Iowa's precinct caucuses fell on Monday this year, angering some activists because the meetings will be held on a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
"Would they do this if it were held on some other ethnic holiday?" said Lawrence Williams, professor of African studies at Luther College in Decorah. "I'm sure someone would complain if they were being held on the day of Nordic Fest."
Williams and others have taken their complaints to the state's Democratic and Republican Parties, and are seeking changes in party bylaws to ban holding the caucuses on any federal holiday.
Their draft resolution says such scheduling "is perceived as racially, culturally or historically insensitive because such scheduling conflicts both with individuals and institutions that have long-standing citizen commitments to holiday services and commemorations."
Sheila Radford-Hill, another Luther College faculty member, said activists in Decorah have been holding King celebrations since 1990, drawing prominent speakers ranging from Julian Bond to Benjamin Hooks.
This year, the community was sponsoring a lecture by Carolyn McKinstry, of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. "People shouldn't have to choose," said Radford-Hill. "We should be able to do both."
It isn't just a local issue, she said. "Frankly there are other cities around the state which have had long-standing commemorations of Dr. King's legacy," Radford-Hill said.
Officials of both parties concede there's a conflict, but point to the enormous difficulties in scheduling the caucuses.
By tradition, Republicans and Democrats have agreed to hold caucuses on the same night, and there's always controversy over when they are held.
Erin Seidler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party, said Democrats sought out leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and got their approval to hold the caucuses on the King holiday.
"Our belief is that Iowa is celebrating the spirit of grassroots politics and this is a wonderful way of celebrating Martin Luther King's legacy," Seidler said.
Sarah Sauber, a Republican Party spokeswoman, agreed. "I think it's a good way to honor Dr. King through political participation," Sauber said.