Keep Iowa first

Athena Gilbraith is a Black woman and mother of four in eastern Iowa. She works in early education, previously volunteered for the Kamala Harris campaign, and is currently a precinct captain for the Elizabeth Warren campaign. -promoted by Laura Belin

In light of recent and continual pitches to let go of Iowa’s first in the nation status, there is yet a pitch with a better alternative.

Of course, there are pros and cons to Iowa’s premiere position, as there are for a caucus versus a primary. Both factors are indicative of a flawed system, but the arguments against our being principal in the role of the nation’s primary season are a basic and trivial attempt to ameliorate the Democratic Nomination Process.

Iowa is representative of the rest of the country. It is we the people who are in denial. Yes, our state has more white people than others, but this characteristic is also signified within the country’s sociopolitical structure. The responsibility of continually putting white people in charge is an American thing, not just an Iowa thing. And with the upholding of colonialism, denial and circumventing accountability.

The Iowa caucuses have become a scapegoat for not dealing with our nation’s cultural deficiency. It is so hard to admit we are still too close to segregation than not, that we resist opportunity to change. The United States power structure is nearly identical to Iowa:

-Congress: 88 percent white.
-The House Freedom Caucus: 98 percent white.
-96 percent of all United States governors are white.
-Top military advisers: 100 percent white.
-President, vice president, and secretary of state: 100 percent white.
-The current cabinet: 92 percent white
-People who decide which TV shows we see: 93 percent white
-People who decide which books we read: 90 percent white
-Media assignment editors/People who control the news: 85 percent white
-People who decide which music is produced: 95 percent white
-Directors of the 100 top-grossing films of all time, worldwide: 95 percent white
-Teachers: 85 percent white
-Full-time college professors: 88 percent white
-Owners of men’s professional football teams: 97 percent white

(sources: US Department of Education; Office of Planning, evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Study Service, United States Census, ”White Fragility, ” Robin Diangelo; ”The Faces of American Power, Nearly as White as the Oscar Nominees,” NY Times, February 2016.)

As a country, trying to advance a progressive agenda year after year without doing the work is maniacal. Realigning Iowa’s place setting solves absolutely nothing. Who exactly should be first instead? There is not a single state in our union that is more representative of this country. The argument is moot.

Changing the course of the primary campaign is what caucusing and primaries are for. Iowa does not hold a special power that knocks candidates down before they even start. We can’t take that much credit.

This country needs to accept her total power. The nation has every bit of a part to play at the beginning of this season as we do in Iowa. Answer the phone for polls. Vote down ballot. Call your representatives. Hold your media accountable. Speak out against untruths. Get involved in your states’ Democratic Party. If we want the presidential nominating contest to reflect diversity, then the country as a whole needs to get to work. Elect Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous Peoples. Elect women. Elect gay and transgender people.

Despite popular belief, Iowa does not have a magic spell that makes candidates viable. We have not acquired lock and key ownership of candidate fundraising. What we do have, is an incredible work ethic.  Where was the rest of the nation when our candidates of color were campaigning long before debates and debilitating polls? Where was that Starbucks money? The little bit here and there people state they donate because they want to hear more from a Black, female candidate? Where is this ”rest of the country” representation?

Additionally, who actually runs for the presidency is not an Iowa issue either. No- this has everything to do with the DNC, and reconciliation of candidates. It is understandable that Iowa is a barometer for making decisions, but if choosing not to run because of Iowa as the standard to which to run a campaign, then that candidate is weak and she really should try for something closer to home.

There are no other citizens in any other state who work as hard as Iowans to pull off a fair and just caucus. Reserving accessibility services to caucus is disagreeable, but it is something the Iowa Democratic Party offers. It is not factual as many media articles have stated, that those with disabilities cannot caucus. Politically-engaged Iowans get tired after a year or more helping to build our state party and the national party. Caucusing is not a job we take lightly. Many of us volunteer for a campaign or two, or three. We do this with our full-time jobs, our kids, and our weather.

We are representative of the country as a whole, and we hold candidates accountable. We ask them about farming and tariffs and we ask them about gun violence and healthcare. We ask them about criminal justice reform, and we ask them if Black Lives Matter.

Iowa isn’t quite as stereotypical as we seem. We have done this since 1972 and we will continue to embrace our first in the nation status as we join the rest of the United States to try and form a more perfect Union.

Top photo of Athena Gilbraith provided by the author and published with permission.

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  • One small alternative view

    There is one way in which Iowa is not typical of the rest of the nation.  No other state is so politically dominated by industrial agriculture, and that domination has consequences for the presidential race.

    As one example, I, like many other Iowans, received glossy caucus mailers from the biofuels industry.   One mailer announced itself as “A VOTER GUIDE ON THE ISSUES THAT MATTER MOST TO IOWA.”  It turns out that “the issues that matter most to Iowa” are all about, surprise, biofuels.  And a big chart shows that almost all the Democratic POTUS candidates are now officially toeing the line on all six issues listed as important to the biofuels industry.  Environmental issues connected directly with industrial ag, like the Gulf dead zone, are absent from that list.  

    For that and other reasons, I and some other Iowa Democrats are very ready to let other states at least take occasional turns at being first.