Where did the Iowa I love go? A student's perspective

TJ Foley is a senior at Valley High School in West Des Moines. He will pursue a degree in international relations next fall. -promoted by desmoinesdem

To be quite honest, I thought I was done writing about politics in Iowa. As a high school senior, son of a teacher, and lifelong Iowan I am increasingly disillusioned with the direction of this state. This year the Iowa GOP and their special interest friends steamrolled over ordinary Iowans, gutting collective bargaining for public employees, eviscerating workers’ compensation protections, and slashing the wages of thousands of Iowan families, to name a few. Due to their actions, I no longer recognize my home of nearly 18 years. The Iowa I love values workers and teachers more than the narrow priorities of elite special interests like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Brothers. But the Iowa I love and the Iowa we all currently have are no longer the same.

The damage of these policies and others passed this year transcends their consequences on everyday Iowans. They present a covert assault on the most basic tenet of democracy–that our leaders report to the people. Polls show that a sizeable majority of Iowans support increasing the minimum wage, funding Planned Parenthood, and raising the sales tax to clean Iowa’s water. Demonstrators protested a bill making it more difficult to vote, organized in support of a minimum wage increase, and publicly supported other policies to help out everyday Iowans. Legislative forums even in the most conservative counties were packed with angry constituents seeking answers.

Perhaps in the boldest display of civic passion, thousands of people flooded the Capitol dome in February to protest the ALEC sponsored annihilation of collective bargaining rights for public employees and tens of thousands flooded the inboxes of their legislators with a simple message: don’t support the bargaining bill.

So what happened to the pleas of thousands of everyday citizens, many of whom rarely get involved with politics? They were soundly ignored without much of an acknowledgment of their existence, much less a reason for their rejection. The will of the majority was circumvented by a tiny yet well connected and wealthy minority seeking to impose their own agenda on the rest of us. This trend runs contrary to the most basic principle of our democracy, and to be quite honest it scares me.

I’m writing this article in school, surrounded by students who will soon set out on their own and begin to weave their personal story into the 240-year-old American tapestry. Consider the message this rejection of public consensus sends to the next generation. When such mass outcry goes ignored, how do we convince these newly minted voters to take part in our democracy? In a world choked by cynicism and distrust, why should these young people believe that their leaders will represent the interest of the general public when they consistently turn their backs on their friends and neighbors.

This affront to Iowa’s civic spirit cannot go unanswered, and come 2018 we have the most powerful weapon of all at our disposal: the ballot. People of all political stripes should be concerned about the actions taken by our public servants over the last few months. We deserve representatives that will listen and act on the agenda of the people. An old adage tells us that it is always darkest before the dawn. Although darkness settled on Iowa in January and continues to hover over us today, as citizens, we have the power to bring about the dawn of new leadership in 2018 by voting. I suggest we use it.

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