More racist taunts

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Storm Lake Schools Supt. Stacey Cole said that she gets tired of it: At the Spirit Lake softball game, the first after the pandemic shutdown, somebody rolled past in a vehicle and shouted “wetbacks” at the Storm Lake visitors. Cole doesn’t blame the Spirit Lake schools, whose superintendent expressed his deepest regrets, or the community. The knucklehead could have been from anyplace. The problem is that it’s everywhere we go: Spencer, Hull, Le Mars, you name it, we’ve heard the slurs.

“It gets old,” Cole said.

She said it’s high time white folks stand up for students who are regularly subjected to racist taunts. If you think you don’t have a race problem, it’s because your town is so white it can’t see the brown or black people in your midst. Then Storm Lake comes to town and the outbursts are heard.

It was a great moment, if instilled by fear of protests, that the Iowa Legislature last week on a unanimous vote approved a police reform bill drafted by the black caucus. The Democratic bill is supported by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. Vice President Mike Pence hailed it on a Tuesday visit to Forest City. (At his side was Sen. Randy Feenstra, a Hull Republican, who supported Steve King and Donald Trump while they were terrorizing Latinos.)

The incident at Spirit Lake reminds us that we have a long way to go. That police reform bill was but one baby step for civil rights in Iowa.

Storm Lake has sent students to other Lakes Conference schools to talk about race and culture. Delegations have come to Storm Lake. The school boards and administrations are doing what they can. The problem is fans who are steeped in a racist culture and vote for the likes of King, Trump and Feenstra. It should not surprise us that these sentiments are expressed. They have no shame about it.

We hope that the students and their families can take some comfort in the fact that the superintendent and school board have their backs, and that the entire community is proud of the way they compete. Jackie Robinson showed a racist baseball league what black pride is all about, as Jesse Owens did before the Nazis at the Olympics. They stepped into the box and competed. They changed hearts and minds.

Storm Lake students have the same opportunity and burden. They should know that the Des Moines Roosevelt baseball team took a knee during the national anthem at Principal Park in Des Moines this week. Whether the Roughriders knew it or not, they were kneeling in solidarity with the Storm Lake players. The racists will heckle, and Josi Hernandez hit a home run. Swing for the fences, Josi. You’re at the plate with all of us.

Dying for workhouse wages

Since Storm Lake in particular has been sacrificed at the altar of protein production by the state and federal governments, it would seem reasonable to ask what we get in return. So far, not much. President Trump, Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Legislature have conspired to force fearful workers into a potentially unsafe work environment, limit their ability to get compensation for work-related illness, and restrict unemployment benefits. Aid to local governments is an abstraction.

Last week, Storm Lake had the highest infection rate in the nation, over 8,000 per 100,000 population. That’s because the state and federal governments refused to test food processing workers at Tyson pork and turkey, and Rembrandt Foods, for several months after learning of the pandemic. When testing did begin, Tyson hired a firm to handle its workforce. Testing has been completed among their workers. We do not know if workers from Rembrandt have been tested. And we don’t know how they are all doing this week, as Tyson testing has finished. Workers should be tested daily. Personal protective equipment and social distancing were not implemented for several months. Instead, the President ordered all employees into work. Now we have 10 dead. More will die. We just learned that it is now spreading to spouses of food workers who are employed in nursing homes, which had been able to cordon off infections until the load became just too much. Were it not for meatpacking infection, the nursing homes might have been kept in the clear.

All so we could have a cheap, steady supply of pork and turkey. Meat prices shot up 50% at the grocery store. The increased profit-taking will not be returned to Storm Lake.

Will our health network be reimbursed and made whole? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is fighting it. Trump has moved on from the coronavirus and onto savage lies about Joe Biden. Reynolds is lunching with Vice President Pence, and they are congratulating each other. They were not mentioning federal/state partnerships to heal meatpacking towns.

Grieving families are left to hire lawyers and take their grievance to a workers compensation system that pays them a fraction of their loss. State officials are busy trying to bar them from the courthouse. We get nothing but wages half of what was paid a generation ago, if you’re brave enough to clock in. All for a pork loin. Again, we are on our own.

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