Des Moines Register: These two storylines prevent Iowa from achieving progress

by Kamyar Enshayan, Iowa View contributor Published 11:11 a.m. CT Jan. 16, 2018

Stories are powerful in shaping what we do every day, how we live, how we treat others.

Beautiful, insightful stories of human potential, wisdom of living well, stories of other people in other lands having dreams and aspirations much like ours. Or stories that lead to falsehoods, hate and violence. Enough people in Germany, for example, were captivated by a destructive story that Hitler told them, and they fell for it and were trapped in that story with horrible consequences for humanity.

There are a couple of stories that Iowans have been captivated by and trapped in which have not served us well. And the best way to snap out of them is for many of us to tell better stories.

The first story is one that I as a transplanted immigrant find most astonishing. This story has been aggressively told over and over again by big corporations, polluting industries and those who speak for them who want to take all they can without accountability. Key messages of their story is that government is bad, that government is a parasite to take your liberties away, that government is inefficient and wasteful, and that everyone on their own is most efficient and free. Rules to reduce or prevent harm to the community are “regulatory burden,” another common slogan of this story.

What I find amazing is that we have allowed ourselves to forget the most prized ideal of our nation — self governance — and have fallen for the falsehood that organizing ourselves to serve ourselves is bad. We have allowed ourselves to take for granted that our properties, our neighborhoods and businesses are richer because of police and fire protection, law, order, public health, a system of fair courts and regulations, collectively self-governance.

I am baffled that we celebrate honor flights, our veterans, and act patriotic at sporting events, but when state representative Walt Rogers and colleagues plan to diminish and devalue public education in Iowa, we are silent. When we say we love this country, what exactly do we mean? Clearly not our public education.

And clearly not the critical services of public health professionals. As I write this, state representative Megan Jones has introduced HF 2017 to eliminate the Iowa Department of Public Health. We love our country but not the essential services Medicaid offers to the most vulnerable. The unspoken slogan of the profiteers of less-government-more-corporations as they cut our services is: “You are not getting the respite or medical care you needed? Well, it sucks to be you.”

This is an awful story we are trapped in and it is urgent that we snap out of it.

We all need to tell more stories of governance by the people, rather than just accepting the stories that greedy private interests keep telling us. We need to tell stories of public schools, public libraries, public health and public utility, and all other wonderful public things we have created to make a good life here. Our daily life and liberty are derivatives of self-governance. There is no liberty when the basic services you need to live are not there and your region is plundered by entities who do not want any limits imposed on them.

The second story that continues to diminish Iowa is the falsehood that “we feed the world.” And because we are trapped in that story, we endure assault of all sorts to remain good Iowans. Is there corn fertilizer in your drinking water? Well, remember that Iowa is feeding the world. Are pesticides and fumes from massive hog operations harming rural Iowans? Well, it sucks to be them, but remember we are feeding the world.

Any questioning of this story will result in “What did you say about the Iowa farmer?” The corporations that have shaped USDA policies that continue to impoverish Iowa and close options to farm families are not part of the story. Nor is market concentration and price-fixing part of the story. You hear “Iowa farmers” a lot, but rarely hear Monsanto, Syngenta, ConAgra.

More of us need to tell inspiring stories of rural living, good food and farming by a multitude of Iowa families who demonstrate it is entirely possible and practical to farm in ways that enhance Iowa’s soil, water, biodiversity and rural communities; many more could do this if our state and national policies were aligned with these outcomes.

“Revival” is the theme of Practical Farmers of Iowa’s annual gathering Friday and Saturday in Ames. It is full of stories of good land stewardship and good living, and all that is good about Iowa.