There were 30 minutes until the event was scheduled to start, but the folding chairs, which were set up in Howe Hall’s atrium, had been filled by claustrophobic bodies 15 minutes before. Despite the discomfort of people packed into seats, I saw chairs being added in every niche, under the stairs, against the back wall and under the overhang. Under the stairs and in the back, the view was poor, but regardless of their comfort, people rushed to find a place to watch the event.
When there was nowhere left to sit, people had started to stand on the stairs three and four rows deep. Bodies lined the railing all the way up, pressing each other forward, as security hustled up and down the stairs. From the second floor, people swelled against the railing; all I could see from the main floor was a wall of people leaning over the railing.
All those people, uncomfortably packed and crammed for hours, were there in an attempt to hear Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States, speak.
Individuals were willing to subject themselves to crows and tempers in order to support Biden and the Democrats. But from conversations I had after the vice president’s speech, and from questions asked by the crowed, that’s not all they were there for. Many Republicans and Libertarians subjected themselves to the same treatment, but for different reasons.
One student pressed Biden, asking him for his ethical views on the “compromise” between the Catholic Church, health insurance and contraceptives. Biden squirmed and stuttered out an unoriginal answer; it’s not the church, but insurance companies that will provide the care, and that’s OK.
Another student asked him about the United States’ financial and technological support of third-world countries. He vaguely addressed the issue and passed the microphone to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
From what these students said to me and how they expressed themselves, I knew they didn’t support the Democrats. From hearing Biden’s answers, I don’t believe they received what they were looking for. From my experience with campaign speeches, audience members never get to press questions nor follow up after the candidates answer. This makes it easy for candidates of both parties to evade difficult questions.
And yet they were there, and for that they deserve respect. Even when you support the candidate, it’s still difficult to subject yourself to crowds, security and cranky individuals who’ve been on their feet for far too long, but to do it in order to hear a dissenting opinion, that is quite another matter.
These individuals weren’t there to support any political party, they were there to support politics.
When people tell me that Americans don’t care about politics, I point to affairs such as this. You can attend any political rally, fundraiser or caucus for any political party and you’ll see it. Individuals pay money, stand in lines and pack into heated auditoriums for the mere chance, the hopeful opportunity, to partake in a little bit of politics.
Among the crowd in Howe Hall I saw the mayor of Ames, the mayor of Des Moines, ISU President Steven Leath, members of the Board of Regents, faculty and staff from Iowa State and many local residents of Ames. The one group I would have liked to have seen more of were the students.
Three-fourths of the 700 quoted number of tickets given out went to students. However, from where I was seated during the speech, and from moving through the crowd after, I do not believe three-fourths of the attendants were students. I could be wrong; there were many parts of the crowd I could not see. If the quoted number is right, then just more than 500 students attended a speech by the vice president of the United States of America.
I know students care about politics: I hear it walking to class, on the bus and among friends. I’m constantly confronted by students for my columns: in person, over email and by comments online. Students care, and I love it.
As much as I believe students care about political issues, why didn’t more students attend the speech? If a few Libertarian and Republican students can suffer through the process and work around class schedules to hear a Democrat express his views, then I believe more students can get involved as well.
Politics cannot be done by observation. Ask yourself what issues matter to you most and take the time to find the Democratic and Republican stand on the issues. It seems popular to slander a politician or political party without knowing what they actually stand for.
When I hear individuals complain about a politician, whoever he or she is, I have to wonder: Have you ever heard them speak, do you know what their voting record is and do you know what they stand for? There is a good chance that the students who attended the speech, supporting the Democrats, knew as much about their own party as the Republicans. Just because you make yourself present doesn’t mean you make yourself receptive.
Attendance means you have a chance to make yourself receptive, and if you’re willing, you have an opportunity to learn. Just maybe, with luck and courage, you’ll get a chance to ask a question or speak publicly. When Joe Biden concluded his speech, he said, “There’s a synergy in all this missing in other parts of the world.”
There is an energy that we, as students, can take part in. Synthesis requires both, positive and negative, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, take advantage of hearing debates, attending speeches. As students, we can gain insights and experiences into the future of this nation.