A group of about 100 central Iowa activists packed into a bar in Beaverdale last night to take in the latest GOP free-for-all on TV. The crowd was mostly Democrats (invited by the Make It Work organization), watching a Republican debate, but they still hoped to hear the candidates go on record on a number of topics like equal pay and paid family medical leave. There wasn’t much to listen to.
Throughout the two hour debate topics regarding working families were rarely asked or referenced. To be fair, part of that was the fault of CNBC, which was roundly criticized by practically everyone for running a shoddy debate. Many of the questions were aimed at getting the debaters into fights with one another, or personal, head-on criticisms that put candidates on the defensive, and which had nothing to do with real policy.
Still, the Republicans did not find it fit to squeeze in talking points on issues like children’s healthcare (and public education was almost completely missing from the entire debate).
The crowd at the Beaverdale bar went silent to listen as Ted Cruz was asked about wages and women. He recounted the many single mothers that were a part of his family in an effort to relate, and then blamed government control and regulation as the culprit for stagnant wages, suggesting big government only benefits the wealthy. He didn’t mention any types of programs that might help reduce the wage gap. It wasn’t the answer the Des Moines group was looking for.
Fiorina was asked the question as well next, but also offered no specific policy solutions in her response.
In the earlier undercard debate, Bobby Jindal was asked about paid family medical leave, with the moderators mentioning new House Speaker Paul Ryan’s insistence on getting enough family time as part of his deal. Jindal responded that he’s in favor of companies offering it, but wouldn’t take any action in the government to either require or encourage it.
“I’m tired of these candidates talking about family values, I want to hear about how they value families,” State Representative Abby Finkenauer told the crowd during one of the commercial breaks.
Finkenauer is the director of Make It Work’s Iowa operation, which has seen a quick ramp-up in activities in the few months it’s been on the ground. The watch party last night was packed with all the progressive activists you want to see for an issue group, along with some new folks the organization has activated.
The Make It Work group has been focusing on four main issues to push in the Iowa Caucus: paid family medical leave, affordable child care, minimum wage and equal pay.
To highlight the wage gap, the group brought their lemonade stand to the party last night. Men paid $1 for a vodka lemonade, while women only needed 77 cents, a reflection on what they can afford with their paychecks given the average pay disparity.
During the commercial breaks at the debate, organizers for Make It Work talked about their organizing efforts. The group has focused on Polk County so far (moving out into other areas soon), and has knocked 12,282 doors, had 5,079 conversations, found 3,405 supporters and got 553 people to share their stories.
Finding local people’s stories about their struggles in today’s economy has been particularly important for the organization. One Make It Work organizer recalled a woman who told him about how she’s a single mother who works at a restaurant, and worked five days in a row with a fever because there’s no sick leave because she was worried about losing the job that provides for her child.
Make It Work also showed off some of their videos of them asking presidential candidates at the State Fair and elsewhere about their main issues.
“Did anyone hear about working women?” a Make It Work organizer asked during a later commercial break.
“No!” the crowd replied in unison.
But Iowans and presidential candidates will likely hear more and more about working women, minimum wage and paid family medical leave as the Make It Work organization continues to organize through the caucus.
by Pat Rynard