Communicate, innovate and collaborate for a just, sustainable and compassionate society.

Social Justice

Defend DACA

Iowa’s Medicaid program is under attack by the Reynolds’ administration – again.

Iowa’s Medicaid program is under attack by the Reynolds’ administration – again.

Gov. Reynolds’ DHS wants to cut Medicaid even further by becoming one of the first states to eliminate retroactive Medicaid payments for new enrollees. We can’t let this happen.

Here’s how it works for 40,000 Iowans every year: You don’t have insurance when you get sick or break a leg, you go to the hospital and get treated, then the hospital signs you up for Medicaid. Medicaid retroactively pays for the treatment you received in the previous three months.

Now, Gov. Reynolds wants to eliminate this benefit.

Take 5 minutes to tell the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to deny this request.

We can’t fix Branstad/Reynolds’ failed privatization scheme by cutting Medicaid further. We need to guarantee quality healthcare to all Iowans, and it starts by denying this heartless cut to Medicaid.

Comment today. Let’s flood the CMS with enough comments they have no choice but to deny this request to end retroactive benefits.

Our health over corporate profits,

Matthew and Bridget

Healthcare Organizers

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement



Standing with Charlottesville: Iowa City 8-12-17

Midwest Responds: Charlotteville




Reaction to Charlottesville stirs Nebraska political debate


Madison Mayor Paul Soglin condemns violence, hate groups in response to Charlottesville, Va., unrest


Ohio leaders condemn ‘hate’ and ‘racism’ in Charlottesville


Midwest Now

Hundreds Protest  Acquittal of St. Louis Cop who Killed Anthony Smith

Dozens arrested, several cops injured after ex-St. Louis cop acquitted in shooting of black man

St. Louis Braces for More Protests Over Ex-Policeman’s Acquittal

Posted September 4 from On Being (

What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege

Yesterday, I was tagged in a post by an old high school friend, asking me and a few others a very public, direct question about white privilege and racism. I feel compelled to publish not only his query but also my response to it, as it may be a helpful discourse for more than just a handful of folks on Facebook.
Here’s his post:

“To all of my black or mixed-race FB friends, I must profess a blissful ignorance of this “white privilege” which I’m apparently guilty of possessing. Not being able to fully put myself in the shoes of someone from a background/race/religion/gender/nationality/body type that differs from my own makes me part of the problem, according to what I’m now hearing.

Despite my treating everyone with respect and humor my entire life (as far as I know), I’m somehow complicit in the misfortune of others. I’m not saying I’m color blind, but whatever racism/sexism/other-ism my life experience has instilled in me stays within me, and is not manifested in the way I treat others (which is not the case with far too many, I know).

So that I may be enlightened, can you please share with me some examples of institutional racism that have made an indelible mark upon you? If I am to understand this, I need people I know personally to show me how I’m missing what’s going on. Personal examples only. I’m not trying to be insensitive; I only want to understand (but not from the media). I apologize if this comes off as crass or offends anyone.”

Here’s my response:

Hi Jason,
First off, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve quoted your post and made it part of mine. I think the heart of what you’ve asked of your friends of color is extremely important and I think my response needs much more space than as a reply on your feed. I truly thank you for wanting to understand what you are having a hard time understanding.
Coincidentally, over the last few days, I have been thinking about sharing some of the incidents of prejudice/racism I’ve experienced in my lifetime (in fact, I just spoke with my sister Lesa about how to best do this yesterday) because I realized many of my friends, especially the white ones, have no idea what I’ve experienced/dealt with unless they were present (and aware) when it happened.
There are two reasons for this:

1.) Because not only as a human being do I suppress the painful and uncomfortable in an effort to make it go away, but I was also taught within my community (I was raised in the ‘70s and ‘80s — it’s shifted somewhat now) and by society at large NOT to make a fuss, speak out, or rock the boat. To just “deal with it,” lest more trouble follow (which, sadly, it often does).

2.) Fear of being questioned or dismissed with “Are you sure that’s what you heard?” or “Are you sure that’s what they meant?” and being angered and upset all over again by well-meaning but hurtful and essentially unsupportive responses.

So, again, I’m glad you asked, because I really want to answer. But as I do, please know a few things first:

1.) This is not even close to the whole list. I’m cherry picking because none of us has all day.

