Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII

“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.”

VII Photo Agency
Nov 3 · 7 min read

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.

Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Soybeans at sunrise near Iowa City, Iowa. Farmers in Iowa and throughout the country have been hit hard economically during the Trump administration’s trade war with China.
Left: Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Fourth of July parade, Independence, Iowa. Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke campaign during the Fourth of July parade in Independence, Iowa. Right: Photo by Maggie Steber / VII. For sale sign stands in front of a mobile home in Midwest Country Estates Mobile Home Park on Oct. 10, 2019. A Utah-based private equity firm bought the park in March and raised lot rents by 69 percent. Havenpark Capital has been buying up mobile home parks across the Midwest, including half a dozen over the past year in Iowa. Mobile home park residents have virtually no protections in Iowa — they can be evicted from parks for no reason in 30 days, and there are no limits on how many times rent can be raised each year, or by how much. Residents at Midwest and other parks bought by Havenpark are fighting back against what they call “predatory, out-of-state investors” who are “rent gouging” residents of the parks. Mobile home park residents are particularly vulnerable because they own their homes — but rent the land they live on. Moving a mobile home costs thousands of dollars, and older homes are often too fragile to move. A majority of residents in the 300-lot park are either on a fixed income, support a family as a single parent, or are retired, leaving few options beyond staying at their current residence.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Corn nears harvest in Lone Tree, Iowa. Iowa farmers are being hit hard by the Trump Administration’s trade war with China. West Liberty, Iowa, 2019.
Photo by Nolan Ryan Trowe / VII Mentor Program. A wind farm near Deep River, Iowa, in the United States of America on October 10, 2019. These turbines generate 36% of Iowa’s electricity.
Photo by Maggie Steber / VII. Matthew Chapman lives in Midwest Country Estates mobile home park in Waukee, Iowa, not too far from Iowa City. Matt helped organize his neighbors at the Midwest Country Estates mobile home park after a Utah-based private equity firm bought the park in March and raised lot rents by 69 percent.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Gun Range, Swisher, Iowa, 2019.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Members of the media listen to former Vice President Joe Biden during his press conference after speaking at the UFCW presidential forum in Altoona, Iowa on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Biden picked up his attacks on Donald Trump and addressed recent accusations from the Trump administration and Republicans against the candidate and his family. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union 2020 presidential candidate forum in Iowa, with UFCW members, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Kamala Harris, Governor Steve Bullock, and Senator Michael Bennet.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to the press during the UFCW presidential forum in Altoona, Iowa on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Biden picked up his attacks on Donald Trump and addressed recent accusations from the Trump administration and Republicans against the candidate and his family.
Photo by Nolan Ryan Trowe / VII Mentor Program. Lyn, a Vietnam veteran, sits for a portrait on the front porch of his home in Deep River, Iowa, in the United States of America on Oct. 10, 2019. Lyn was born in Deep River in the 1940s. He’s farmed the land his entire life. He doesn’t believe that humans affect the process of global warming. He doesn’t mind the turbines, but he, like many other farmers, is skeptical of the carbon footprint it takes to install the turbines. He says, “Farmers know Mother Nature best, because we live with her every day. We live and die by her will.” He believes that the most important issues for farmers going into the 2020 elections will be the economy and tariffs. He does not think many farmers will be thinking about renewable energy, heading to the polls.
Photo by Sara Terry / VII. At Midwest Country Estates mobile home park in Waukee, Iowa, most residents live on fixed or low incomes. When Havenpark Capital, a Utah-based private equity firm, bought the park in March 2019, it immediately raised lot rentals by nearly 70 percent, forcing many residents to leave.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. More than 3,000 people protest in downtown Iowa City, Iowa near the University of Iowa campus. The student-led Iowa City Climate Strikers were joined by international climate activist Greta Thunberg for the rally that closed much of downtown.
Photo by Maggie Steber/ VII. Candi Evans, a resident of Golfview Mobile Home Park in North Liberty, Iowa, decorates her garden with miniature statues and red wooden flowers. The garden is in her backyard, which runs along a small road and the railroad track. She lives in Golfview and Candi is the vice president of the Gulfview Residents Association. At 71, she is retired from the roofing company that she and her late husband ran for several years. Her park was one of six parks purchased by Havenpark Capital in April 2019. The company is a Utah-based private equity firm that has bought in Iowa this year. They immediately announced lot rent increases of 58 to 63 percent. After residents protested and created a storm of media coverage, Havenpark agreed to give residents a $70 rebate on their new lot rents until April 2020. They have consistently refused to speak to the media and have only met with residents once, in a meeting that was closed to media and elected officials.
Photo by Nolan Ryan Trowe / VII Mentor Program. A windmill near a power plant in the North English Wind Farm in Iowa on Oct. 10, 2019. These turbines generate 36% of Iowa’s electricity.
