A Picnic for the People: A Model for the Party

by Amanda Malaski

The Boone County Democrats hosted a Picnic for the People on Saturday, June 3rd at McHose Park in Boone as a counterpoint to Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride, also in Boone.  Apart from being a lot of fun, I think the event’s format could serve as a fantastic template for other inclusive, low cost party events going forward.

In contrast to the Roast and Ride, which required $20 pre-purchased tickets, the Picnic for the People had a $10 suggested donation for adults and $5 for children.  I was never asked for money when signing in, there was just a free will cash jar on the table.

That $10 suggested donation gave attendees the chance to have one-on-one conversations with nearly every candidate for governor as well as Senator Hogg and IDP Chair Derek Eaton.  I was personally able to speak with Mike Matson and saw all of the other candidates out mingling and speaking with attendees.

In addition to candidates and officials, many organizations were present to provide educational outreach to both attendees and candidates including Iowans for Public Education and Bailing Out Benji, an anti-puppy mill advocacy group.

Name tags were provided at sign-in, which made it easy to strike up conversations and seek out fellow activists known only through online organizing.

The location, McHose Park, made for a very casual, relaxed event.  A nearby playground and plenty of space to run around also made it extremely family friendly.  Gubernatorial candidate Todd Pritchard even made a joke about his wife not having to watch their kids as she watched his speech.  Events that don’t require arranging separate childcare is a great way to reduce barriers to participation for single and low-income parents.

When it came time for speeches, each candidate was treated equally.  They were given five minutes each, and they were timed by one of the event’s organizers and held to those five minutes.  Local candidates were also given time to address the crowd.  Interestingly, out of district and Independent candidates were even given a voice, as both Brent Roske, Independent gubernatorial candidate, and Theresa Greenfield, a potential 3rd district House candidate, both addressed the crowd.

I spoke with April Burch, one of the event’s organizers, about what inspired the event and any tips she has for other county parties that may want to plan similar events.

PVI:  How did the idea for this event develop?

April: The Boone County Central Committee had been toying with the idea of hosting an alternative event to the Roast and Ride for a while.  Pam Nystrom and Linda Vilmain originally brought up the idea for the group to discuss, we voted on it in January and almost immediately began planning and coordinating with State Senator Rob Hogg.

PVI:  Do you have a rough estimate that you can share of the labor hours and cost of putting the picnic together?

April:  10-12 hours of advanced planning meetings, 6-8 hours of committee meetings/individual advanced work per committee (Food, Outreach, Location, Decorations, & Speaker engagement were the committees). 34-44 hours advanced planning work plus a team of 15 onsite who worked from about 8am-4pm the day of the event.

Approximately $1500 in total expenses. (We already had a lot of serving and decorations on hand from other events.  We have banners created by a Central Committee and bought by the CC last year, which we use at most of our events.  They are around $200 each and make excellent backdrops.  They were a great long-term investment for our group) All our marketing was social media and email sharing to keep our expenses to a minimum.

PVI:  Is there anything you would want to do different next time?

April:  I personally wish I would have had a database of Iowa civic groups to work with from the start instead of trying to piece together a list of which groups to invite and how to contact them from scratch.  In reaching out to civic groups – stress that the event is a community event and make it so.  Invite everyone.  Avoid making it a “Dems only” event.  Perhaps find a community group that is willing to co-sponsor the event.

My goal is to get to the point where we are organized enough to create “zero waste” events with “bring your own table service” as the standard for Dem dining.  

PVI:  Any advice for other county parties wishing to hold this type of event?

April:  I’d say the best thing that you can do for any event is to build good committees that meet as an individual committee one month before the event.  Recruit at least 2-3 individuals who aren’t serving on any other committees to be on each committee. Also, coordinate with as many friendly local elected officials as possible, different and unique networks can be reached by connecting personally to them.


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