2.) I’ve been really lucky. Most of what I share below is mild compared to what others in my family and community have endured.
3.) I’m going to go in chronological order so you might begin to glimpse the tonnage and why what many white folks might feel is a “Where did all of this come from?” moment in society has been festering individually and collectively for the LIFETIME of pretty much every black or brown person living in America today, regardless of wealth or opportunity.

4.) Some of what I share covers sexism, too. Intersectionality is another term I’m sure you’ve heard and want to put quotes around, but it’s a real thing, too, just like white privilege. But you’ve requested a focus on personal experiences with racism, so here it goes:

When I was three, my family moved into an upper-middle-class, all-white neighborhood. We had a big back yard, so my parents built a pool. Not the only pool on the block, but the only one neighborhood boys started throwing rocks into. White boys. One day my mom ID’d one as the boy from across the street, went to his house, told his mother, and, fortunately, his mother believed mine. My mom not only got an apology, but also had that boy jump in our pool and retrieve every single rock. No more rocks after that.

Then Mom even invited him to come over to swim sometime if he asked for permission. Everyone became friends. This one has a happy ending because my mom was and is badass about matters like these, but I hope you can see that the white privilege in this situation is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed, made to feel unwelcome, or prone to acts of vandalism and hostility.

When my older sister was five, a white boy named Mark called her a “nigger” after she beat him in a race at school. She didn’t know what it meant, but in her gut, she knew it was bad. This was the first time I’d seen my father the kind of angry that has nowhere to go. I somehow understood it was because not only had some boy verbally assaulted his daughter and had gotten away with it; it had way too early introduced her (and me) to that term and the reality of what it meant — that some white people would be cruel and careless with black people’s feelings just because of our skin color. Or our achievement.

If it’s unclear in any way, the point here is if you’ve NEVER had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.

Sophomore year of high school. I had Mr. Melrose for Algebra 2. Sometime within the first few weeks of class, he points out that I’m “the only spook” in the class. This was meant to be funny. It wasn’t. So I doubt it will surprise you I was relieved when he took medical leave after suffering a heart attack and was replaced by a sub for the rest of the semester.

The point here is if you’ve never been “the only one” of your race in a class, at a party, on a job, etc. and it’s been pointed out in a “playful” fashion by the authority figure in said situation — you have white privilege.

When we started getting our college acceptances senior year, I remember some white male classmates were pissed that another black classmate had gotten into UCLA while they didn’t. They said that affirmative action had given him “their spot” and it wasn’t fair. An actual friend of theirs. Who’d worked his ass off.

The point here is if you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it” — that is white privilege.

Continue reading here.

Local Highlights

In a recent meeting between prospective students and University of Iowa faculty, questions came up that sounded pretty routine: “Am I going to get credit for this?” “Will there be homework?” “What’s the time commitment?” These weren’t incoming freshman, however, but a group of men currently incarcerated at the Iowa Medical & Classification Center (“Oakdale”) in Coralville, IA. They were learning about the UI Speaker Series at Oakdale, a new pilot program that starts this fall in which volunteer UI educators will teach one-evening short courses to a select group of incarcerated men.

The project is the brainchild of Kathrina Litchfield, a PhD candidate in Literacy, Language, & Culture in the College of Education, who started volunteering at the prison in 2011 during her first year as a School of Library & Information Science master’s student. Litchfield, a 2014 Obermann Graduate Institute Fellow, said the library at the prison was nothing like her understanding of what a library could be; nor did it lead to educational opportunities for its patrons. In 2014, she decided to continue toward a PhD, convinced that her work at Oakdale was not yet complete. Not only did she want to see robust libraries staffed by trained librarians in Iowa’s correctional facilities, but she wanted the knowledge gained in those libraries to be applicable to credit-earning, college-level courses.

Presidential support

The recent meeting with prospective students included not only the volunteer UI faculty who will be teaching in the Speaker Series, but also President Bruce Harreld, College of Education Dean Dan Clay (both of whom will teach a course at Oakdale), and UI Associate Provost for Outreach and Engagement Linda Snetselaar.

“President Harreld was extremely motivated to learn from the men about their expectations and hopes for the program,” says Litchfield. “He really encouraged those in attendance to spread the word about what a great opportunity this is for anyone to challenge themselves.” She adds that in November, at the end of the Series, Harreld will confer UI certificates of completion on the students.

