A Caravan to the Caucuses

January blizzards and below-freezing temperatures did not stop these students from witnessing democracy in action. A group of almost thirty students and faculty members from Benedictine College packed into vans and drove hundreds of miles to observe a crucial aspect of the 2024 Presidential Election — the Iowa Caucus.

Sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Liberty as a result of a generous donation, the group traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to witness firsthand the importance of civic participation. The Benedictine students said this experience of democracy in action was unforgettable. They attended the official watch party for Governor Ron DeSantis, even shaking hands with DeSantis and his wife, heard the Iowa governor speak live, and were interviewed by multiple national and international news outlets.

For John Welte and Elizabeth Houska, both seniors in the Constitutional Fellows program, the experience highlighted that the importance of the individual is still alive and well in American politics.

“The American political system is about the separation of powers and grassroots governments. The fact that the system starts with the individual person and their vote was clearly on display at the Iowa Caucuses,” Welte said. “It was incredible to see how hands-on the caucuses were — everyone from the community had a part to play in the process,” Houska shared.

For sophomore Jack Figge, the experience brought to life how the history of our nation continually directs our future. “The Iowa Caucus was a fantastic learning experience as it allowed us to see how all the democratic principles we learn about in class are still at work today in the American political system.” The roots of the caucuses date back to 18th century Boston, where the word “caucus”  itself originated; the Caucus was the name of a political club hosting public discussions and subsequent elections for public office. In the 21st century, the Iowa Caucuses continue to preserve the Founding Era conviction that public discourse is a necessity for a self-governed people.

Constitutional Fellows Luke Westerman (left) and John Welte (right) at the official Governor DeSantis watch party.

Thomas Doyle, a senior member of the Constitutional Fellows, was energized by the experience of camaraderie that the Iowa Caucus trip formed among his Raven peers, all connected by their deep interest in politics. “[It] was an excellent experience to get to know my fellow Constitutional Fellows as well as witness national politics up close.” Preparing for the trip together, discussing politics during long van rides, and deliberating about presidential candidates over shared meals, these young adults have found a distinctive program that feeds their desire to engage their peers and the wider culture in a conversation on the richness of our nation’s political heritage.

In a time characterized by increasingly apathetic sentiments toward the democratic process among young voters, these students have a brighter outlook than their counterparts. Being shaped by the founding principles of our nation through their formation with the Constitutional Fellows program, these students are defying the zeitgeist and working to renew political engagement in America, from small communities to the highest levels of government.

The mission of the Center for Constitutional Liberty, the sponsoring organization of the Fellows, is to renew and advance understanding of the founding principles of the United States of America so that our nation’s unique experiment in self-government will inspire, inform, and direct new generations of Americans. Through this hands-on experience of democracy in action, the Center’s student fellows have been energized to continue furthering the mission, looking to transform the culture in America by a return to the founding principles.

Sofia Leiva