Saturday, January 19, 2008

Two Chests; Two pins

The caucus members were tallied, the results sent in via cellphones to the state party headquarters in Des Moines, people were leaving the auditorium: Cedar Rapids, Iowa Democratic Precinct 32. I was moving chairs and putting cookies back into the boxes. I had done my duty as volunteer caucus aid for the John Edwards for President campaign.

A mother moved from her seat in the Edwards caucus area toward the door, accompanied by her teen-age daughter. Both were forlorn. Obama had gotten the most delegates. Edwards had finished third in this precinct--although second throughout the state. I offered them some cookies.

The mother asked me if I had an extra Edwards lapel button for her with his picture and "Edwards in 2008" written on it. Her daughter thought he was such a wonderful man. I said 'no'...but...I took the pin on my chest off, gave it to her. The daughter hesitated, shy: "But it yours", she protested. ""Not anymore," I said. The mother pinned it on her daughter's sweater.

The mother and the girl left, beaming, as if the daughter had gotten a handkerchief from a rock star.

I had this flash of insight--perhaps only hope--that the teenager would now remember political life in Iowa forever; stayed politically engaged. Then the cynic in me said she would toss the pin aside within a week, never campaign--much less vote--again.

That night, seated in Ruby Tuesday's restaurant having a turkey burger and a glass of wine, I recalled the previous nine days. During those consecutive 12-hour days, I had participated in the door-to-door canvassing for Edwards in the snows of Iowa, made a thousand (literally) phone calls on his behalf, met briefly he and his wonderful wife Elizabeth, seen the grass-roots politics that was basic American town-meeting democracy in all these caucus events, driven through the snow to attend a John Edwards speech in the back of Phil's Barbecue House in Independence, Iowa, where 300 people showed up despite the snow.

How can I be cynical about the young girl and the pin? To be cynical is to be non-American. Memories of Iowa would not let me. They were indelably pinned to my chest.


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