September 8 & 9 conference

Litchfield and her planning committee’s goal is to expand the Speaker Series program so that students can earn college credit. To this end, the group has organized a two-day community conference focused on the current situation in Iowa pertaining to education, incarceration, and reentry. On the second day of the conference, leaders of five different credit-earning programs will share their models.

The Role of Transformative Education in Successful Reentry, which is free and open to the public, will take place September 8 and 9 on the UI campus. Litchfield hopes the community, including anyone interested in the topic of incarceration in America—but especially educators who are interested in working with currently and formerly incarcerated people—will attend.

The first day of the conference is focused on a broad overview of reentry. Of the 5,000 inmates released from Iowa state prisons each year who hope for productive lives, stable jobs, and housing, more than 35 percent end up back in prison. Prison education and job training programs have been proven to lower recidivism rates—and yet the only higher-ed accredited program in Iowa is the Liberal Arts in Prison project, founded by current UI College of Education student Emily Guenther when she was an undergraduate at Grinnell College. The project operates at the Newton Correctional Facility.

“While reducing recidivism is a worthy goal, it is not our only one,” says Guenther. “We see college in prison as part of our liberal arts mission, and we maintain the same broad goals for students in and out of prison. Our incarcerated students are remarkably talented and dedicated to learning. This program affirms the value of liberal arts education for everyone who participates.”

Guenther will be joined by representatives from other programs to share their models and provide a clearer roadmap for the UI team as they further develop the Oakdale Speaker Series. Daniel Karpowitz, co-founder of the nationally renowned Bard Prison Initiative and author of College in Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration, will provide a keynote. Other speakers include Fred Patrick of the Vera Institute of Justice, Adam Bush of College Unbound, Iowa Department of Corrections Director Jerry Bartruff, Oakdale Warden Jim McKinney, and many “returned citizens”—formerly incarcerated men and women—who will share their personal stories of struggle for successful reentry in Iowa.

Minds expanded, lives transformed

These stories, for Litchfield, are the most exciting part of the conference: “When we hear stories of people returning to productive, full lives, that’s what sticks with us.” She recounts the story of one man who, upon release from prison, found work at T&D Auto Repair in Burlington, Iowa. “He had no formal education, but he was able to transform his life through on-the-job training at a supportive company. Messages like his need to be heard by local employers.” Litchfield hopes that the stories shared at the conference will initiate conversations about hiring practices and ultimately encourage Iowa employers to look past applicants’ criminal records.

Litchfield stresses that the program now taking shape at Oakdale is neither a job-training model, nor is it customized for an incarcerated community. One course, for example, is on WWI poetry. When students sign up, they must agree to take the entire series, whether they’re interested in a topic or not. “We want to model how college works; there are classes you have to take, and we are dedicated to providing the same rigor that UI students experience on campus,” she says. It’s also important to her that the students enjoy education for education’s sake. “You can get a plumber’s certificate and still study philosophy,” she says, noting that education is an issue of human dignity.

Both the series and the conference are intended to aid educators as much as incarcerated students. Litchfield hopes that more UI educators will become interested in the program, thus diversifying the offerings to incarcerated students and supporting Oakdale as a UI learning community and research site for developing innovative pedagogy.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be. —Shakespeare

Shakespeare Behind BarsThe conference will kick off on Thursday, September 7, with a screening of the documentary film Shakespeare Behind Bars and a Q&A with that program’s founder, Curt Tofteland. Friday will feature a welcome address by Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom, a keynote lecture, and several panels with returned citizens, scholars, and community support programs. Saturday events include a keynote and book signing by Karpowitz, plus panels of alumni and directors of college-in-prison programs. On both days, attendees can join small group discussions on educational programming in prisons; racial disparities in the criminal justice system; strengthening family and community bonds; and local advocacy opportunities for reentry, sentencing reform, and ban-the-box efforts (i.e., initiatives that call for removing the checkbox “Have you been convicted by a court?” from applications for employment, housing, public benefits, and loans). View the full conference schedule here.

All conference events will take place in room 2520D on the second floor of the University Capitol Centre (Old Capitol Mall) and are free and open to the public. Registration is requested, as seating is limited. Click here to register.

The Role of Transformative Education in Successful Reentry conference is sponsored by the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights, with support from the UI Office of Outreach & Engagement (Community Impact Grant), the National Institute of Corrections, the Vera Institute of Justice, and the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.

