Iowa grass-roots political effort taking hold

DES MOINES, Iowa – One grass-roots effort to make politicians aware of what central Iowa residents say are their concerns – immigration, education, health care and economic justice – has reached fruition in several Iowa Catholic parishes.

The effort has been in the making over the past several years. It has been led by A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy, known as AMOS, a nonpartisan organization created by the coordination of various denominations with the encouragement and support of the leadership of the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines.

Members held a conference in Des Moines Oct. 27 to hear the results of months of research and information-gathering.

Almost 500 people representing Christian churches packed Plymouth United Church of Christ Congregational Church to listen, pray and prepare for the upcoming Iowa caucuses. Attendees included representatives from Des Moines-area Catholic parishes.

The participants and other “AMOS voters,” as they call themselves, have pledged to bring issues to the caucus agendas of their respective parties, a final step in a political process that allows faith-based initiatives to impact the national political agenda.

Since last winter, many household meetings held throughout central Iowa resulted in a number of concerns related to a frustration with the political system and lack of a voice.

Every concern was submitted to larger gatherings where they were listed in order of importance and ranked for the number of house meetings that expressed the same ideas. After identifying and prioritizing these concerns, members of A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy researched the issues and talked to experts in the related fields.

The findings were presented at the Des Moines conference. They were put into manageable form and delivered to the crowd and to invited political figures.

According to Linda Voit, a conference organizer, every presidential candidate from both parties was invited to attend the conference. Only U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was there, along with a handful of Iowa congressional members.

The crowd listened as Obama answered questions from members of the round-table discussion, led by Eddie Mauro, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Des Moines.

Mauro also led the breakout session where a position paper on immigration in Iowa was presented.

Research, done by A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy and the Iowa Policy Project, showed undocumented workers have a positive impact on the Iowa economy.

It found that they pay state unemployment, federal Social Security and Medicare taxes – but because they are undocumented will never be able to collect from these programs – and they pay between $40 million and $62 million in state and local property, sales and excise, and income taxes annually. Undocumented families pay less in state taxes than do their legal counterparts in Iowa.

Felicia Dixon, a licensed day-care operator, spoke about economic disparities between levels of society within Iowa and how she was tempted to give up her profession but realized the need was too great.

“There is no health insurance or benefits to this job,” she said, “and many day-care workers left the labor force last year. I can get health insurance for my kids, but not for myself.”

A required physical examination to operate her day-care facility costs her $500 out of pocket, which she was able to afford. Many others unable to afford it left the day-care business, decreasing access for families that needed affordable day care.

Another speaker, Norman Glickman, an economist from Rutgers University in New Jersey, quoted Abraham Lincoln, saying “Americans need a fair chance in the race of life.”

He spoke about the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street, when after the 1970s the social contract unraveled and broke, leaving families today unprepared for the future.

“College is now the new high school,” he said. “CEOs today make 400 times more than the corporate worker and folks just can’t keep up. Fifty-seven million people live in near poverty. They are making … $20,000-$40,000 incomes and they can’t keep up. Too many people are being left behind.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.