An Iowa City Manifesto for the Future

A call to the people of Iowa City to consistently apply the liberal and progressive ideologies which they pay lip service to.

Outsiders and critics of Iowa City politics and culture often refer to our community as the People’s Republic of Iowa City. The insinuation here is that we operate on the principles of communism, which most conservative Iowans consider to be anything more radical than 19th century values, virtues, politics and socio-economic ideologies.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While we do tend to be more tolerant and inclusive in many ways than other Iowa communities, although not so much in our institutions as evidenced by disproportionate arrests and prosecutions of minorities, the comparison to any leftist ideology mostly ends there.

Look at Iowa City today, especially downtown, and what do you see? What I see are endless development projects robbing our community of it’s history and heritage while funding the local economic elites who have become wealthy through tax dodges & privileged contracts doled out by allegedly progressive local politicians.

These local elites are parasites, opportunistically targeting the Iowa City market to exploit the vibrant economic activity boosted by a student population who bring in money from outside the community. Yet even with this economic advantage, we have not been able to figure out how to insure that everyone in our community has their basic needs met.

And the rich get richer.

Meanwhile our local politicians seem to be stuck in some kind of strange non-player character script loop. Our most progressive politicians still list among their talking points things like ‘economic growth’ and ‘development’. These sound like good things. They sound like progress. But who are they good for and what is progressing?

What seems to be happening here is the endless growth model of industrial capitalist economics. It is a blend of Reagonomics and neo-liberal ideologies. We are told that growing our community will lead to more resources and opportunities. But those resources and opportunities always get recycled directly back into more economic growth, creating a feedback loop in which wealth disparity and inequality is heightened.

Even when we do invest in our community, those investments are generally cosmetic; and if I am being less generous in my appraisal what they really amount to is gentrification. It is a Chinese fire drill of development projects through which the ruling elite constantly try to remake Iowa City in their image. We are held hostage to the ambitions and vanity of the most privileged members of our community.

When you look downtown these days you are looking at the vision of a few prominent members of our community who have exploited our economic advantages to their means.

And when you listen to politicians, whether campaigning or in office, their goals all do little more than to feed into this scheme.

To be honest, I do not think most of them mean to. Most of them seem to be genuine, well-intended people with big hearts who truly desire progress. But between being railroaded by political pressures, a culture of glad-handing non-confrontation and entrenched conservative traditions – they seem to be little more than pawns in the pockets of profiteers.

When local candidates list their qualifications for office they never include radical new ideas concocted from their own imaginations. Instead they list evidence that they have been able to work in group projects and be a team player.

Perhaps we have come to value that just a little too much. In our desire to give the appearances of civility, we have thrust out those who would push beyond our comfort zone into actual progress. We have created a Frankenstein’s monster of feel good groupthink in which opportunistic developers have easily taken advantage and thrived.

Iowa City will continue to grow and thrive under such direction. It will not be the end of the world, but it makes our progressive pride hypocritical.

Here is a radical proposition. How about instead of being dupes for developers while paying lip service to ideologies we are afraid to actually institute, we make our community and local government a support system for the many human beings who live here, instead of an easy target for exploitation by the few.

I recently considered running for local office. Not because I actually want to do that job, but because I have several great ideas about how we steer this community into the future and see it and its residents thrive in a quickly changing economic and technological environment. However, while I contend that Iowa City would profit greatly from some confrontational zest, I am probably a little too extra for most people, but I am dead set on championing real change by creating local dialogues.

Here are the top ten things I would do to change Iowa City.

1: Explore a local basic income.

2: Create the conditions necessary to support self-directed learning in place of compulsive, regimented schools.

3: Reduce policing by expanding on community services to mediate issues that do not require immediate force. Use police to solve crimes of violence, property theft or destruction and white collar crimes including contractor collusion. Process and investigate all rapes asap.

4: Decriminalize drugs and provide harm reduction and dignified and community supported abuse services.

5: Make incarceration humane and rehabilitative. And for victim crimes only.

6: Universal wi-fi to spur self learning, reduce economic strain and draw economic growth in tech sectors that will be of more importance as we progress into the future.

7: Exploring better options for sheltering the homeless and providing services for the disenfranchised, mentally ill and helpless; short and long term – without restriction or legal repercussion. Including exploring tiny home structures integrated throughout the community.

8: Free public transport.

9: A law which requires grocers and other food producers, sellers and distributors from throwing out edibles; which could be donated to free distribution services for those in need of food assistance.

10: Universal medical care for residents.

Yeah, I know, that is a pretty tall order. Not only are the ideas radical, but let’s face it, they are expensive. And I am not naive enough to believe that the local elite are going to fund it through taxation on their profits, or allow any political power to take hold which threatens to. But I do have a solution.

Much of the talk about economic growth is done under the banner of job creation, as though more labor opportunities are a solution in a world in which automation is taking over. But automation need not be our enemy. In fact by pre-empting the threat it entails by employing automation in our service, we can use it to thrive outside the old WASP work ethic and value system.

Instead of revamping the pedestrian mall, building more obsolete compulsive schools aimed at producing laborers in an environment evolving towards automation, or any of the other painfully naive, unnecessary and anachronistic ways we divert our community resources – how about we build something that works for us?

By investing in automated facilities that produce goods which can be sold within and outside of our community, we can generate funds to pay for these humane developments.

Imagine that, a clockwork factory working to create wealth so that no human in our community is left behind. And by using some of the profits to invest in more automated facilities, we may even be able to free ourselves from the necessity of collecting taxes, which will not only sound great to those rich developer types, but will make our community an attractive place for outsiders to make purchases.

As automation technology becomes more capable and reliable we may even be able to source out community labor like construction, street maintenance and other jobs done by humans to machines so that we can focus more of our resources on the many, rather than on the few lucky enough to make a living on the communities wealth.

I am not saying this will be easy to accomplish. Nothing worthwhile or sustainable ever is. But the other choice is to ignore future trends and continue down the same tired path we are on until it reaches its inevitable dead end.

Automation is not a maybe. It is happening. It will continue to happen. It will change the very nature of human existence in numerous ways, some of which we cannot even yet begin to imagine.

At the same time it is also an incredible opportunity which can be employed to support other areas of human progress.

Now the only question left for Iowa Citians is: Are we going to be on the forefront of the future and become a maverick community helping to lead the rest of the world? -or- Are we going to remain caught in the momentum of policy and ideology that keep us anchored to the past and the inequalities intrinsic to it’s structures?

The choice is ours, but the future won’t wait for an endless stream of bureaucracy and indecision, so either we expedite the exploration of these ideas or end up scrambling to pick up the pieces when the old ways become obsolete.

And they will.

Join the conversation on Facebook at Basic Income – Iowa City.


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