Grassroots Democracy-Building in Iowa

Friday, October 2, 2015   |   Posted by Jim Hightower
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Democracy is never given to us, but has to be won through constant struggle against elites who keep scheming to siphon ever-more of society's money and power from the many into their own hands. A Woody Guthrie song about outlaws tells this story in one stanza: "As through this world I've wandered/ I've seen lots of funny men/ Some will rob you with a six-gun/ And some with a fountain pen."

American democracy is the gritty history of workaday folks who get fed up with the fountain pens, get organized, and get moving to stop the thievery. Gutsy, grassroots confrontation is necessary for reclaiming, maintaining, and advancing our democratic values.

To see an uplifting example of organized people-power in action, look to the heartland, where a coalition called Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement has been building democracy since 1975, uniting and empowering people of all ethnic backgrounds to push back against the avarice and arrogance of big-money corporations. With more than 3,000 dues-paying, activist members, CCI is organized in every Iowa county. They've rallied thousands of other Iowans to join their local and statewide actions, including winning battles against factory-farm manure polluters, corporate wage thieves that prey on low-wage workers, payday lenders that trap poor people in cycles of debt with 300 percent interest rates, gas and electric companies that gouge customers, and banking interests that were either foreclosing on or refusing to lend to good farmers.

Years ago, I came across a small moving company consisting only of two guys and one truck. But they had a big, can-do attitude, summed up in their advertising slogan: "If we can get it loose, we can move it." That's the operating model offered by CCI – get democracy loose at the grassroots level, and the people themselves will move it forward. For more information about CCI go to

"An Enemy of the People (Act 5)," Henrik Ibsen, 1882.

"Pretty Boy Floyd," Woody Guthrie,, 1958.

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