01/22/2014 04:41 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2014

The Iowa Caucuses in the Snow

The Iowa Caucuses were held Tuesday night. No national cameras or crowds, just a dark night, snow and below-zero wind chills. (We had finished shoveling out at noon as the storm headed East). Our caucus met at the E.B. Lyons Interpretive and Nature Center, just south of Dubuque, a beautiful place... in the summer in the daylight!

But it was Iowa Caucus night, so we needed to go! We started out early, knowing the roads would be safe, but snow covered after we crossed Highway 151. Arriving 15 minutes early, the parking lot was almost full. We walked up the trail, guided by the warmly lit building ahead. People were already surrounding tables, signing sheets that would place candidates' names before the electorate, first the primary in June and then the general election in November. Our U.S. Representative would be running for an open Senate seat and our state Representative would be running for that U.S. Congressional seat. And there would be a governor's race this year. More sheets for state offices. The atmosphere was calm, congenial. We knew we were just one small caucus, but that voices matter, everywhere. Governing the people begins here.

Right at 7:00, the leader in the front suddenly said, "If you vote at the Methodist Church, go to this corner of room. If you vote at the firehouse, go over there. If you vote at Theisens [that was us] go to the center back," and so on.

Five precincts met that night at our Caucus site, from the city of Dubuque, and those from Dubuque Country, just to the south: Key West, Swiss Valley. Because city and country precincts were in two different state legislative districts, we would sign petitions for Iowa house and senate candidates at our respective tables. All was well prepared, orderly and organized.

Before we moved to our tables, a candidate for the Iowa House stood to introduce herself. It was her first time running for office. A 25-year-old woman, who had been working since her youth as a volunteer, legislative aide and congressional page, quoted her father: "Where there's work to be done you say, 'Yes.'"

Denise led our Precinct 2 group. The first task was to elect a permanent chair. Denise was elected. Delegates and alternates to the county convention which would be at Northeast Iowa Community College were selected. Almost all said, "Yes." At first I thought the meeting might be perfunctory. The head of the caucus had said, "When you finish what you need to do, you can go." People may have wanted to. After all, it was cold! This day the government buildings in Washington D.C. were shut down because of the snow. Gov. Christi's inaugural party was cancelled.

But then something happened. The groups at the table started talking. There were 10 of us -- well, 13 counting the three grade-school girls one father brought along to listen and learn. I know, I know, people think there is little connection between what is said at caucus level and what actually moves through country, district, state and finally onto the national party platform. But this snowy night we started here.

"Anyone have any resolutions to send along to the platform committee when they meet?" Denise asked.

One man raised an issue, with wording ready to fill out the required form. That prompted the woman beside him, "We need to urge support for the Affordable Care Act. I'm in the insurance business and I see the need for people with pre-existing conditions and insurance policies that don't meet their needs."

An elementary school teacher across the table, the father who had brought his daughters, spoke up about standardized testing and the anxiety of teaching to the test. Another woman spoke about economic inequality and support for public schools so that children of all social economic backgrounds have access to quality education.

Issues and ideas were flowing. We ran out of white resolution forms. The chair said that was all right. (I shared sheets of my yellow note pad). A man said he was concerned about Citizens United and anonymous funds pouring into our state with the open U.S. Representative and Senate seats. Another mentioned that gun violence has grown, not lessened, with a school shooting almost every day now -- New Mexico, Philadelphia and this day at Purdue University -- so regularly "it soon won't make the news anymore."

Another added, "We need stronger words than 'concern.'"

People talked, helping each other with wording. We voted. Eight resolutions came from our group of 10, by consensus.

As we drove home, had anything changed? It was still bitterly cold. We could hardly see the entrance to our driveway between six-foot piles of snow. More snow and cold on the way. But things were different. Participatory democracy!