Guest Columnist

Our fight for justice moves forward

Iowans stepped up to create real change and unanimously adopt the first meaningful police reform and racial justice legislation in a generation.

State Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, speaks to the crowd at a May 29 #x201c;I Can't Breathe! March for George Floyd#x201d;
State Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, speaks to the crowd at a May 29 “I Can’t Breathe! March for George Floyd” event in Waterloo. (Brandon Pollock/Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)

On Memorial Day in Minneapolis, George Floyd pleaded with a police officer for the freedom to breathe.

The following week, the Iowa Legislature met for a special session 250 miles away in Des Moines — with an agenda set on protecting corporations, failing to invest in a fragile economy and restricting reproductive rights as well as access to the ballot box. George Floyd’s plea could have easily fallen on deaf ears.

But this time was different. Thousands of Iowans stood up and spoke out from the streets of small towns to the halls of the state capitol to proclaim that Black Lives Matter and that inaction will not be tolerated. Iowans stepped up to create real change and unanimously adopt the first meaningful police reform and racial justice legislation in a generation.

Iowa’s population is 4 percent Black, less than one third of the national average. Yet we became only the third state to enact police reform and racial justice legislation in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. We must continue this momentum and ensure that future fights for justice are not perceived as a problem solely for the Black community to solve, but necessary to resolve for all of us to be free.

Soon, the name George Floyd will be less vivid, the stories of Black men being lynched readily substituted with others. W must remember the pleas of the people. Taxpayers are tired of their hard-earned dollars paying for hotels, meals and mileage for legislators to have exploratory committee meetings or to appoint task forces whose recommendations are rarely acted upon.

Iowa is the only state in the nation with a lifetime voting ban for felons that deprives 2.2 percent of the total population 9.8 percent of Black Iowans from their right to vote. We must hold Gov. Kim Reynolds accountable to honor her word to issue an executive order creating a pathway for all Iowans to make their voices heard this November.

November’s election is an inflection point for our state and nation. It will decide whether we allow racist policies to continue or whether we empower our modern civil rights movement to enact a bold agenda that allows every American to reach their full potential. With a newly elected majority for progress, the Legislature can return in January with a mandate to tackle the roots of our challenges and give every Iowan the freedom:

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• To go to school where they are receiving an equitable education that prepares them for the future by doubling funding for Title I schools and 21st century learning centers.

• To go to work where they are protected from a pandemic and paid a fair wage that can support their family through a workers’ bill of rights.

• To live in a community, from city neighborhoods to rural towns, where child care is available, high speed internet is accessible, housing is affordable, and health care is a right, not a privilege.

Generations from now, our children and grandchildren will ask where we were during this moment and more importantly, what we did. If you are someone who is not doing anything, this movement needs you to do something. If you are someone who is doing something, this movement needs you to do a little bit more. And if you are someone who is doing a little bit more, this movement needs all that you have. That means registering, voting, volunteering, donating, marching and working for justice.

Iowa has shown that progress is possible but we must be prepared for a long struggle ahead.

Ras Smith represents District 62 in the Iowa House of Representatives.

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