The following letter to the editor originally appeared in the Press-Citizen. We are reprinting it for Midwest Telegraph readers who might have missed it.

We must stop putting kids in boxes — literally

Months ago, I was shocked to read reports that the Iowa City Community School District has been using small, plywood boxes to seclude students as a form of discipline. But I am even more disheartened by the district’s refusal to put an immediate end to the practice. This is unacceptable.

We should all be concerned about the incredible harm that is being done to the children who endure this perverse punishment. Some students who exhibit behavioral problems have already undergone trauma, and this embarrassing and dehumanizing penalty, at the hands of their teachers and often in front of their peers, only serves to further traumatize them. Our district’s teachers require and deserve more extensive training about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma-informed care. Our students deserve safe, sensory spaces that help them calm down so that they can return to class to continue learning.

If it takes a village to raise a child, what kind of village are we, Iowa City? Are we a village that turns a blind eye to a practice that dehumanizes both students and teachers? Are we a village who would even defend such a practice? Or do we have enough courage to confront a troubling and unsettling truth and do what needs to be done to fix it? For the sake of all of our children and our own, collective humanity, I hope it is the last.

Casey Leonard

Iowa City

In the June 9th issue of her column New Day, local activist and organizer, Damita Brown invited local community members to share their vision for a better society by writing a manifesto. The goal is to encourage more inclusive and public conversation that will move us collectively toward a ethics of vision and cooperation instead of fear, criticism, political turf wars and silos. To read the full article click here.

What is a Manifesto?

A manifesto is a public declaration of principles, ideals and intentions. It can be is used to clarify beliefs, inspire others to act and point the way toward constructive progress in achieving a vision or goal. It can be based on political, social, creative or personal values and intentions.

Guidelines for the Manifesto Challenge

To submit a Manifesto in the Manifesto Challenge, we recommend that you have a brainstorm with your fellow group members. The brainstorm can take your groups mission statement as the core.

Share Your Vision 

All entries will be shared on this site and are eligible for display Iowa City Public Library second floor gallery for the month of September!
Please note: We will not display your manifesto at ICPL without your permission.

Your Manifesto should include a ten point action plan and identify the role you or your  organization plays in achieving the Manifesto’s vision. The declaration should be no longer than 2 double space pages.

Please email your manifesto in the body of an email and not as an attachment. If you have a website, please include a link or url address. Also, please provide the address and contact information for your organization.

The submission deadline is July 4th, 2017.

Please send your entry to

Black Lives Matter Founders Receive Prestigious Award

The human rights movement Black Lives Matter has won this year’s Sydney peace prize.

The movement – which will be honoured in Sydney in November – was founded in the US by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, who had been accused of murdering black teenager Trayvon Martin.

Each year the Sydney Peace Foundation honours a nominee who has promoted “peace with justice”, human rights and non-violence. Past recipients include Julian Burnside, Prof Noam Chomsky and the former Irish president Mary Robinson.

Western Australian Labor senator Pat Dodson, who was awarded the Sydney peace prize in 2008 for his advocacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, applauded the selection of Black Lives Matter as a movement that stood against “ignorance, hostility, discrimination, or racism”.

“This movement resonates around the globe and here in Australia, where we have become inured to the high incarceration rates and deaths in custody of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Dodson said. “It’s as if their lives do not matter.

Iowa’s New Union-Busting Bill Is Worse Than Wisconsin’s

February 10, 2017 / Peter Knowlton, Andrew Dinkelaker, and Gene Elk

Transcript of Stacey Walker’s Speech at Standing In Solidarity for Jerime Mitchell

February 4, 2017/ Stacey Walker

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s reading of Coretta Scott King

February 7, 2017/ Senator Elizabeth Warren

Bringing people together to solve America’s toughest problems

Fearless Republican leader removed for rebuking Trump at Women’s March

February 3, 2017/ Leslie Salzillo

Law professors call for suspension of the Safe Third Country Agreement

January 31, 2017/Etc.

Indigenous Iowa Talks with Midwest Telegraph

January 24, 2017/ Damien Brown

Battle for Net Neutrality

by Damita Brown, previously printed in the Press Citizen

It is often said that the experience of fear is what makes fearlessness possible. In other words, going beyond fear. As an adult, I went through years of killing spiders that I found inside the house. Eventually, I began to examine my fear. One of my mentors told me about how important it is to be curious and inform myself about my fears — thus removing the ignorance and mystery around the object of fear. I began to learn more about spiders.

