Staff Columnist

How do you caucus with a baby?

Willow Chestnut, 2, of Cedar Rapids holds hands with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren for a momen
Willow Chestnut, 2, of Cedar Rapids holds hands with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren for a moment after she speaks during a town hall at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Krista Sigel wants to caucus, but with a baby who is almost a year old, she doesn’t know how to make that happen. I met Sigel at an Elizabeth Warren event in Cedar Rapids on January 26, with just a week until the caucuses, the rally was packed with families. She has her baby on her hip and she bounces him while she stands, straining to listen to the speeches. Many parents brought small children and were shushing, chasing, and trying to keep them from running out the door. Kaitlin Byers stood in the crowd with her toddler who had fallen asleep on her shoulder. Her father, who was at a brewery down the block, showed up to take the baby away, so she could keep listening. Not everyone is so lucky.

American mothers are eight times more likely than fathers to be the primary caretakers for their children—managing their schedules, taking time off when they are sick, monitoring homework and filling in childcare gaps. And 75 percent of mothers with children under age 6 work full time. While fathers are stepping up some, the childcare gap is still wide, with women making up the difference. It’s an exhausting reality made all the more complicated for women in Iowa who want to caucus. In 2020, 100 years after the 19th Amendment was passed, Iowa’s mothers are still effectively disenfranchised from caucusing.

Ana Escalante McClain wants to caucus, but bedtime for baby Aldo, who is 18 months, is 7:30pm and the caucuses start at 7. McClain is a small business owner and getting her baby to bed on time is important if she wants to sleep. She does have family in town, but her family is also caucusing. The solution she’s settled on for now is hiring a friend who can’t caucus because she’s an immigrant here on a green card. But it’s an expense not everyone can afford. Claire Davis plans to strap her baby into the carrier, bring a tablet for the four-year-old and get to caucusing. A lot of moms are bootstrapping it, bringing their kids with snacks, toys, games, and iPads and hoping for the best.

In 2020, 100 years after the 19th Amendment was passed, Iowa’s mothers are still effectively disenfranchised from caucusing.

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But not every mom feels equipped to do that. Many are tired from working all day and need their kids to get to bed on time. Some are sending their partners instead. So many women, privately told me they want to caucus but they just can’t make it work. They don’t have supportive partners or the money for a babysitter. Some have babysitters, but their sitters want to caucus. So, they are staying home.

There are other issues too. A caucus is not a private vote. Women in politically divided marriages or in abusive situations may not feel safe casting a vote that will make their lives harder at home.

Amber Mohr is a precinct chair in Avoca, she told me, “My co-chair and I are both mothers and we’ve been able to set up child care at two of our precincts. I’ll be having a sitter at home, however, because my site doesn’t have room, fortunate our regular sitter doesn’t plan to caucus. Last time I imported grandparents from Nebraska”

Some caucus sites, like Mohr’s, do have childcare, but they are not officially sanctioned by the Iowa Democratic Party. Mohr hired high school students and will be paying for them from the county coffers and asking for a donation from parents at $10 per child. But it’s an imperfect and uneven solution to the complicated reality of participating in caucuses with children.

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Since Hilary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, women flipped the tables on the political landscape. In 2018, women ran in record numbers and won a historic number of House and Senate seats. But we still have so far to go. The US ranks 75th out of 193 countries for electing women to positions of political power. And the reason is an ineffective democracy that works at every level to disenfranchise voters who are parents, people of color, disabled, or felons. This silencing of women begins, like our presidential nominating process, in Iowa.

lyz.lenz@thegazette.com; 319-368-8513

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