To protect LGBTQ rights in Iowa, we need to address monopoly power

Scott Syroka is a former Johnston city council member. This essay first appeared in the Sunday Des Moines Register.

Chuck Magro. John May. Donnie King. Cory Harris. Charles Scharf.

These are the CEOs of five of the most powerful corporations operating in Iowa: Corteva. John Deere. Tyson. Wellmark. Wells Fargo.

Where are they? Should we request a wellness check to make sure they’re OK?

These CEOs lead corporate monopolies making billions every year off the bodies and brains of Iowans, including LGBTQ Iowans, yet they’ve been missing in action as Iowa Republicans advance the largest number of anti-LGBTQ bills ever in a single legislative session.

These bills include everything from attempts to ban books (because kids reading about LGBTQ characters is dangerous, while meatpacking plant child labor isn’t) to an attempt to ban same-sex marriage in the state (forget the issue of constitutionality).

The time has come to realize that corporate monopolies are no friend of the LGBTQ community when the going gets tough.

For these corporations, maintaining favor with the Republicans who run the state is more important than standing up for LGBTQ Iowans, including their own workers. They know if they dare defy Iowa Republicans, their ability to maintain the monopoly power they use to deliver their excessive profits will be threatened.

Founding fathers like James Madison would be appalled by corporations like these. As Barry Lynn writes in his book, Liberty from All Masters, Madison spoke of monopolies being “sacrifices of the many to the few.” In 2023 in Iowa, that means sacrificing LGBTQ rights for corporate profits. It’s part of the reason why a society dominated by the immense power of corporate monopolies is so dangerous.

In contrast, a society structured by strong anti-monopoly policies distributes power so that it’s held in the hands of the many rather than the few. Decentralizing power in this way allows for the formation of new and greater coalitions that can shift and adapt by issue rather than placing all the proverbial eggs in one basket.

Look, I admit being tempted by the hope for some powerful corporation to come save the day: “If only this corporation would speak out and use their power, then we could stop this harmful legislation.” This is a mindset we need to retire once and for all. It denies us our power as individuals and it prevents us from acknowledging there’s no one coming to save us, but us.

While that’s scary to acknowledge precisely because it shifts the burden of responsibility onto us, it’s also exciting because it means we’re the ones with true agency over our lives.

As described by Lynn and others like Matt Stoller in his book, Goliath, anti-monopoly policies constraining corporate power historically provided a foundation to help advance civil rights.

Look at the American civil rights movement. Black, independent taxi and carpool drivers helped Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Improvement Association sustain the Montgomery bus boycott.

Gilbert Mason, the owner of a drug store, fought to integrate a public beach in Biloxi. 

Daniel Speed allowed Black leaders to meet and organize in his Tallahassee grocery store, and then operated a carpool service during a local boycott against segregated buses.

In Iowa, Edna Griffin fought for civil rights with her husband, who ran a medical practice. Seven years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, Griffin refused to be denied service at a Des Moines lunch counter. Thanks to her efforts it became illegal to deny service based on race in Iowa. Together with her husband, they financed the travel of Iowans to the March on Washington.

What did these individuals have in common? They were small business owners who exercised the economic freedom that independence afforded them to fight for a greater freedom for all Americans. More economic liberty led to more civil liberty.

This economic liberty was possible in part due to anti-monopoly policies like those prohibiting discriminatory and predatory pricing that corporate monopolies today use to destroy small business.

In an America where more small businesses could succeed, it meant more independence for more people. Fewer people explicitly or implicitly outsourced their constitutional rights as citizens to the charitable inclinations of corporations.

In Iowa today, even with weakened anti-monopoly laws compared to Griffin’s time, it’s again small business owners who possess the courage to speak up. Dozens of small businesses like the print shop RAYGUN, the bookstore Reading in Public, and the brewery Firetrucker Brewery have all taken stands alongside LGBTQ Iowans and against Iowa Republicans’ proposed legislation.

Wouldn’t Iowa’s LGBTQ community be better off with fewer corporate monopolies and more RAYGUNs, Reading in Publics, and Firetruckers? The answer is yes.

The good news for those who want to see this kind of world is that it’s within our reach. However, it demands we recognize how economic rights and civil rights are inextricably intertwined, and why any push to protect and advance LGBTQ rights must also include a push for anti-monopoly policies in tandem.

Top photo of Scott Syroka provided by the author and published with permission.

About the Author(s)

Scott Syroka