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Taking it to the street corner

Democrats in Lyon County got creative this election year, swapping an office for outdoor ‘pop-up’ events

Photo by Deb Gau With COVID-19 making it harder to have indoor events, members of the Lyon County DFL have been holding regular “pop-up” events at the corner of Whitney Street and East College Drive all summer. On Monday, a special pop-up was held by the state DFL party. Ian Oundo of the Minnesota DFL was behind the counter helping area residents looking to buy campaign signs.

MARSHALL — There were some big questions facing Lyon County Democrats this year. How do you have a campaign office when you can’t have big indoor gatherings?

The solution, at least for the summer, seemed clear: take it outside.

“We thought, ‘We’ll try it for July, and see where it goes,'” said Anita Gaul, chairperson of the Lyon County DFL. Instead of finding a brick-and-mortar office, the party set up an awning and held a “pop-up” event at the corner of Whitney Street and East College Drive in Marshall. More than two months later, they’re still at it, meeting once a week to distribute campaign signs and greet people.

Some weeks are busier than others, but Gaul said, “We average about 40 attendees for every pop-up.” Organizers said the events are a good way to help make the party visible in the community, and interact with voters.

“It’s encouraging to see how many people come by,” said Krystl Louwagie. The Marshall pop-up events have been held in her front yard. “I thought it would be a simple way to donate something pretty meaningful” to the party, she said.

Louwagie said she’s not always at the events, but judging from the car horns she hears and the number of people who come to her door asking how they can get campaign signs, people seem to be taking notice.

The idea of pop-up events is one that the state DFL has also been using recently. On Monday evening, the state DFL set up a pop-up shop in Marshall for campaign signs, buttons and other promotional materials. It was part of a tour around the state, said Scott Graham of the Minnesota DFL.

“It’s about getting out into Greater Minnesota,” Graham said. “The concerns of Greater Minnesota matter to the party, and we want people to know that.”

So far, the response has been “unbelievable,” Graham said. The pop-up tour started last week, and has made stops in cities ranging from Rochester and Mankato to Redwood Falls, Marshall and Willmar.

While Monday’s pop-up was a special event for Marshall, the Lyon County DFL has been holding pop-up office events regularly since the first week of July, Gaul said. Party organizers first looked at possible locations on city land, but that wasn’t an option. Renting out shelters at parks wasn’t ideal either, because they’re far back from the road and less visible, Gaul said. Each of the Lyon County pop-ups is held on private property with permission, she said.

Lyon County DFL members are in Marshall on Tuesdays, and they’ve also kept a regular schedule on Thursdays, bringing the pop-up event to the cities of Minneota, Tracy and Cottonwood once a month. They plan to keep it up at least through the end of September.

“We’re still thinking about October,” Gaul said. The weather and available daylight might help determine how long the outdoor events will keep going.

Gaul said there’s been a steady flow of people at the events — as well as both friendly waves and insults from cars passing by. But she said the positive horn honks and waves generally outnumber the middle fingers and revved truck engines.

People at the pop-up events said they felt it was important to get involved in this year’s elections.

“I really feel like people are more enthusiastic about Joe Biden,” Graham said. He said Democrats were also attracting people who didn’t normally vote before.

Local residents said they thought actively showing support for Democratic candidates would be crucial in the presidential election.

Marshall resident Eula Axe said she and her husband Charles were used to being active in politics. Interacting with people one-on-one can make a big difference, she said.

The Axes said they were also concerned about the election.

“For me it’s the way our government is being debased,” Charles Axe said. He said there seemed to be a lot less decency and courtesy in politics as well. “There has to be a concept of a loyal opposition,” he said, where people can disagree politically but still be considered patriots.

“It would be important even if I thought Biden was a shoo-in,” Louwagie said of this getting involved with this year’s presidential elections. But victory isn’t always a sure thing, she said — four years ago, she didn’t think Trump would be elected president. “I know nothing is guaranteed.”

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