Photo by Ed Kashi / VII. Lindsay Greiner, a corn, soybean, and pig farmer in Keota, Iowa.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Supporters of Donald Trump hold up a 2020 campaign sign as former Vice President and Democratic candidate Joe Biden runs past during the Fourth of July parade in Independence, Iowa. Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke campaign during the Fourth of July parade in Independence, Iowa.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Morning light on American Legion Road near Iowa City, Iowa. West Liberty, Iowa, 2019.
Photo by Ed Kashi / VII. “Keki Me Si Metose Neniwa — We the People,” by artist Richard C. Thomas is a landmark mural in downtown Waterloo, which celebrates diversity. The original painting, which is in the Waterloo Museum of Art collection, recognizes immigrants who settled in Waterloo, beginning with Native Americans and continuing to present-day Bosnian and Hispanic populations.
Photo by Maggie Steber / VII. Rayeann (girl), Preston and Shane Rutherford decorate the front yard of their mobile home for Halloween in Golfview Mobile Home Park, in North Liberty, Iowa. Like all the residents in this park, they are facing issues brought on by the purchase of the park by Havenpark Capital in April — one of six parks that Havenpark Capital, a Utah-based private equity firm, has bought in Iowa this year.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Brenda Espinoza colors Monse Hernandez’s hair at Espinoza’s salon in downtown West Liberty, Iowa. Espinoza is a small business owner in Iowa’s first Hispanic-majority city in Iowa. The education system has had two decades of dual language instruction at the public schools and the town sees much economic activity at a time when most small towns across the Midwest have seen financial decline.
Photo by Ed Kashi / VII. Lindsay Greiner, a corn, soybean, and pig farmer in Keota, Iowa.
Photo by Ed Kashi / VII. Robert Byrd works at Brothaz Barber Shop in Waterloo, Iowa.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Senator Cory Booker takes a selfie during the Capital City Pride Festival in Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday June 8, 2019. Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey campaigned in Des Moines, Ames, Iowa City, and Cedar Rapids during a two-day swing across Iowa. Senator Booker attended the Iowa Democratic Hall of Fame event in Cedar Rapids along with 18 other candidates for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Photo by Maggie Steber / VII. A man guides his dog out of the Pet Wash at a gas station in Iowa City, Oct. 10, 2019. The owners wash the dogs inside the glass booth and the tub is easy for older and/or large dogs to enter.
Photo by Sara Terry / VII. A corner of Ethel Good’s front yard. She has a huge garden which she spends hours caring for each week; she wants her neighbors to be able to enjoy its beauty.
Photo by Nolan Ryan Trowe / VII Mentor Program. A rainbow appears over a barn, in Iowa, in the United States of America on Oct. 10, 2019.
Photo by Ed Kashi / VII. Scene outside of the Brothaz Barber Shop in Waterloo, Iowa.
Photo by Sara Terry / VII. Shannon Rutherford, and her children, Rayeann, Preston, and Shane decorating their yard for Halloween, at Golfview Mobile Home Park. Rutherford, a bartender, says she struggles to make ends meet, and that increasing the minimum wage is the one of the main issues for her in the upcoming election. “I work in a bar and can’t afford to live,” she says, “and I live in a trailer park.” Things got more difficult in spring 2019 for Rutherford and her family in March 2019 when Havenpark Capital, a Utah-based private equity firm, bought the park and raised lot rents by 59 to 63 percent. Rutherford’s lot rent went from $280 to $450 a month.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris addresses union members at the UFCW presidential forum in Altoona, Iowa. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union 2020 presidential candidate forum in Iowa, with UFCW members, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Kamala Harris, Governor Steve Bullock, and Senator Michael Bennet.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Muscle car in morning light, West Liberty, Iowa, 2019.
Photo by Ed Kashi / VII. Donell Rivers, II, 37, from Waterloo, Iowa. Father of a daughter, 13. Works at Brothaz Barber Shop.
Photo by Nolan Ryan Trowe / VII Mentor Program. A war memorial located outside of the Montezuma Court House, Montezuma, Iowa, in the United States of America on Oct. 10, 2019.
Photo by Ed Kashi / VII. Lindsay Greiner, a corn, soybean and pig farmer in Keota, Iowa.
Photo by Sara Terry / VII. Candi Evans is the vice president of the Golfview Residents Association, which was formed in response to the purchase of the park by Havenpark Capital, a Utah-based private equity firm, which immediately raised lot rents by 59 to 63 percent. Evans retired in January from the roofing company she and her late husband ran for several years. At 71, she says, she had no intentions of “becoming a community organizer.” But she has worked with city, county, state and federal officials, to fight back against Havenpark’s “rent gouging.” Havenpark refuses to talk to the media and has met only once with park residents to hear their grievances.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. David McGee of Cedar Rapids enjoys a bowl of cereal before the Youth Empowerment Day service at the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Sunday, June 9, 2019. Mr. McGee works as an usher during services at Mt. Zion. Senator Cory Booker, a candidate for the Democratic nomination, attended the service.
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Flooding in Hamburg, Iowa on March 22, 2019. A bomb cyclone dropped two to three inches of rainfall in a few hours over Nebraska, causing the Missouri River to explode out of its banks and flood communities in Iowa and Nebraska. As weather patterns continue to shift dramatically, climate scientists warn of frequent disastrous events like flooding, wild fires, and extreme weather.

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VII is a collective of 29 visual storytellers dedicated to reporting on issues around the world.

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