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  • Writer's pictureIowa Caucus Project

Will Follett

Established in 2011, the Iowa Caucus Project boasts four cohorts of college students telling the story of the Iowa caucuses through experiencing the Iowa caucuses. Leading into the 2024 caucuses, we wanted to catch up with the 2020 Iowa Caucus Project staffers, tap into their wisdom, and see what stuck with them four years later.

Will Follett was a staffer for the 2020 Iowa Caucus Project. Will graduated from Drake in May 2020  with a degree in political science, and minors in marketing and writing. majoring in Politics; Religion; and Law, Politics, & Society. Upon graduating, Will worked for GovExec, formerly Atlantic Media Group, in their content and events division based out of Washington DC. After two and a half years, Will returned to Chicago to lead event production and content for commercial real estate platform Bisnow’s Chicago/Midwest office.


Q: What was your role with the Iowa Caucus Project?

In my time at the Caucus Project, I wore a number of semi-professional hats that let me both explore my interests and hone my skills across a variety of areas unique only to the project. Staffers know as well as anyone that the freedom afforded to members is second to none, and that the nearly unlimited potential and access to power that’s so overwhelming to many was intoxicating – those desperate to understand the how, the when, and the why of this crazy, imperfect, and beautiful system.

What I did then is all of it. Some days, I was a writer, hunkered down in the back of a car with my MacBook, desperately trying to find a synonym for “political leanings” as I raced from one event to another (“ideology” is a good start). Others, I was a photographer, trying to find my White House press pass amidst my pile of others strewn about an apartment riddled with "Boot Edge Edge" and "We Persist" signs. The best responsibilities come from the days in between when you’re a chameleon a dinner companion, a podcast guest, a bright-orange-jacket-wearing student accidentally moseying his way onto a live CNN debate stage next to Dana Bash. Your best work comes when you least expect it; your favorite stories find you in the sea of a thousand other things you should be doing instead of holding the door for someone who later turned out to be Julian Castro entering his sad, dimly lit office to fire his staff and leave that god-forsaken state once and for all. It’s so important, so validating, and so essential to your success to put yourselves in positions you can’t explain or comprehend, and to try to do it anyway. There’s no better place to do that then where you are now.


Q: Four years after your participation in the project, what has stuck with you?

The liberation and rarified air that comes with being part of an organization whose sole mission is to share a story is an opportunity rarely afforded and should never be taken for granted. As someone who experienced firsthand how fragile the Caucus process was, how quickly the confusion of technical failure can outstrip control of a free and fair process, it’s important to remember that democracy requires constant effort. It’s fragile. It can break. It can leak. For as many days as it’s strong and impervious, there are days when it’s brittle, and needs mending. That’s why the project is so important.


Whether it’s tracking the rise of Pete Buttigieg from his first ever public event at a local elementary school to following a noise outside of your apartment that later turned out to be Kamala Harris dancing with union workers at the Forest Avenue McDonalds, it’s important to never forget that you’re there to share the story for everyone who can’t. That it’s your integrity, your beliefs, your analysis that holds a lot of this weird, broken, and beautiful thing together. It’s easy to think your work doesn’t leave the website, that your thoughts only there to validate a choice few true believers on Twitter, but for every piece of writing you think doesn’t matter or won’t be seen, you meet a candidate on the trail who loves your podcast, or a national news anchor who wants to share your options with an audience of millions.


You don’t have to understand Caucuses. I don’t know anyone that does. But you do have you believe in them, and in the mission of what sharing them represents. It’s the belief that in your most confused, scared, and uncertain days, days when the story seems in vain, or the process so hopeless, that you can embrace the confusion, pull yourself together, and fight your way out that sticks with me today.


Q: What words of wisdom do you have for current Drake University students anticipating the 2024 Iowa precinct caucuses?

It’s trite and easy for someone who’s done it before to tell you how great it would be to do again, but it’s true. Have fun. Don’t take yourselves too seriously. And say yes to everything someone offers to you. My goal for the duration of the project was to never turn anything down, to never skip out where I could have said yes, and in doing so, I was able to see things I never would have otherwise seen, meet people I would have never otherwise met, and visit places I could not have dreamed of going.


The caucuses are public in nature for a reason beyond transparent democracy; they subsist on validation, thrive on the energy of you and the thousands of others yearning for their attention. They’re never more alive than when neighborhood Iowans are huddled on the back of a Beaverdale porch listening to an embattled candidate deliver a speech in the bitter cold, or when students are huddled in a creaky Ames gym that wreaks of sweat and plastic, listening quietly to a former vice president talk about the importance of kindness and empathy.


Know that the time is limited, that the exercise is finite. Know that in the chaos of September or in the dead of the November cold, it’s so easy to meander through, to wait it out for an easy piece of writing, or a low hanging story. But also know that for the hundred times I wanted to sleep in, to get some extra rest before heading back out on the trail, there’s a hundred and one for when I was grateful I set my alarm a bit ahead, found my camera, and grabbed my jacket for another day. If the caucuses taught me one thing about journalism, about democracy, about anticipation, it’s that if I could cover them again, the only thing I would do is wake up earlier.


Q: How closely have you been watching this caucus cycle? Do you have any thoughts as to how they will play out?

In watching the coverage, arguments, analysis, and everything in between, I think it’s safe to say that the comparably scaled back nature of this year’s caucuses relative to those in 2020 should not be confused for lack of interesting stories or possibilities. The shifting nature of the calendar, the complexity of the endorsement cycle, and the moving targets of candidates and what they believe all lend it self to the notion that this year will be as engaging as any other, and that those who cover it are in store for something special.


I do think it’s fair to say, though, that Donald Trump is going to win, and it likely won’t be close. The polarization across the country is perhaps at its most potent within the walls of the Republican Party, and although it’s easy to believe that the will of so many Iowans could be shifted, modified, or outweighed by one endorsement person or another, we all know better. Kim Reynolds endorsing Ron DeSantis isn’t going to carry him over the finish line anymore than her lack of endorsement would have, and although many crave for a day when Republicans can, to the extent that any voting bloc will, come to their senses and vote for a more nationally viable and less personally chaotic candidate, I hope that those waiting patiently that day, for that peace and quiet, brought something to do in line, because it’s going to be a quite a bit before the doors open.

Check out where the other 2020 Iowa Caucus Staffers are now here!


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