The shift from knee-jerk reaction to considered response was a relief. I found that the more I caught spiders and released them outside, the less afraid of them I was. Becoming familiar with my own fear allowed me to make a choice other than aggression.

I think a similar approach will be helpful as I consider the Federal Communications Commission’s attacks on net neutrality. Net neutrality has been defined as “the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.”

This is the regulation that makes the service just as fast or as safe for individuals as it is for large corporations and telecommunication industry giants. Net neutrality rules“prohibit Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking and throttling content or from prioritizing some content over other content, possibly for payment. The rules also include an internet conduct standard preventing ISPs from unreasonable interference with consumer’s access to destinations on the net.”

Share your thoughts: Take the Manifesto Challenge

My concern about attacks on net neutrality has to do with the role that access to information plays in democratic society. The inhabitants of this country need access to independent and diverse media to make informed decisions and engage in the practice of democratic action. Furthermore, we need the capacity to produce and share our own perspectives, proposals and stories. Community-based journalism, storytelling and information sharing are indispensable to our ability to frame public discourse.


The undue influence of corporate media in the electoral process is a reality that no one could deny after the events of the last election season. A simple comparison of the number of times the top four candidates are mentioned is instructive. The bias is undeniable. Independent internet media can mitigate the impact of corporate media and create opportunities for more balanced coverage.

The more we know about how our constitutions (federal and state) work the more context we have for understanding the significance of changes. The proposed FCC changes to the net neutrality rules are now in a period of public comment until July 17. That means those of us who care about the future of our ability to communicate in the digital realm can act now to make our voices heard. So far there have been nearly 5 million public comments. It is also important to learn as much about the rules and the potential impact of changes on your internet use.

On July 12 supporters of net neutrality are engaging in a National Day of Action. These supporters include groups like Amazon, Kickstarter, Etsy, Mozilla, Reddit, Netflix and others. July 12 is also a time when ordinary citizens like you and I can be politically engaged to support net neutrality. Beyond sending our comments for the public comment period or engaging in the July 12 Day of Action, we can also think seriously about what our contingency plans will be in the event of a draconian crackdown of free access to the internet. I wish I was paranoid right now. I wish we did not need to think about such horrid potential outcomes. But overcoming shock and awe means making compassionate, informed and conscious choices within the realm of responsible action. We cannot afford to be numbed by fear or the dazed stupor of sleepwalkers. Our wakefulness empowers us to act.

Damita Brown, Ph.D., is a semiretired educator. She is an Iowa native, artist, poet and social justice activist. Her “New Day” column appears every other Saturday.

Breath of Fresh Air for Case Against DAPL and Iowa Utility Board

by Ed Fallon

To those who say, “The fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is over, so just move on,” we pipeline fighters and water protectors say, “Not so fast!”

Tuesday, the Iowa Supreme Court sided with nine Iowa landowners and the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, rejecting Dakota Access’ request to have the landowners’ lawsuit dismissed!

The Court’s order reads: “Dakota Access contends this appeal should be dismissed because the appellant, Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, has failed to establish proper standing in this matter and the remaining appellants’ claims are moot. Upon consideration, the motion to dismiss is denied. Dakota Access may raise the issues regarding standing and mootness in its appellate brief.”

Click here to read the complete order: 17. Order – Motion to Dismiss Denied

This is a really big deal. It means the case against the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) and Dakota Access will move forward, with a schedule for court filings being established and a trial likely later this year or early in 2018.

The Court’s order revealed another important and disturbing development. Richard W. Lozier, Jr. requested permission to withdraw as counsel for the MAIN Coalition — a front group for Dakota Access. The Court rightfully granted that request. What’s incredible is that Governor Branstad recently appointed Lozier to the IUB, filling the seat vacated by Libby Jacobs, despite this clear conflict of interest!

If Branstad wanted to inflame pipeline opponents and encourage further criticism of the rampant corruption within his administration, putting Lozier on the IUB was the perfect way to do that.

Now the burden of defending this wolf-guards-hen-house appointment falls to Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. It’ll be interesting to see how Reynolds responds. If she kowtows to Big Oil and keeps Lozier on the IUB, don’t be surprised if her Republican opponent(s) make hay with it leading up to next June’s gubernatorial primary.

Click here for original blog on Bold Iowa website.