There might be some controversy regarding the outcome of the Iowa Caucus, but for the Monomoy Regional High School students that made the trip to see U.S. politics in action, it was an experience they won't soon forget.
For the second time since the school's opening, history teacher John Dickson took 20 students from the sandy shores of Cape Cod to the snowy plains of Iowa where they had numerous opportunities to watch the 2020 presidential campaign unfold.
Dickson took a group of students to the caucus in 2016. The 2020 caucus trip came about when Monomoy's respective Young Democrat and Republican clubs banded together to form the Political Action Club, which meets regularly to discuss political issues ranging from gun control to universal healthcare.
“It was in that group that the idea of going to the caucuses came up,” he said.
Senior Holly Evans has had an interest in politics for some time, which, along with her supportive and political family, inspired her to take part in the trip. The fact that she'll be able to vote in the upcoming election was also a major factor.
“A lot of us are turning 18 before the general election, so it's a good idea for us to get a sense of who we're aligned with,” Evans said. “Nothing compares to actually going out and meeting these people. Some candidates we actually got to have real conversations with.”
Evans said she and her group were able to talk with candidates Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld. Evans said that though certain candidates appeal to her, she went on the trip eager to learn about the individuals running for the nation's highest office.
Prior to the caucus there were candidates Evans thought she didn't like, and others that she did. After hearing them speak or having the chance to talk personally with them, her opinions changed, drastically in some cases.
“My parents love Elizabeth Warren, but my views don't always align with my parents,” Evans said. “I didn't really go in just thinking about Elizabeth Warren. I wanted to keep an open mind with everything.”
Evans did say that hearing Warren speak live was much different than hearing her on television, and that Walsh and Andrew Yang had high energy.
“Joe Walsh was really energetic,” she said. “Probably one of the most energetic, and Andrew Yang's energy was absolutely insane. It helped so much being able to see what goes on behind the scenes. I've watched videos of it, but never really thought that much about it until I was there.”
Senior Sage Barnes turned 18 in September and is already registered to vote. She felt attending the caucus would help her better understand the candidate of her choice, and it did.
“I did come into it with a candidate in mind, and I will say I left still intending to vote for them,” she said, adding that others did offer new insights nonetheless.
For Barnes, getting an inside perspective of the Iowa Caucus culture was a singular experience.
“It was incredible,” she said. “It was nothing like anything else I'd ever experienced before. Seeing the excitement and energy at each one of the rallies was spectacular. I think really getting to look inside the process by being a part of it was the most eye-opening thing I could have done.”
For Ali Barrett, also a senior, it was the divisive political climate that motivated her to go on the trip.
“With such a tense climate around impeachment and the tension Donald Trump has created, it's a really interesting time to be in politics,” she said. “It's really important that young people are out there.”
Barrett said that seeing candidates in person was a rewarding aspect of the trip.
“I was definitely surprised by a lot of the candidates,” she said. “When you see them on TV you get a pretty good idea about them, but in person it's much better. I'm not a big fan of Elizabeth Warren, but after seeing her in person, she's a very good public speaker. Joe Walsh had so much energy and was so vivacious and lively compared to some of the other politicians I've seen.”
Dubbing the trip “kind of a whirlwind,” Barrett said she was struck by the dedication of the supporters of each candidate, such as Andrew Yang's “Yang Gang.”
“It was interesting to see the ones that would travel for weeks just to volunteer at the candidates' rallies,” she said. “You could see what kind of people they actually attracted.”
For Dickson, not only was it about offering his students the chance to see history being made, but to also give them a chance to be part of it.
“I think it was really interesting from them to hear from the candidates directly,” he said. “I think when you do that the sense of division is less.”
Dickson said that everyone seemed surprised by both Joe Walsh and Andrew Yang.
“Joe Walsh wasn't what I expected he would be,” Dickson said. “His positions weren't that different (from mine). Obviously he's a long shot and doesn't have to mince his words, but came across with some very thoughtful positions. A number of candidates did that.”
Dickson feels the trip resonated with his students.
“I think it was a great educational experience for the kids, and it was great for us, too, as chaperones,” he said. “I think it does restore hope that this is a moment in time that may be messy, but democracy is messy. We will get through this and come to some consensus about who the president will be, and go from there.”
Dickson was especially impressed with the questions his students asked various candidates. Senior Jaymie Buffington asked which historical figure Warren admired most, receiving a thoughtful answer about sociologist and workers-rights activist Frances Perkins.
“At the Walsh event he spent an hour with us and most of it he was taking questions,” Dickson said. “I think 10 or more of our group asked questions. It was such a gift to have an hour with him, getting to ask questions, and getting thoughtful responses.”
Dickson emphasized that the trip was non-partisan. Though students did have candidates they were interested in, the aim was to have them see as much of each of the caucus facets as possible, regardless of party.
“This type of trip isn't for everyone,” he said. “Not everyone wants to drive around Iowa in February listening to politicians. I think the students are taking away a lot from the experience. A couple are big Pete fans. I'm certainly not going to tell them they shouldn't be. They went in and listened and I think are still Pete fans, but it gives them greater respect for all the candidates, not just the one that is their preference. It's a bipartisan group and we went to see candidates of both parties.”
“I'm really glad I ended up going,” said Evans. “It's probably one of the coolest things I've ever done.”