116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
On Jan. 7, the Iowa Senate banned press from working on the chamber floor. This came the same day members of the Iowa House Black Caucus were Zoom-bombed with racist slurs (the n-word) and hateful depictions (flash image of a monkey) during the Des Moines People’s Condition of the State address. These came days before Iowa’s Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, opened Monday’s legislative session with charged accusations against the media and teachers, claiming they have a “sinister agenda” to normalize deviant behavior against children.
When leaders begin restricting the press, it’s a sign of more dangerous things to come.
At the center of this attack, it appears, is the hope to paint a pretty picture that fits within the straight, white, heteronormative narrative — a narrative that hides the truth and stops people from asking the important questions, questions that demand accountability and justice.
As the new year progresses, it is clear this is a year that will prove to be perhaps even more divisive and unhinged than the past two years this country and its citizens have endured. That’s a bold statement to make. However, attacking the very people who have devoted their lives to educating the public seems like a pretty bold action to take — especially when both members of the press and educators have been essential workers, keeping the public informed and aware of the events unraveling this country.
When leaders begin restricting the press, it’s a sign of more dangerous things to come. The press, ideally, is an institution of accountability — a record that requires even the most powerful be responsible for their actions in the interest of the public. Because, at the end of the day, the press’s only loyalties are to the truth and the public.
When leaders begin restricting education, that is a sign of something even more dangerous. If educators are bound by our leaders to tell half-truths and omit the real facts of history from instruction, that poses an even more significant threat. Because then, those children will grow up with a perverse version of history — one that blinds them from the necessary truths in favor of comfortable visions of a world that doesn’t exist, effectively curating a future where no one can learn from history and the mistakes that were made.
When leaders start banning books, that is a scary sign of authoritarianism to come. It is an infringement on the people’s right to freedom of speech and choice. It is a denial of First Amendment rights and a marker of a hindered intellectual future, one with a narrow world view and a lack of discourse.
The things that are a part of this “sinister agenda” some Iowa lawmakers and leaders would rather have remain hidden: the discussion of race as a historical and contemporary issue; the discussion of sex and gender as they pertain to social issues today like transgender rights and women’s rights, to name a few; the Jan. 6 insurrection and all who enabled the bloody attempt to plunge this country into darkness; the real public health crisis that is the novel coronavirus and its permeation throughout this society due to a lack of urgency in protecting Iowa citizens in favor of upholding a broken economy that takes advantage of pretty much everyone for the sake of workforce development— no matter if you’re a conservative, liberal, moderate or however you identify your political alignment these days.
My colleague Todd Dorman summed up the agenda of the Iowa GOP succinctly in one of his recent columns:
“Taking women’s bodily autonomy away, no problem. Banning Iowa school students from being taught about institutional racism, no problem. Ban books, fine. Trying to protect the health and safety of employees and customers during a pandemic? Basically slavery. There’s being out of touch and then there’s being completely untethered from the surly bonds of reality.“
Perhaps instead of attacking institutions of freedom, education and accountability, there should be more focus put toward attacking a public health crisis that has killed more than 8,000 Iowans. Perhaps there should be more focus put on dismantling systemic racism. Perhaps there should be more focus put on educating this state’s people instead of lying to them.
So, I wonder, whose agenda is really sinister?
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org