The Iowa State Fair is an important political stop on the presidential campaign trail. This year AIM advocates from Iowa and beyond traveled to the fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa to represent everyone impacted by Alzheimer's and dementia, and to challenge candidates running for president for their plan to address the growing crisis. We talked with Kate Klosterman on her experience at the Iowa State Fair and why she is working to end Alzheimer's.
Why are you an Alzheimer's advocate?
I got involved with the Alzheimer's Association because of my maternal grandparents. My great-grandma died just shy of her 100th birthday due to complications of dementia. My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when I was 19 years old after showing signs of the disease for a few years and I was one of her caregivers. She lived with her diagnosis for two years. My grandpa was diagnosed in 2012, a year after she passed. He is still living with the disease. I have seen what this disease can do to not only those living with it but their families. We've also had issues with some of the care facilities my grandpa has lived in. Advocating has been a good way for me to feel like I am doing something about it, even if he doesn't live to see any of the benefits from changes made due to my advocacy. I don't want other families to have to go through the same things we have been through.
You and your mom attended the Iowa State Fair this year, what was that like? Had you been to the Fair before?
We had not been to the Iowa State Fair before. Living in Minnesota though, I have been to our state fair many times. The Iowa State Fair is very similar to the Minnesota State Fair, aside from the politics. The Soapbox — where candidates make their pitch for why they should be our next leader and take questions from the audience — was interesting. I understand why candidates target Iowa for campaigning, but I think it would be cool if other fairs offered the same opportunity to candidates. After telling people about my experience in Iowa, many mentioned they wished we did something like that in Minnesota.
Which candidates did you speak with?
My mom and I were able to talk to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Governor Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.). We also briefly met with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at her townhall in Minnesota about a week after the Iowa State Fair.
Why did you volunteer your time and travel to Iowa?
One of our friends, Kanada Yazbek, volunteered with AIM during the 2015 Iowa State Fair during the last presidential election, and she said it was a lot of fun. My mom and I had both hoped to attend this year and so we jumped at the chance.
Why is it important that candidates running for office address Alzheimer's?
For me personally, it's comforting to know that those running for office have a plan to address Alzheimer's. If they don't, it's an opportunity for AIM to meet with them, better educate them about Alzheimer's, and encourage them to come up with a plan to tackle the disease. Having candidates publicly address the issue also leaves me more hopeful that they will actually take action when/if they take office. On top of all of that, it just generally brings awareness to the disease as there are typically large crowds at these events that are hearing us ask the question, and seeing us in our purple #Road2ENDALZ gear.
In addition to being famous for the politics, it's said you can't get out of the Fair without eating something on a stick. Did you indulge in any of the famous food or take in any of the non-political attractions?
We didn't do a ton of exploring because we were exhausted by the end of the day! We had planned on eating more at the State Fair, but we had been camping while we were down there, and it was so hot that we just wanted to eat somewhere with air conditioning. Sunday we spent part of the morning wandering around the fair, but it was raining outside, so it limited some of our fun time. I did enjoy looking at their butter sculptures — they are much larger than the Princess Kay of the Milky Way sculpture that we have at the Minnesota State Fair. I also really enjoyed looking at the big garden. My mom's aunt and cousins also live near Des Moines, so we were able to visit with them while we were down there.
What advice do you have for other advocates who are thinking about but haven't yet become involved with AIM's election efforts?
It was really fun and interesting to interact with the candidates. Not only does it help the cause, but it's useful because you may have the opportunity to hear from these candidates about other topics that are important to you. I definitely feel like I'm more informed about the candidates now than I was before getting involved with AIM's election efforts. It's also fairly easy for us to have the chance to interact with candidates as we have a bipartisan question. At a lot of these events, they're taking a lot of questions about heated topics, so we are a friendly face in their crowd. They want to make sure they get to us. I was walking along in Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) crowd at the fair, trying to find a moment to speak with her. I asked one of her staffers if I could have a moment to ask her a question. They didn't have time to do it right then, but she said if I could stick with them, she would absolutely get me in because she saw my #ENDALZ gear.
#Road2ENDALZ advocates with Sen. Bennett
To learn more about AIMs 2020 activities and to get involved follow us on Twitter at @alzImpact and view our 2020 site at alzimpact.org/2020.