In April 0f 2015 I wrote a letter to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (https://patrickjkearney.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/dear-governor-branstad/). That letter was read by over 75,000 people and I was able to engage personally with hundreds of Iowans who were frustrated with the priorities that our governor and his Republican colleagues had set forth in their budget that year. Over the course of the next several months I continued to advocate for a more robust conversation about our state’s priorities and obviously stronger support for public education. I wrote that Iowans wouldn’t forget about the lack of support that the governor and Republican legislators showed for Iowa’s public schools (https://patrickjkearney.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/a-note-to-iowas-legislators-we-wont-forget/).
Well, November 8, 2016 has come and gone. Iowans voted and there is no way to view the election as anything other than a victory for Iowa’s Republican legislators and their priorities. My hat is off to them. The voters were convinced by the Republican sales job. Democrats didn’t tell their story well enough. Iowans ultimately did not seem to care (or Democrats didn’t adequately make the case) that the “revenue challenges” we are facing are self-inflicted (http://www.iowafiscal.org/no-taxes-big-checks/).
So, what now? There is a part of me that wants to simply walk away. Governor Branstad and his colleagues have won. They control both houses of the Capitol and Terrace Hill. They get to do what they want. All evidence points to putting the “Kansas Experiment” into full effect (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-03-29/kansas-tried-tax-cuts-its-neighbor-didn-t-guess-which-worked). The only thing keeping our Republican legislators from enacting these policies for the last several years has been a state senate controlled by Democrats. The part of me that wants to walk away wants to be able to simply look back and say, “I told you so,” when Iowa goes the way of Kansas…or Wisconsin (http://www.thenorthwestern.com/story/opinion/2016/02/15/wisconsins-budget-problems-self-inflicted/80409344/)…or Louisiana (https://thinkprogress.org/bobby-jindals-anti-tax-fervor-may-have-destroyed-louisiana-e7c9ececa2a2#.cppmp4g8p).
I will admit it, I was pretty down on Tuesday night. Then on Wednesday something really interesting happened on my Facebook page. Among a lot of people simply expressing joy or anger about Tuesday’s election I saw a lot of young people (mostly former students) begin to express that they recognize that they have to get more involved. Here is a quote from a very smart young woman, “I’m tired of being afraid. And it’s not easy to undo years and years and years of fear and slowly shutting yourself up until letting anything out seems like unimaginable weakness. So I’m going to start small, and start posting things on this site. Things about myself, things I like, things that happen to me day to day. I’ll post opinions and thoughts that I’ll be comfortable one day saying in person. I want to be able to share who I am, without worrying about if other people approve. I’m ready to start being a person again. Not a quiet watcher on the sidelines but a participant. I don’t even remember the last time I felt like one.”
This election cycle was about people who felt their voices weren’t being heard. They went to the polls and they voted. The next election cycle is also going to be about a group of people who now feel marginalized. It’s going to be a different group though. The voters of 2018 and 2020 are going to be younger, more progressive, and less afraid of our more diverse country and state than the voters of 2016. I was wrong about the 2016 election in many ways, but I really hope I’m right about 2018 and 2020.
My role is going to be to encourage these young voices who were shocked at what happened Tuesday night to speak up with confidence. My role is going to be to feed them with information. My role will be to make sure that these young people engage in peaceful, thoughtful, and honest dialogue with their legislators.
I am also going to be an advocate for Iowa’s public schools. They are going to need lots of advocates. Those in power now give lip service to public education, but ultimately don’t have a plan beyond forcing austerity on our schools. I want to hear their plan. It will surely include more privatization of education (much as they have with medical care). It’s a fair conversation to have and I want to be sure the voices of those of us who have dedicated our lives to teaching Iowa’s young people are at the table. Many of Iowa’s strongest legislative voices for public education are no longer there. Those that are there are going to have to be loud. They are also going to need to be supported by those of us who are on the outside looking in.
The champions of public education didn’t tell our story well enough. The 75,000 people who were interested enough to read what I wrote in April of 2015 are still here. We have now become the block of voters who got left behind on Tuesday. To my young friends who feel frustrated this week, know that public opinion is like a pendulum. It took a dramatic swing on Tuesday. You are how that pendulum is going to swing back towards inclusion, support for our increasingly diverse population, and creating opportunities for everyone. Where does this happen better than in our public schools? So, we press on. We do a better job of telling our story. Mostly, we encourage these incredible smart young people to feel empowered to speak loudly and we listen to them. I think they recognize that this needs to be their time.