A democratic display

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Sen. Elizabeth Warren kicked off the Iowa Caucus cycle in Storm Lake Saturday in grand fashion, attracting overflow crowds as well in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Ames and Des Moines. These were not merely the curious, they were the committed and came from three states to hear the populist firebrand rail on the corruption of money and politics.

It was the biggest political gathering in The City Beautiful since Hillary Clinton rallied at the middle school in the 2008 caucus cycle. Since it was so packed, it made the event even more intense. These followers strained to hear her every word, softened by a hoarse throat from a cold.

The event put the national media spotlight on Storm Lake in good ways.

First, the press horde — from the Washington Post to the New York Times to the national broadcast news networks — heard an intelligent conversation of the issues. Storm Lake Public Safety Director Mark Prosser, School Supt. Stacey Cole, social worker Joanne Renteria Alvarez and BV County Democratic Chairman Jim Eliason comprised a panel that chose the issues. It boiled down to diversity and mental health. Prosser expressed his longstanding support for comprehensive immigration reform as expressed by all the nation’s law enforcement associations. Cole said schools need more support for immigration and mental health needs. Renteria talked about how mental health systems don’t much exist in rural areas, and the need is acute.

This discussion helped dive below the surface of the narrative of the angry white voter in rural America that drives much political reportage.

They were white and angry, but not about the same things that Donald Trump is angry about. They’re angry that soybeans are taking a beating because of a trade war, that rural Iowa schools can barely stay open, and that young people find no future here. Warren believes that taking on corporate power can restore the working person and their communities. It’s a start, anyhow.

The result of the discussion was exemplified in a video from the Washington Post that was posted on Monday about Storm Lake. Steve Hammen and Candy Clough talked about how immigrants strengthen us. Prosser is arguing for law enforcement that brings decent people out of the shadows. It shows Storm Lake, again, as a welcoming place where immigration issues aren’t so black-and-white. We burst with pride watching it.

Clearly, people are interested in an alternative to Trump chaos and deceit. They want somebody who can clear the swamp, all right, but not by feeding the alligators. Whether Warren is that person remains to be determined. Our friends and family were debating Warren v. Biden v. Beto v. Brown v. whomever as the motorcade pulled away from Our Place, and who can beat Trump. That’s one of the great things about living in Storm Lake and Iowa. Democracy was on display here Saturday, and it was impressive and gives us confidence that America can sort out its problems — if you start in Storm Lake.

Giving people power

For over a year we have fretted over the future of the beleaguered residents of the Westview Mobile Home Park in Alta. Faced with a landlord who refused to take care of the property, they faced eviction at the hands of Mayor Al Clark for the sins of owner Roy Worbets of Canada. They had no power on their side. A couple church pastors tried to help rally the residents but they were uncertain where anything would lead.

Enter TeamCan, the community organizing arm of the Iowa Teamsters, who stepped in and calmed down the mayor and made clear to the owner that he would be held responsible for his negligence. TeamCan hired a lawyer and negotiated with the city, buying residents time so they could start improving the property on their own. It worked. Residents in a series of clean-up days removed debris, fixed homes and declared that they would go on a rent strike if the owner didn’t shape up.

Worbets finally had enough of the heat and did his part to fix lights and flushed the sewer system. He has more to do, but it’s a start.

It would not have happened if organized labor had not stood up mainly for poor Latinos working to make ends meet. TeamCan has established connections between the residents of the Alta mobile home court and those in Columbus Junction who faced similar scare tactics. People without power who stand up together attain power. That’s what TeamCan proved. It has established a beachhead, and promises to do more to make Alta and Storm Lake better places to live, starting by trying to organize better affordable housing — a crucial unmet need.

Progress is made when everybody has a seat at the table. TeamCan gave the residents of Westview that seat, which cannot be taken away now — because people are working together. That’s what organized labor is all about.