“America, Again” | Chapter 1: IOWA
Exactly one year before voters go to the polls on November 3, 2020 — and three months before Iowans gather for their caucuses — we at VII Photo are launching the first chapter of our year-long collective election coverage, “America, Again.”
Introduction by VII Emeritus Member Sara Terry
Every election cycle is an opportunity to revisit America, to consider again what defines Americans and what they aspire to, how far Americans have come and how far the country has yet to go in achieving “liberty and justice for all.”
We believe this election cycle, more than any in recent memory, finds America at a critical moment in choosing a path that may define it for generations to come.
And so we launch our coverage today, with the first of seven bi-monthly installments on some of the most important issues facing Americans as they prepare to vote in 2020, including race, the environment, inequity and the wealth gap, and labor and the economy.
Over the course of the year ahead, these issue packages will be supplemented with campaign coverage and reportage about other critical issues, including gender and gun control. In addition, our coverage will include a series of video interviews done by VII photographers outside the United States, bringing perspectives from citizens around the world reflecting on what matters to them in elections that have an impact far beyond America’s borders.
Chapter One, “Iowa,” is a look at some of the national issues that will play a part in the 2020 elections, as seen from Iowa, where voters in the state’s February 3 caucuses will help determine the Democratic front-runners for president. The work was done by VII members Danny Wilcox Frazier, Ed Kashi, Maggie Steber, Sara Terry and VII mentee Nolan Ryan Trowe.
CHAPTER 1: IOWA
Campaign season lasts so long in Iowa — with candidates visiting so many times, and meeting so often with so many small groups of voters — that Iowans joke that by the time their caucuses roll around in February, candidates will be delivering their mail or loading their groceries at the local store.
It’s a distinctive part of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation vote every four years. And while some critics grumble that rural, white Iowa voters shouldn’t carry as much weight as they do in starting to narrow the presidential field, the issues that resonate here — sometimes in surprising ways — are central to debates across the country, including: immigration, race relations, gun control, the wealth gap, and alternative energy.
The town of West Liberty is the first in Iowa to have a Hispanic majority, with the Hispanic population almost doubling between 2000 and 2010. Locals credit immigrants with saving the town. With more people retiring than joining the job market in the state, and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, many employers welcome immigrants as vital to local economies.
Iowa is a national leader in renewable energy, with almost two-fifths of the state’s net electricity coming from renewable resources, almost entirely from wind. Turbines can yield as much as $10,000 a year or more in extra income for farmers who lease their land to alternative energy providers. Many of the state’s roads are lined with windmills, and it’s not unusual to see trucks on the interstate, carrying the long slender arms of the turbines to a delivery site.
The state also leads in race relations — negatively. According to a recent report, the metro area of Waterloo-Cedar Falls has the greatest social and economic disparities along racial lines of any metro area in the U.S. Iowa is also one of the worst states in the nation for per-capita incarceration of African Americans. Only 3.1 percent of the state’s population is black, yet more than a quarter of the state’s prison population is African American.
Iowans are divided on gun control, with a flurry of bills proposing background checks and other restrictions introduced at the state level earlier this year — after the last legislative session saw the passage of the most sweeping and comprehensive bill in state history, including allowing citizens to use deadly force if they feel their lives are being threatened, and allowing them to sue local government officials if they think gun-free zones violate their Second Amendment rights.
Trade wars have had a huge impact on Iowa’s farmers, who have suffered large losses in the tariff battles between the U.S. and China, which have been felt across America. Some farmers who were key to Donald Trump’s win in 2016 say they’ll stick with him, even as their patience wears thin and they lose tens of thousands of dollars in crop prices. Others are thinking twice about who they’ll vote for, which could have an impact on votes in other agricultural states as well.
In keeping with national trends, income inequality has grown in Iowa since the 1970s. The richest five percent of households have average incomes 8.7 times as large as the bottom 20 percent of households. Inequity is also playing out in Iowa as part of a national trend in affordable housing that has seen private equity firms buying up mobile home parks across the country — capturing a vulnerable population of people who own their homes, but rent the land they live on. In Iowa, mobile home park residents are worse off than many park residents in other states — they have virtually no protections in state or local law. Residents can be evicted, for no cause, in 30 days, and there is no limit to the number or amount of lot rent increases park owners can impose on them. Across the state, park residents are fighting back, enlisting city, county, state, and federal officials in a battle to pass protections when the state legislature reconvenes in early 2020.
Check out our other posts on Medium:
- LABOR DAY | A VII Group Project
- VII’s Global Climate Strike Coverage
- VII’s Lights for Liberty Coverage
- What’s in your bag? VII photographers show us their gear
- Ethics in Photojournalism
- All About Gear
- World Press Freedom
- Fake News