Hightower: Grassroots democracy-building in Iowa

“As Henrik Ibsen said: “You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.”

Democracy is never given to us, but has to be won through constant struggle against the elites who keep scheming to siphon ever more of society’s money and power into their own hands. A Woody Guthrie song about outlaws tells this story in one stanza: “As through this world I’ve wandered / I’ve seen lots of funny men / Some will rob you with a six-gun / And some with a fountain pen.”

American democracy is the gritty story of workaday folks who get fed up with the fountain pens, get organized and get moving to stop the thievery. Indeed, not only does such gutsy grassroots confrontation work; it is the only thing that really succeeds in reclaiming, maintaining and advancing our democratic values.

To see an uplifting example of organized people-power in action, look to the heartland, where a coalition called Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement has had its democracy-building work clothes on since 1975, uniting and empowering people of all ethnic backgrounds to push back against the avarice and arrogance of big-money corporations.”

See the full story here 

Iowa Ranks 26 in “Health of State Democracies” Report

The Center for American Progress recently put out a report analyzing the quality of democracy in all 50 states. “The Health of State Democracies” covered three broad criteria: accessibility of the ballot, representation in state government, and influence in the political system. The democratic experiences of different states varied greatly. 22 individual factors were analyzed and can be seen below.

Iowa ranks #26:

Accessibility of the ballot: B-

Availability of preregistration for 16/17 year olds No
Availability of online voter registration Yes
Availability of portable voter registration Same-day registration
Availability of in-person early voting Yes, with mandatory weekends
Availability of no-fault absentee voting Yes
Voter ID Laws No ID Necessary
Voting wait time in minutes 7.5 in 2012; 5 in 2008
Provisional balloting rate 0.31% in 2012; 0.28 in 2008
Participation in the Interstate Crosscheck System Yes
Motor Voter Implementation performance Middle-tie

Representation in state government: D

Felony disenfranchisement laws Prison, parole, probation, and post-sentence
Ballot initiative laws No to statute initiatives, or popular referendums, or Constitutional amendment initiatives
District distortion In 2012, Republicans had 25% more seats than they should have based on vote totals
Female elected representation 32%
Communities of color elected representation 6%

Influence in the political system: D-

Campaign contribution limits for individual donors Unlimited in statewide or gubernatorial races
Availability of public campaign financing No
Campaign disclosure laws 50/120 on Money in Politics scorecard
Revolving door bans 2 years (highest)
Open legislature data C
Judicial recusal laws 40/100 on Judicial Recusal Laws scorecard

The full report can be found here.

Hound Politicians About $ in Politics this Election Season at Upcoming AFSC Events

With the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame and Family Leadership summit just around the corner, this is the perfect time to call on politicians to take a stand against money in politics. Are they willing to fight for reform? Or will they simply advance the status quo of unequal influence of big money interests in our political system?

American Friends Service Committee will be holding two  “Ask the Candidate” trainings in the coming days:

  1. Des Moines at 4211 Grand Avenue tomorrow (July 8th) at 7pm-8:30pm.
    FB invitation: https://www.facebook.com/events/916203908436208/
  2. Ames at the Quaker Meeting House on 121 South Maple Avenue on Monday (July 13th) at 6:30pm-8:30pm.
    FB invitation: https://www.facebook.com/events/1596537370612873/

For questions, contact Kevin Rutledge at KRutledge@afsc.org or his #: (515) 402-5992.

Check out this flyer for more info!

Mark your calendars and plan a fun trip to ‘Ask the Candidates’ at one of these upcoming events – email us at ia4democracy@gmail.com if you’re planning to attend an event!

The Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Celebration will feature Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee. It will take place on Friday, July 17, 2015 at 7:15pm at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex.

The Family Leadership Summit will feature Dr. Ben Carson, Sen.Ted Cruz, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and former Sen. Rick Santorum, and Frank Luntz. It will take place on Saturday, July 18, 2015.

Victory in Cedar Rapids!

Tuesday at noon, Cedar Rapids City Council became the 9th Iowa locality to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and rein in corporate power in out democracy.

The former Republican Speaker of the Iowa Legislature, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett voted “yes” with the rest of council, which further indicates that campaign finance reform should not be a partisan issue. The mayor also expressed interest in passing disclosure legislation for the city.

