Achieving a Dream

On February 21, 2019, the Iowa City zoning commission meeting was packed with people, lining the walls and filling all of the available seats. There were two items on the agenda for the members of the commission to discuss that night; the most significant being the rezoning of the Forest View mobile home park. The majority of people in the room were residents of Forest View and the surrounding neighborhoods, and had come tonight to speak about the project and the effect that it would have on their community.

To begin the meeting, the proposed development was described, and all of the new changes implemented in newer designs were explained. The plan is to create a commercial center on the middle to eastern side of the property, where the mobile homes currently are, and is set to include a gas station, restaurants, and possibly a hotel. The mobile homes will be replaced with manufactured homes, and the residential area will be relocated to the far west side of the property. The neighborhood side of Forest View will have community recreational areas and senior housing as well.

But what makes this development so impactful to the residents, and so necessary to get underway, is its plan for affordable long term housing. The manufactured homes will have a low monthly rent that if the residents pay for 15 years, will eventually transfer into ownership of their homes. For many, this would be their first chance to become homeowners, as well as to own a permanent home within a community that is central to the way they live their lives. Forest View residents spoke about how their strong community of neighbors was why they chose to live in the mobile home park in the first place; and it’s the reason now that they remain invested in this development, even after three years of uncertainty.

What struck me the most, after hearing the long, dry explanation from both the commission members and the developers at the beginning of the meeting, was how different “three years” sounded coming from them than it did when it came from the residents of Forest View. The first person to approach the stand to speak was a resident of the neighborhood for over 40 years. She described the excitement she remembers feelings when the developers first came to her and her neighbors. She had never owned a home before, and this was an unbelievable opportunity for her to do so and still be within the community that she loved. But, she went on, one year turned into two. Then three. Now, with no end in sight to the delays and the reconsiderations that plague the development plans, she, along with the countless other neighbors she’s lived next to for years, is having her mobile home fall apart around her from old age.

More and more residents came up and echoed her concerns. Many spoke about how long the development was taking to be set into motion, and how important it was that the zoning commission make concrete decisions to finalize its construction. But residents also spoke with some insight to why it had been taking so long to get underway; the development needed to be something that everyone involved could be proud of.

When it came to this, there was a different definition for everyone there. A particular example would be the proposed gas station, which would be right on the road leading into Forest View. One commission member was hung up on how necessary the creation of a gas station would be, to which a few women from the neighborhood adjacent to the development eagerly nodded. The representative for the developer, Black Bird Investments, explained that the gas station would bring in a steady stream of revenue, offsetting the low monthly rent paid by those living in affordable housing. The only way that this rent would remain affordable, he explained, is if the gas station is there. One of these women from the neighborhood got up later to speak. She said that she didn’t want to be able to throw a rock out her bedroom window and hit a gas pump, therefore, the gas station should still be reconsidered.  

This was just one of the points of contention which made it easier to understand, as the meeting went on, why this has taken process has taken so long. But the sentiment echoed by everyone, residents of Forest View and of elsewhere, was that the reason they came to these meetings was because they cared about the development. Despite all of the disagreements on the details, this project is still something that people are invested in, and want to see become a reality. One Forest View resident said that this project was a chance at achieving a dream, for him and his children, that he’s worked towards for 30 years. He offered up any and all of his services to the developers. “Whatever you need me to do, whenever you need me, I’ll do it,” he laughed. There was a lot of laughter in the room that night, mostly coming from empathetic neighbors seeing each other struggle to articulate the frustration that they’ve all felt for so long. There were tears too, for the same reason.

It is unclear whether or not the personal testimonials from the Forest View community will actually speed up the approval of the development or not. But what the night did show, as one concerned citizen put it, is that residents of Forest View are incredible advocates for themselves. As long as this development takes to be approved, they will be there, speaking up and collaborating as a community, in order to make their American dream into a reality.

Empower Communities


CWJ is able to continue Social Change with the Social Justice and Racial Equity Grant that we received. We wanted to offer classes in which the students could learn new skills and apply them to their everyday life. We wanted to offer them skills that they could then use to help themselves become sustainable. With that goal in mind, we decided to start our fall sewing classes. The class became a ten-week program that consisted of each student getting their own sewing machine, along with them getting to know its parts and how it works. The class also consisted of small sewing projects that began after the students learned the sewing machine basics. At the end of the ten weeks, the students were rewarded with the sewing machines and were able to take them home to continue sewing and learning. Our first class began in September 2018 with 14 women signing up. For the women who didn’t speak English we had interpreters for them each week. Every week we could see these skills slowly start to develop through the small sewing projects and the women loved it.

Take a look at the video on the following link from the classes:

For the Love of our Children

It was 2002, and the tragedies of September 11, 2001 were still fresh and raw in everyone’s hearts and minds. And I was reading, for the first time of many, Hannah Arendt’s classic study of the patterns of thought and behavior leading up to the Holocaust, The Origins of Totalitarianism. In particular, I had just finished reading a section on the ways medieval Christians had dealt with the high infant and child mortality rate of the time: by blaming the Jews. Stories of ritual child murder, sacrifice, and cold-hearted torture by Jews were rampant. Child disappearance and death, to many Christians, was too awful to contemplate, so when offered an easy explanation for it–an enemy, a place for their anger and grief–many accepted it.

