Why protesters blocked I-80 and why they won't allow their right to protest to be criminalized

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More than 100 high school, college, graduate students and everyday people in Iowa City marched onto Interstate 80 on Nov. 11 and blocked eastbound traffic for more than half an hour to protest the newly elected President Donald Trump.

They marched because they oppose the racist scapegoating of Muslims, immigrants, and refugees; police terrorism against African-Americans and indigenous people; the ongoing social war against women, gays, lesbians, and trans people; the continued destruction of the environment in the name of corporate profits; and the imperialist drone bombing of black and brown children overseas.

The group blockaded the interstate because they know that business-as-usual politics is what got us into this mess in the first place, and that the only way to make their voices heard now is to shut down the country in order to open it back up. As Frederick Douglas famously said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Every effective action has an opposite and equal reaction, and it is not surprising that Iowa legislators like Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, have decided to introduce legislation to criminalize dissent. According to his bill, Senate File 111, protesters could face up to five years in prison, and a lifetime of disenfranchisement, for blockading a highway or interstate for 15 minutes.

Perhaps Senator Chapman and his colleagues, like Republican lawmakers in at least eight other states, want to criminalize the right to protest because they know that mass popular movements, and confrontational direct action, are the most effective way for regular, ordinary citizens to make social change. The powers-that-be are not stupid. They have seen the power of the Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, #NoDAPL Standing Rock, and anti-Trump movements, and they must know that these social and democratic forces are the only thing standing between them and the profits they seek for themselves and their corporate overlords.

That’s what this proposed law is really about: criminalizing the right to protest in order to protect big corporations and big money politicians from everyday people and working class families.

There is no question that civil disobedience requires sacrifice and that putting your body on the line may come with consequences, including jail time. Movement demonstrators who undertake civil disobedience gladly accept that risk. What they will not accept, however, is the further erosion of civil liberties in order to protect corporate power.

Senator Chapman should withdraw his bill immediately and refocus his priorities on fully funding state government, so Iowa can afford policies that put communities before corporations and people before profits, politics, and polluters. If he does not, he should prepare for the fight back.

• David Goodner is a resident of Iowa City who has been involved in the local organizing of #NoDAPL and anti-Trump protests.

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