We only need 3 more localities to pass a resolution in order to meet our goal of 12 by July 4th. We need to make a huge push towards targeting as many towns as possible in the coming weeks, and this can only happen with your continued support and outreach. Remember to check out the Tools for Activists section for more information and pointers on how to work towards passing a resolution. Every town or county that passes grows the consensus that we need to get big money out of politics and we need to do it now. Given how big money is already shaping the 2016 elections, this issue is more important than ever.

Events in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines

The Cedar Rapids City Council will take up a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United in an aim to reduce the influence of big money in politics and return our democracy to the people.

When? Tuesday, June 9th at noon

Where? Council Chambers on the 3rd floor of Cedar Rapids City Hall (the former federal courthouse at 101 First Street SE).

Please RSVP to afarjallah@citizen.org if you intend to go.


Des Moines Move to Amend is also holding a meeting to discuss further developments in local resolutions around the rest of Iowa.

When?  Monday, June 8th at 7pm

Where?  Plymouth Congregational Church at 42st & Ingersoll

What room? 2nd floor in the “Waveland 4″ room

Please RSVP to afarjallah@citizen.org if you intend to go.


A Potluck in Des Moines will also be held to enjoy delicious food and drinks while learning how to practice the art of birddogging because it is time for candidates to hear the concerns of the people. What is birddogging you might ask? It is when someone walks with a person and goes where they go, asking a question and not leaving until the question in answered.

When? Wednesday, June 10th from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm.

Where? Friends House Law on 4211 Grand Avenue.

Please RSVP to hsalamanca@afsc.org if you intend to go or if you have any questions.


Victory in Johnson County!


On May 7th, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in support of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United to ensure that corporations don’t have the same rights as people. This makes Johnson County the 8th locality in the state of Iowa to pass a resolution calling for an amendment.

Congratulations to East Central Iowa Move to Amend, and thank you to all those who helped cultivate support in Johnson County to bring democracy back to the people.

Victory in Altoona!

Last night, Altoona became the 7th Iowa municipality to formally call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and rein in corporate power in our democracy!

The resolution passed unanimously 5-0 on Monday, April 20, 2015.

Thanks to Mayor Skip Conkling for championing the measure.  Big congratulations to Altoona leader Clare Smith-Larson for her tireless leadership.

Move To Amend Meeting Des Moines

What: Move To Amend Des Moines
Date: April 13th
Time:  7:00 PM
Where: Plymouth Place Apartments at 41st & Ingersoll, Des Moines (Ground Floor meeting room)
Contact for more info and RSVP: dm28amend@msn.com

We will be planning some awareness demonstrations for April and May 11th, during this meeting.
We are organizing for future ‘awareness campaigns’ and mobilizing more cities and counties to pass resolutions to end corporate personhood and eliminate money as “free speech”.  Come join the movement and let YOUR voice be heard! 

Victory in Lee County!

Congratulations to the activists in Lee County and thank you to the Lee County Board of Supervisors which unanimously passed a resolution that calls on Congress to overturn Citizens United.  We’d like to issue a special thank you to the  Lee County Working Iowa Neighbors Committee, which reached out to folks and built support for the resolution.

We are even making a buzz in the local media

So far,  two counties in Iowa and four towns and cities have passed resolutions calling for an amendment.  Word about the problem of money in politics is spreading quickly.  We are continuing to build momentum and support all over Iowa state.  Get involved and sign up to help your area!

Thanks again  to Supervisor Gary Folluo for introducing the resolution, and thanks to Supervisors Ron Fedlar, Rick Larkin, Matt Pflug, and Don Hunold for voting in support.

Sign Up to Help Pass Resolutions to Get Big Money Out of Politics in Your Area

Lee County Resolution Meeting

Lee County is going to join Blackhawk County and the city of Des Moines on our list of recent victories!

On Tuesday, April 7, the Lee County Supervisors in Iowa will be taking up a resolution very similar to the one passed in Blackhawk County.

The meeting is at 9am at the Sheriff’s Dept in Lee County:

2530 255th St, Montrose, IA

Show up and support the resolution calling for an amendment.  The more people we have in attendance, the louder we’ll be able to cheer when the resolution passes.