I was among the more than a thousand Iowans who recently packed into Des Moines’ HyVee Hall for “Revolution Iowa: From Protest to Power,” a day-long event organized by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI). State and national media were drawn by speculation keynote speaker Bernie Sanders might be there to lay groundwork for a 2020 presidential bid.
But the main event for me was to see so many Iowans, from so many walks of life, coming together around people-first issues that affect us all - from housing and racial discrimination to protecting clean water and family farms - and coming up with fresh strategies to address them.
“We need something new,” says Cherie Mortice. “Movement politics is that new paradigm, because it is about the ‘we’ – it starts with us, it builds from the ground up, and that’s how we take power. Business-as-usual politics has been an utter failure for everyday people.”
Cherie is a Des Moines resident and longtime activist for clean water in Iowa. She’s also a member of Iowa CCI, which has been on the front lines of struggles like this in our state for 42 years, with members in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. She was recently inspired to deepen her engagement in local issues by running for the Des Moines Water Works Board of Directors.
The idea, in short, is that “we are the heroes that we’ve been waiting for.” Rather than blindly accepting the candidates that are put forward by political parties and the economic establishment, Iowa CCI and its sister groups are recruiting and training candidates from the grassroots, then putting meaningful organizational resources behind those candidates.
The day-long event included speeches and workshops led by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Bree Carlson from People’s Action, Michael Lighty from National Nurses United, Erika Andiola from Our Revolution, Judith LeBlanc of the Native Organizers Alliance, Illinois State Representative Will Guzzardi and Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa.
Garza and Carlson led workshops on strategies popular movements can use to create change on issues that affect our daily lives, and LeBlanc spoke about her experiences organizing against the construction the Dakota Access Pipeline, which also passes through Iowa.
Lighty spoke about the fight for Medicare for All, and Rosa shared some of the grassroots strategies that helped him become Chicago's youngest-ever elected Alderman.
“This is about changing politics at every level, mobilizing the people in this room who are energized, excited, and ready to take power in government,” said attendee Chris Neubert. “This movement is about so much more than presidential campaigns.”
To be sure, when Sanders delivered his evening keynote, there was plenty of love in the room - many in the audience had supported his 2016 campaign. But 2020 was far from the main topic of discussion. Throughout the day-long organizing event, most conversation was how around how best to capture the energy of the “resistance” to the Trump agenda into lasting political change.
As Bernie himself often says, the “political revolution” is not just about who’s running for president every four years – it’s about organizing from the grassroots, day-in and day-out, building lasting power from the bottom up.
Especially in a state like Iowa, which voted for Obama twice before swinging hard to Trump in 2016, this vision has the potential to revolutionize electoral politics. As the turnout at “Revolution Iowa” showed, Iowans are ready to turn this vision into a reality.