Ottumwa, I observed these children attendees were less entertained by the event but somehow managed to keep themselves entertained. Much to their dismay, there were no yard games or pumpkins to paint. Many children were aptly dressed for the occasion, fitting right in at the Trump rally in bright hues of red, blue, and white. Some even had American flag accessories, which I assumed were sourced from their Fourth of July parties. One of the young girls even carried around a stuffed elephant, touting the Republican party’s animal around in her arms. As we waited in line outside before the event, this elephant and, oddly enough, a large stick kept her entertained.
As we waited in line, a group of four kids, who seemed to all be siblings, were creatively re-purposing the lid of a recycling bin, pushing it across the floor and carrying it around in a sort of made-up game. This group of young children made me laugh as they ate popcorn off of the ground of the event center. I was not expecting to see children at all, and I was definitely not anticipating watching anyone eat popcorn off of the ground like it was one of the best meals they’ve ever had! These kids entertained themselves and did not seem bored in the slightest. I will be honest: I sometimes watched their shenanigans when my attention drifted away from the rally. It was clear they were not the target audience, but as many kids do, they made their own fun. I never heard one of them complain about spending an afternoon at the rally.
Later on, another group of Iowans too young to caucus joined in on some dancing at the front of the rally crowd. They were on their feet singing and dancing to a variety of different songs. One boy in particular was dancing every chance he got. He was older than the other group of kids at the rally, but certainly not voting age. He was clearly a fan of former President Trump, as he was one of the loudest voices in the room during the rally.
Although I never expected to see children at these political events, I noticed they are generally very engaged in the political aspect or not attentive to it in the slightest. It is interesting to observe their interactions and deduce if they are willing attendees or if they were perhaps dragged along by their parents.