Letter to the editor: It’s time for Iowa City to live up to its reputation, and embrace anti-racism

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Protesters form a circle in an Iowa City intersection during a march on June 3, 2020. — courtesy of Hannah Green

By Dan Boscaljon, Iowa City

I have learned more about Iowa City in the past two weeks than the two decades prior to this. I bought the myth of Iowa City as a progressive town. I would watch and sometimes participate in protests where liberal choirs preach liberal sermons, sometimes vehemently, and then everyone goes home. The desire for change is exhausted in voicing it. Nothing changes.

Watching the Iowa City Council meeting on June 9 was informative. The council discussed the demands made by the Iowa Freedom Riders, representing Black Lives Matter. The bulk of the two-hour meeting focused on how to create the image of an Iowa City that respected all of its citizens. The council literally discussed painting streets and creating a mural. The discussion of new policies to reform the police was similar: it would be a show of support that would ultimately only support the status quo. This status quo falls short of being anti-racist, even if individual persons do not see themselves as racists.

The Black Lives Matter movement and its anti-racist message is committed to allowing all humans to flourish. It wishes to liberate everyone: oppressed and oppressors. This message is communicated in each of the protests. Protesters are fed, litter is cleaned, water is offered: genuine care abounds.

Elected officials have marched, talked, worked, listen, spoken. These conversations too often reflect the world of 2019, not the future that invites us. I want to join the Iowa Freedom Riders to ask City Council to commit to change. I want the city to commit to a change in its values, and to producing policies that will reflect those values. I want to live in a city that values life over property. I want the city to value safeguarding the fragile and vulnerable parts of our population until changes in policy, following anti-racist standards, allow everyone to have enjoy social parity. I want to live in a city so deeply committed to its anti-racism that it transforms the lives of those who come to town for a game, or a show, or a festival. The Englert, Little Village and FilmScene have all done exemplary work toward this goal: it is time for the city to join.

Let us lead Iowa to becoming known as an anti-racist state, rather than a home to racists. Instead of focusing on the “Eight can’t wait” policies embraced by the mayor toward prison reform, let us try the eight to abolition that foregrounds the needs of vulnerable populations and leads to a healthier city. Far from anti-police, the BLM movement advocates defunding and disarming law enforcement in a way that seems pro-police. Such policies would give police their humanity back, allow them vulnerability and compassion. This would enable them to greet and guard the dignity and worth of those at the margins of our community that oscillate from being neglected to being targeted. Let us conclude this shameful era in Iowa City and begin something new.

Almost all liberation literature — whether psychology, education, theology or philosophy — argues that the oppressed in freeing themselves will liberate their oppressors. Most of the best books argue that true freedom emerges after the liberation of the oppressed, when the anger and shame created in these systems becomes released as love. I want Iowa City to become a town known for its love — a love shown in its social policies as well as its arts programs. Let us embody our reputation, rather than performing it. Instead of discussing the demands of the Iowa Freedom Riders as though they were foreign, commit to the ethos that inspired them. Disavow the privilege bestowed by chasing white ideals, and embrace the love that comes from another kind of community.

To this end, I ask City Council to commit to governing the city with an anti-racist orientation. I ask that members of city council, law enforcement and the university that cannot commit to an avowed anti-racist perspective resign. I ask that future deliberations be guided by the ethic of equality espoused by the black feminism of BLM — which will also support feminist and LGBTQ+ values in affirming the equal value, dignity and worth of other persons. People who would prefer to live in a city that uses violence to protect its racist values have ample choices throughout Iowa and the country. But perhaps now is the time for us to truly lead the nation, not through slogans or merchandise, but through wholly embracing a commitment to justice for all.

Thank you, Iowa Freedom Riders.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 283.

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