DES MOINES — A daylong conference last weekend to build independent political power in Iowa attracted a wide swath of the “resistance” that emerged in the wake of President Donald Trump’s victory, but also many mainline Democrats chaffing at their minority status.
“We’ve seen fierce resistance” since the election, “and now people need to know what to do next,” said Adam Mason, state policy director of Iowans Citizens for Community Improvement.
With speakers including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza along with workshops on finding a place in the resistance, doing politics differently, Medicare for all and challenging corporate agriculture, ICCI was trying “to give people direction and help them take action,” Mason said.
There’s always going to be resistance, said ICCI Executive Director Hugh Espy, “but at some point we have to move beyond that and figure out how we build governing power.”
Saturday’s Revolution Iowa: Protest to Power brought together not only ICCI members but Democrats and others who share an interest in ICCI’s core issues — clean water, living wages, stopping wage theft and predatory lending, universal health care and challenging corporate oil, agriculture and insurance.
That made the 1,100-plus progressive-minded attendees at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines fertile ground for Democratic candidates for governor and for Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who wants to regain the majority in 2018.
“These folks do not like what’s happening in Des Moines or Washington,” Hogg said. “They want to reclaim our democracy. They’re really, really energized and I think that’s promising.”
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ICCI is “a little father to the left than I am,” Linn County Democrat Adam Wright said, but he was there out of a sense of urgency.
“Donald Trump has mobilized the left,” Wright said.
“And the madder we get the more we want to fight back,” added Helane Golden of Cedar Rapids. In the workshops, “they’re not just telling us what’s wrong, but how to fight back.”
Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, recognized many union members among “every flavor of Iowan” in attendance.
“There’s environmental folks, labor, small ag here. Everyone who is concerned with the success of corporate royalty to buy the legislation they want,” Sagar said.
Right-wing groups “have done a good job tactically of playing the long game,” Sagar said, pointing to passage of legislation stripping most public employee collective bargaining rights, limiting workers’ compensation benefits and pre-empting local minimum wage ordinances by the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature.
“They took those issues from the theoretical to practical level,” he said, “and now people are starting to connect the dots.”
For Democrats, the timing of the ICCI convention was opportune. Along with Hogg, Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Cathy Glasson, Fred Hubbell, Todd Prichard and Jonathan Neiderbach and legislative candidates worked the crowd to pick up supporters and volunteers.
“Our message is exactly what we’re hearing here,” Classon, a nurse and president of Iowa’s Service Employees International Union, said during a break from talking to convention-goers.
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She’d been talking about a $15-an-hour minimum wage, universal health care, funding public education and other Iowa priorities, and making it easier for workers to join and form unions.
Hogg is developing a plan to win back the Senate majority in 2018 and tapping into the energy he saw will be a key part.
“What you see today is a lot of grass-roots enthusiasm,” he said.
Espy welcomed them all, whether they were members or not and regardless of political affiliation. However, he had a message for “establishment Democrats” hoping to tap the energy and organization of ICCI.
“This is a start, but they have to understand they have to get closer to us, not us getting closer to them,” Espy said. “When we say people before profits and communities before corporations, it’s not just a slogan.”
Hogg acknowledged the convention was not a Democratic event, “but people here are united in not liking what’s happening. They’re united in making change in 2018. That’s a real positive situation for Democrats.”
Democrats might have liked the rhetoric, but Espy said it’s more than talk for ICCI members.
It’s great Democrats are paying attention, he said, “but are they going to learn?”
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