I found myself walking into Olmsted Center at Drake University this morning to attend something called the Renewal Awards. A national competition put together by Atlantic Media and Allstate, to honor people who are making positive change in their communities.
Only I didn’t know that at the time. All that I knew was I’d received a ton of emails/pitches to attend this event in the past few weeks and a few friends of mine were slated to be on the panel discussing such change here in Des Moines, so why not go?
As we waited in the Olmsted lobby, I asked some of the other folks in the room if they knew what was in store this morning—no one did but we were all in agreement that it seemed important because of the national media (and unusual amount of direct promotion for it).
It was at that point it hit me: the week leading up to the Iowa Caucuses is basically a less coordinated, politics-themed SXSW—just without the whole conference thing.
I’ve been to Austin for SXSW Interactive five times and one of the story lines about that festival is always that there is so many ancillary events and activities (each with its own barrage of inbox-filling promotion) that you don’t even need a badge to have fun (for the record, I’ve bought the badge three times and gone without twice).
That idea—all the activities going on that aren’t the festival itself—is what it feels like in Des Moines right now. The Renewal Awards being one such activity which was obviously scheduled here today to harness some of the Caucus attention.
Its more than just ancillary activity though. Satellite news trucks are everywhere, a national morning news show keeps taking over a coffee shop and there a lot of posts circulating the internet telling you “what to do while in Des Moines”.
Random celebrities are showing up, too. Jamie Lee Curtis was at my favorite screen print shop yesterday, Tim Meadows filmed some sort of skit with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voiced/puppeteered by Robert Smigel) at the Iowa State-KU game last night and a lot of people were excited to meet the fictional President from Scandal. Senator Cory Booker threw a house party and premium ice cream magnates Ben & Jerry came into town this morning to debut a new Bernie campaign-themed flavor. 
We even have our own version of Hilton Austin Downtown, the place at SXSW to casually run into industry-types, the Des Moines Downtown Marriott (the unofficial embassy for the national press who converge on Iowa to cover the whole affair).
More examples of ancillary events and random celebrities since I first wrote this post.
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Kal Penn and Justin Long at an event at Drake last night:
 Similar random celebrities that I’ve run into in Austin at SXSW: Jake Johnson from Fox’s “New Girl” at a party promoting Canada (he’s not Canadian … and neither am I), Justine Bateman at a panel presentation discussing the “Old Spice Guy” (Isiah Mustafa) ad campaign, John Hodgman while waiting for a hotel elevator, John Oliver and Chris Hardwick after a live taping of The Nerdist podcast, etc.
 Or so I've read, I’ve never been to the Marriott during Caucus Week
Photo Credit: Phil Roeder on Flickr