Iowa caucus with a cause

During the last week of January, a group of dedicated PIH Engage members from seven midwest teams led a charge through the pre-caucus events in Iowa. Over the course of six jam-packed days of training, building campaign skills, and birddogging presidential candidates at 21 different events, 26 advocates were able to get to all of the major candidates for president! Capitalizing on the crucial period of time leading up to the Iowa caucuses, PIH Engagers were able to make their voices and concerns heard in Iowa, the first state to cast a vote for the presidential nominee. In town halls and handshake lines, they fought their way to the front and urged presidential candidates to commit to investing in global health systems.

Successfully engaged candidates include Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. Our teams asked these candidates if they would commit to increasing the number of trained health professionals and Community Health Workers in poor countries around the world.  In response, Trump, Rubio, and Christie were generally in support of global health initiatives, although the latter two wanted some more information on costs before verbally committing. Bush was supportive of his brother's legacy to fight HIV/AIDS but was unwilling to make commitments on the campaign trail, while Clinton and Sanders were very supportive of our goals. The only candidate in opposition to investing in health systems was Senator Cruz, who believed taxpayer money was better spent elsewhere.

Behind the asks were PIH Engage members from the following teams: Chicago Young Professionals, Madison Young Professionals, University of Wisconsin - Madison Undergraduates, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Undergraduates, Duluth, MN (medical students), University of Missouri - Kansas City, and Kansas University Medical Center. Check out the slideshow at the bottom of this post (click through on mobile) for more pictures from our trip. 

Colin McWatters from the Madison Young Professionals team was one of the PIH Engagers who met several presidential candidates during this weekend. Colin recounts his part in this incredible birddogging experience, specifically his ask for Hillary Clinton, below.


Seven presidential candidates, over 250 likes on my profile picture, and a couple hundred confused and curious Facebook friends—it’s time to debrief.

The weekend of the Iowa caucuses, young professionals and students of seven Partners in Health Engage teams from five cities in four states came together in the middle of Iowa in the name of global health advocacy.

Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, and Ted Cruz were the lucky ducks getting a visit from me.

After driving two hours, waiting in the cold, strategically picking a seat to ensure a handshake, and another hour waiting inside, Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, an astronaut, and a congresswoman kicked off the rally.

As things began to wind down, everyone rushed the velvet barrier. The crowd parted, and I saw my opportunity. Hillary Clinton's hand met mine.

And I froze.

"Oh my gosh you're Hillary Clinton," my brain screamed.

Hillary smiled as I recovered consciousness.

"Sorry. I'm really passionate about global health."

With the rest of the PIH Engage team, we were meeting presidential candidates to 1) understand where candidates stand on global health, and 2) encourage candidates to both learn more about how the U.S. can help increase support for and strengthen global health systems in impoverished countries. Personally, I’m extremely passionate about eliminating preventable disease and found the weekend a great opportunity to understand how I can best contribute to the movement for global health equity.

“Can you support increasing the number of health workers trained by the U.S. to 300,000 and mobilize 500,000 community health workers by 2020?” I asked Hillary.

Hillary: "I think that sounds like a great idea!"

Me: “Are you in support?”

Hillary: "Yes. Yes I am."

I had repeated that question for hours in my head. And I got it out. Any worry I previously had about asking a potential U.S. president about global health faded away.

For those of us in the Midwest, we sometimes feel disconnected from the excitement and adventure of politics. But during the Iowa caucuses, all eyes were on us. 

This is just the beginning. The U.S. presidential campaign season has officially started, and we planted a lot of seeds. Each of the major presidential candidates is aware of a growing network of students, young professionals, and community members passionate about sustainable health systems for the global population and the team here in Madison, WI is excited for what comes next!

The efforts of our teams were noticed by some of the local media. The Ames Tribune reported on one of the Ted Cruz events attended by PIH Engage members: 

“Maggie Olson, Jake Roble, Kyle Beuoy and Sheena Wood hoped to ask Cruz about what he would do to prevent diseases and improve health systems in both the U.S. and around the world. 'We know we could’ve saved a lot of money around the Ebola epidemic if we’d really invested beforehand in building health systems in those countries,' Wood said. 'He talked earlier this weekend about the need to prevent epidemics and invest in preventing diseases. He talked about how important America’s security is, but he hasn’t really committed or said how he’s going to do that.'”

Events like these allow for a really cool and unique opportunity to engage with some of the biggest decision makers of our time. As global health advocates, we have the opportunity to see our next president lead in global health, but only if we take the effort to go out, ask questions, and hold our decision makers accountable. The Iowa trip was a great step on that path, but now we have to keep up pressure! Talk to your coach about upcoming opportunities to learn how to birddog and use this tactic in your area! 

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