Rutledge Raises his Voice Against Social Injustice…
Earlier this year I had a run in with Kevin Rutledge, an Ottumwa native and OHS alumni. Back in the day he was my “Applebuddy”, working together for years at Applebee’s until he moved away for school. Our meeting was back in September, at the opening of our local campaign office for Sen. Bernie Sanders. Quickly and excitedly he told me about his work, and how he was there waiting for a chance to ask Bernie a pressing question about private prisons and immigrant detention and was wanting to record his response. Excusing himself, he knew his chance was coming and he didn’t want to miss it. After all, he had just followed the Senator from an event in Grinnell; he turned around as Bernie came near us. I was right behind him as he followed the candidate. I watched him try and ask his question, but he got cut off from all the news reporters around us, and Bernie got away in his minivan before Kevin got his moment. Hiding his disappointment he turned back to me and thoroughly explained his job, and what he was doing. I was fascinated. Being from a generation disheartened by a corrupted system, I can see the importance within the work he does.
Kevin Rutledge is a political force to reckon with these days. Now working out of Des Moines, with the non-profit, non-partisan group American Friends Service Committee, he is the Grassroots Education Coordinator with the Governing Under the Influence (GUI) project. The pressure is on as the Iowa Caucus draws near and GUI is hot on the campaign trail. Their group is asking for transparency in this election through specific questions for our presidential candidates. They are intent on exposing the corporate influence that undermines our democracy for the sake of profits. They also round up volunteer bird dogs willing to learn, train, and start asking questions that count.
During their time here in Iowa, they’ve been exposing corporate lobbying and the excessive money poured into political campaigns from the military industrial complex, and bringing attention to wasteful military spending. They are intent on shining a light on two of the country’s largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group. GUI has been exposing the policies that benefit these two large corporations and how these same policies are actually costing taxpayers millions each year. Lobbying up in Congress also costs these two companies millions to push the policies that will bring forth long term profits. Mandated minimum bed quotas for these privatized prisons and detention centers are an example of legislation our government has seen fit to pass. CCA and GEO also pour millions into campaign contributions, thus gaining influence all over the political landscape. Through GUI’s bird dog questions they try to ask and record where these candidates publicly stand with these specific issues. Most candidates are just as unaware as the general public when it comes to some of these same policies. GUI recently ended an Iowa tour “Who Profits from Immigrant Detentions and Mass Incarceration?” On the tour they educated Iowans on issues you won’t see covered at the debates or in the news.
In recent months GUI has had incredible success in sharing important information with candidates you would think would be more prepared. Some like Marco Rubio are aware enough to recognize and blatantly ignore GUI questions about immigration detention. Others take the moment to listen, like Jeb Bush who has become the FIRST Republican to publicly state that he does NOT support the mandated 34,000 daily immigration bed quota, after being questioned about it seven times by GUI birddogs. When a volunteer asked Hillary Clinton about the bed quota, she was caught off guard and said “Nobody’s ever asked me that before. I’ll look into it.” Months later Senator Clinton brought the issue up in an immigration speech in Nevada, pointing out that many privatized detention centers have incentives and legal requirements to keep beds full, getting paid on a per bed basis. Clinton is quoted saying “that just makes no sense to me.” It seems their group is making an impact this election, shifting topic matters that need to be shown for what they are, legislation that is nonsensical and profiting off of human pain. The group is also working with volunteers to bring these issues up as resolutions at their local precincts for the Iowa Caucuses.
Kevin had an article published in the Quaker magazine Friends Journal. In it we learn that Kevin actually comes from a long line of interesting activists, going back 96 years with his great grandfather! After graduating from OHS, Kevin went on to get his degree at Iowa State University in Sociology and Criminal Justice. He’s worked with the UFCW, and as an online organizer working to overturn Citizens United. Kevin has also worked as an intern in Senator Tom Harkin’s office, spent time living in Brazil and has volunteered services in many different ways. His future is unlimited but he has immediate plans to fly to New Hampshire after the Iowa Caucus to help the NH branch of GUI before their primary election. In March, after Kevin’s job ends, he plans on visiting family, and going to Costa Rica where he will volunteer at a bilingual school for a few months. Good luck Kevin, Ottumwa is proud of you!