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Goodbye 2021: A brief look back at moments from a long year


Young girl wearing the flag of Sudan at the Pentacrest protest on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Like 2020, this year was dominated by COVID-19 and bad decisions by state officials regarding the pandemic. Like last year, 2021 ends without the Iowa Department of Public Health hiring a full-time director, but now it is also lacking a medical director and state epidemiologist. Also like 2020, the year comes to end with the Iowa State Auditor and the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Treasury Department reporting Gov. Kim Reynolds has misused federal pandemic relief funds.

But the widespread distribution of COVID-19 vaccines helped many things get back to almost normal, and some favorite local events that were canceled or went virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic returned.

In the fall, Cedar Rapids elected a new mayor, as did Coralville. Iowa City voters reelected their mayor to the city council. (Iowa City is one of the few cities in the state where the mayor is a city councilmember selected by other councilmembers to serve in that role for a two-year term.) This year’s city and school board elections were the first since the legislature passed a new law restricting voting and access to the ballot, which Republican leaders claimed was necessary based on the lies Trump supporters repeat about the 2020 election.

Donald Trump’s shadow loomed over Iowa Republicans in 2021, as he returned to Des Moines for a rally where Reynolds, Sen. Chuck Grassley and the state’s other leading Republicans pledged their allegiance to him. Meanwhile, the QAnon conspiracy enthusiasts united around lies about Trump and lies Trump peddles to his most gullible followers, grew from just a subculture of cranks — including one who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — to an emerging force in Iowa conservative politics.

A new commission to provide oversight on policing started its work in Cedar Rapids, and after internal fighting, a temporary suspension and differences with the city council, the Iowa City Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission was preparing to get underway with its work of documenting systemic racism. Meanwhile, in Des Moines, the Republican-led Iowa Legislature passed a “Back the Blue” bill, which expanded legal protections that often stop police officers from being held accountable and increased penalties for protest-related offenses, and another bill limiting training on issues involving racism and sexism.

Some promising new restaurants and businesses opened this year, and some favorites closed. A longtime center of Iowa City’s unique culture closed, and another that closed in 2020 is scheduled to be torn down early in 2022. But the vast fields and flowing rivers of the Hawkeye State offered sweet escapes from it all (or at least most of it), even though Iowans were still faced with the consequences of decades of bad policies boosting Big Ag that follow anyone just trying to enjoy some quiet moments in nature.

The Republican-appointed justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are preparing to end the constitutional protections provided to those seeking an abortion, while the Iowa Legislature works to remove the even stronger abortion rights provided by the Iowa Constitution. The latest effort by the legislature and Gov. Reynolds to undermine the rights of transgender Iowans, however, was stopped by the courts, when a judge found it violated by the Iowa Civil Rights Act and the state constitution.

Iowans protested this year — against attempts to eliminate abortion rights and restrictions on voting, and to support the rights of people in the Palestinian territories and in Sudan. And younger Iowans marched on their own, with school kids staging walkout protests against racism in schools and to support reproductive freedom.

As a long year draws to a close, Little Village asked our videographer Jason Smith and our multimedia reporter Adria Carpenter to select some of their favorite images from their work this year, which you’ll find, along with images from contributors Chad Rhym and Tate Hildyard.


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