Iowa is better than this. At least it should be!

Rabbi Henry Jay Karp explains the concept behind One Human Family QCA and a statewide event the group is organizing on February 16.

As a sociology major in college, I was first introduced to the term “Herrenvolk democracy.” According to Wikipedia, a Herrenvolk democracy “is a system of government in which only the majority ethnic group participates in government, while minority groups are disenfranchised.”

The German term Herrenvolk, meaning “master race,” was used in 19th-century discourse that justified colonialism with the supposed racial superiority of Europeans. If you are a Jew, like me, the fact that the German term “Herrenvolk” literally means “master race” should send Holocaust shivers up your spine.

To be quite honest, the United States has always been, in some ways, a Herrenvolk democracy in that we have a long history going back to our founding of granting rights to certain privileged classes and denying them to others. 

In our earliest days, only landowners had the right to vote. It was not until 1920, 144 years after the Declaration of Independence, that (white) women obtained that right. Slavery was of course a total denial of rights, and 100 years passed after the Civil War before Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Despite those laws, our Black brothers and sisters still struggle to obtain full equality. 

Members of the LGBTQ+ community have only recently been granted rights many of us have taken for granted, such as the right to marry. Even today, we struggle with the question of whether to grant voting rights to those convicted of felony offenses who have served their time in prison and supposedly have repaid their debt to society.

All that being said, what we are experiencing today in our nation is qualitatively different and therefore extremely frightening.  If you consider the history of the extension of rights in the U.S., what you find is a positive progression; an expansion of rights to those who were at one point denied those rights. It has been a growing acceptance of diversity and an evolving spirit of social inclusivity. 

Now, in many parts of the country, that process has not only halted, but it is traveling in reverse. Iowa is among the states leading the pack. 

Whether they acknowledge it or not, these Republican-controlled legislatures, Iowa’s included, are actively embracing the values of a Herrenvolk democracy as they seek to transform their states into places where full rights are reserved for a privileged class and denied to others—especially if their skin isn’t white, their sexual orientation isn’t heterosexual, their gender isn’t masculine, their gender identity wasn’t determined at birth, and their religion isn’t Christian.

For Iowans who are committed to the values of diversity and inclusion, the 2021 legislative session was a disaster. The manner in which our legislators addressed such issues as LGBTQ+ rights, voting rights (or should I say “suppression”), gun accessibility, housing discrimination, control over educational curricula, the right to peaceful protest, and the treatment of immigrants is nothing short of a disgraceful attack on democracy.  And from what we have been hearing, the 2022 legislative session looks like it will be more of the same.

The Davenport-based organization One Human Family QCA has framed a statement entitled “Iowa Is Better Than This!: Lamenting Iowa’s Discriminatory Legislation.” We call upon our legislature and governor “to strongly affirm and celebrate the unique personhood of all human beings as they proceed with future legislation and to rescind past discriminatory legislation that demeans any person in the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin.”

Several other social justice organizations around Iowa, including the American Association of University Women, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, Progress Iowa, and Progressive Action for the Common Good, have joined One Human Family in an effort to share this statement with the members of the legislature, the governor, and the people of Iowa. They are calling upon Iowans of conscience to unequivocally condemn such legislation and to see it for what it is: a thinly veiled attempt to normalize discrimination against vulnerable populations in our state and those who are far too often on the margins.

Together, on February 16 at 5:00 p.m., these organizations are hosting a special free hybrid event across the state for concerned Iowans to join in protest and in a call for a return to humanity in our state. The event is called “Iowa Is Better Than This!” and will be held both on ZOOM and at selected COVID-safe in-person gathering sites around the state. To register for the event, you will find a link on the One Human Family Website –

We hope those who share our concerns over how our fellow Iowans are being stripped of their rights will join us that evening and in our work to return our state to where all its residents are respected and valued.

Rabbi Henry Jay Karp is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa, which he served from 1985 to 2017. He is the co-founder and co-convener of One Human Family QCA, the social justice organization which is organizing the coming statewide hybrid event, “IOWA IS BETTER THAN THIS!: Lamenting Iowa’s Discriminatory Legislation.”

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