I turned to my young husband, childless like me, and said, “Let’s make a promise. When we have children, we will never use them to perpetrate or excuse injustice.”

Real parenthood has a way of testing our ideals. Many of us are perfect parents before we have actual children. We swear we will not be the parents whose kids watch hours of TV, or make separate meals for each child because they don’t like what we’ve made, or send a kid to school with mismatched socks or unbrushed teeth. And sometimes parenthood tests even our highest ideals. What happens when we believe in diversity in education, but face the reality that our neighborhood school may be stressful and difficult for our kids for reasons outside of academics? What do we do when we believe that everyone gets to do what they want with their own bodies, but our chain-smoking aunt reaches for our medically fragile newborn? Or when exposure to a different culture also means exposure to values that might not match our own?

In 2006, when my son was born, I got to answer many of those questions for myself. I am a Quaker and a committed pacifist, and yet, before even leaving the hospital, I knew that if anyone ever came for my child, I would be willing to kill. When a person becomes a parent, their most important job becomes keeping their child alive, full stop. I have, thankfully, never been placed in that position, but at least at the level of ideals, my pacifism stops where direct threats to my children start.

People in power, especially those who face threats to that power, understand deeply the human instinct to protect children. For those of us who are parents, our single greatest fear is that our children will be harmed. This is not hypothetical–childhood illness, abuse, and murder happen on a regular basis. Parenthood can become our greatest vulnerability when it comes to exploitation by powerful people, because threats to our children are real and ever-present. When someone offers simple, clear-cut reasons for the awful things that happen, it can feel good, for a little while, to have a place to direct our anger and grief.

But while parenthood can become our Achilles’ heel, it doesn’t have to completely short-circuit our highest ideals or render us unable to use logic. When it comes to threats to our children, here is a truth that is hard to swallow: human beings can be awful. Across every race, ethnic group, gender, economic status, geographic location, and age, there are some people who commit atrocities. We love to talk about our commonalities in glowing terms. Isn’t it great that people in all groups the world over love music and enjoy a harvest meal? Sure. But it is also true that people murder and maim the world over, too. People in our own groups do these things, and people in other groups do, too. Are there elements of some cultures that encourage or make it easier for the harming of others? Yes. For starters, sexism encourages violence against women. However, just being part of a group does not make someone a de facto murderer. We know this because murder is, like the love of music, something that crosses all boundaries of identity.

We must be on guard for all attempts to exploit the love we have for our children to suit someone else’s agenda. Most of the people who cross borders without documentation or permission do so for the love of their own children, or for the love of their own precious lives. Are some immigrants murders? Yes. Are some established citizens murders? Yes! Unless we choose never tor to allow our children outside of our homes or to interact with other people, they will be at risk on some level. This is hard to face, but it is part of being human in the world.

Hannah Arendt shows us very clearly where parental fear can lead us if we don’t resist the temptation to direct our grief at entire groups of people. We can choose, as parents and as communities of people who love and protect children, not to walk down the path that leads to wider-scale, systematic violence that props up powerful people. We can choose to do the hard work of sitting with grieving people, not offering explanations or platitudes, but simply and powerfully be present in the face of tragedy. We can’t sidestep the process of grieving as a community when losses happen. We can do this–for the love of our children.


Immigration as our Legacy

One of my earliest memories as a little girl in the Midwest in the early 1980s is of the smell of graham crackers. But it wasn’t from our pantry–it was from the backseat of our car, where I sat next to a woman wrapped in colorful fabric, quietly looking out the window at her new country. My mother was driving a Vietnamese woman, a recent immigrant and refugee, to the fabric store to purchase material so that she could make clothing for family, likely facing a harsh Illinois winter for the very first time.

The scent of the blend of spices that infused the garments the Vietnamese woman–probably cinnamon and coriander–was at once familiar and foreign to me, as was the fabric she used to make her clothing. My mother, too, smelled of the things she cooked for us, and she made our clothes. These were tangible proof of her love and care for me as a child. I understood at a very young age the fundamental connection that mothers have with all other mothers.

I grew up with the stories of people who had undergone considerable hardships to gain the safety and security that I got for free just by being born in the United States to parents who were citizens and who looked like the majority of people around them. I heard of a boy, just ten, who had swum across the Mekong River, bullet scars on his back from the shots intended to stop him. And families did not always come to our community intact; often they had had to leave others behind, or had lost spouses, children, aunts, uncles, and cousins along their escape routes, with no time or space for burials and funerals.

The Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees who settled in our communities and helped shape life in the Midwest in the 1980s were not strangers to us. They were fellow human beings in crisis. They became part of the fabric of our lives. We ate together, sewed together, laughed and cried together. Together we felt the cold wind of winter and huddled against the evils of greed, violence, and war. We connected their stories to the stories from our own histories, of great-great-grandparents hiding in caves in Germany to escape religious violence, of the sounds of soldiers’ boots and the ache of missing familiar smells and tastes handed down to us.

The rhetoric of the immigrant as a threat to our communities is unfamiliar to me at a visceral level, even though I understand that this is also, unfortunately, part of our legacy as well. My immigrant ancestors did not always greet the “other” with warm and accepting arms, but often with suspicion and even violence. The Midwest as it is today was made possible by the murder and displacement of millions of native peoples and the systematic oppression of the descendents of slaves.

We can choose which parts of our legacy as Americans we want to nurture, and which we need to be on guard not to perpetuate. Those who benefit from the suspicion and hatred of immigrants, either for political or financial gain, want us to feel threatened and afraid. But we know better, and we can do better.


As Ram Dass reminds us, we are all just walking (or driving) one another home.



Community Supporting Families Belong Together

Hundreds march in Iowa City supporting immigrants families on Saturday, June 30 as part of the Mobilization Day to denounce separation of families.

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CWJ is proud to have sponsored the March and Rally on June 30 and joined the National Day of Families Belong Together.

For more information, read the articles linked below Little Village and CBS/FOX

Hundreds in Iowa City march in nationwide ‘Families Belong Together’ event

Hundreds march in Iowa City for the Families Belong Together rally

Court Hearing

“On Tuesday June 26, I attended a hearing for 5 men detained in the recent Mt. Pleasant Raid. The experience confirmed something many already know, that ICE makes people disappear without due process. The courtroom was overflowing with supporters, both family members and allies. The federal prosecuting attorney said that 2 of the 5 detainees had not shown up for court. She said she didn’t know where they are and asked that warrants be issued for their arrests. They may be in ICE custody, she said, she couldn’t say for sure. Said it wasn’t her responsibility to get them to court.
Public record shows that the 2 men are being detained in the Hardin County Jail. Is there any way the prosecuting attorney didn’t know this? Most likely she was lying. If indeed, she wasn’t lying, she could have easily procured this information. It’s not very difficult. I checked the major Eastern Iowa detention center roster and found that they are being in the Hardin Co Jail. My feeling is that ICE is delaying their court appearance because this judge had previously stated, that with so much community support he was considering releasing at least one of the two men so that he could be with his son. I felt enormous grief for the cruelty and corruption in our system, and also experienced the joy of being surrounded by brave family members and supporters from Davenport, Mt Pleasant, and Iowa City.
By Aaron Silander (CWJ Allies )

Stop Tearing Families Apart


Tearing apart peaceful immigrant families is cruel, unjust, and devastating to our communities. Take action now! Fill out this form and click “take action to be taken to a sample letter you can review, edit, and send with one click to your Congressman and Senators.

It’s been horrifying to watch parents torn away from their toddlers at the border and criminalized for seeking asylum and safety for their families. Meanwhile, the small Iowa town of Mt. Pleasant is still reeling from the recent ICE raid, in which armed agents descended on a factory with helicopters, dogs, and tasers to round up 32 peaceful workers – orphaning children and wreaking lasting damage for this interconnected rural community. We cannot tolerate this kind of brutality. A humane and just immigration system is possible and urgently needed.

Send a message to your Congressman and Senators TODAY
Take Action Now and Sign this Form:

We Are All Immigrants

Speech by Mark Schmidt on Cedar Rapids Rally calling for Immigration Reform in front of Senator Grasley’s office on May-14-2018

My great-great-grandfather came to America as a stowaway in a cattle ship in the late 19th century. He came because of prospect of work. He came because he was fleeing the violence of war and poverty. He came for the American dream.
My ancestors were simply hardworking, God-fearing, families trying to survive, caring for their loved ones and communities. Their story is almost identical to the story of today’s immigrants; here for a prospect of a better future. But because of fear and xenophobia our human dignity was denied much like it is denied to immigrants today. During the anti-German fervor of WWI period, German nationals were required to register at a local government office, to carry papers at all times, and could be stopped, detained, and interred without evidence of wrongdoing. Depicted as blood-thirsty apes threatening white womanhood and American liberty thousands were detained and, collectively, millions of dollars of their possessions and assets seized. Lives were destroyed. Families were torn apart.
But my ancestors, like millions of other immigrants, persevered and have helped to make America what it is today.
Senator Ernst has acknowledged that our state economy needs migrants to fill job openings that our aging population cannot. Our state and our nation benefit greatly from the gifts of migrants, both documented and undocumented.
We are here to ask our senators and all elected officials to recognize the failings of our current laws, to help them see how our current laws harm the dignity of the human person, how they are an assault on the common good and we ask them to change them based on the virtues and principles of love, justice, mercy, human dignity, prosperity for all by caring for the common good and not just the good of some, and a spirit of radical hospitality. Continue reading “We Are All Immigrants”