Congratulations to Nathaniel Hieber on the publication of his op-ed last Friday in the Storm Lake Times!
Congratulations to Joey Puckett on the publication of his op-ed in last Friday’s Storm Lake Times!
Dr. Offenburger has summarized the Storm Lake history class in the following editorial, which ran in today’s Storm Lake Times. In it, he also prefaces four student-written op-eds to appear in the Times in the coming weeks. (Congratulations to Nathaniel Hieber, Katie Johnston, Rachel Rinehart, and Joey Puckett!)
Please be sure to see the excellent recent article, written by Shavon Anderson of University Communications, about our class on Storm Lake history:
by Nathaniel Hieber
Given how much our class has focused on Tyson Foods and the impact it has on Storm Lake, it seems fitting to have the last interview of the semester involve not one, but two current representatives from the company. Two weeks ago, we interviewed Gary Mickelson and Jeaneth Ibarra, both of whom have high positions working for Tyson. We all had many questions to ask them. Our interactions with these two not only helped to illuminate how Tyson approaches its environmental and social impacts, but also how much its views contrasted with the perspectives of other informants of ours this semester.
Both interviewees gave summaries of who they were and what they did. Ibarra originally hails from Honduras, but came to the United States in 1997. She moved to Iowa to work for IBP in 2000, and then held several positions working for Tyson once the company took over in 2001. While at Tyson, she learned to speak English and began working as an interpreter, then as a benefits counselor. After leaving the community for a few years, Ibarra returned to Storm Lake in 2012 as a community liaison and recently rose to be manager of human resources at Tyson’s turkey plant.
Mickelson also went into detail on his roots. He grew up in nearby Rembrandt, Iowa. His family used to raise hogs and sell them to the old Hygrade meatpacking plant. During the 1980s, Mickelson worked as a reporter for the Pilot Tribune, and later covered news for a television station in Sioux City. Not long after this, he took the opportunity to work as a communications director for IBP and eventually for Tyson Foods. He has remained in the meatpacking business for the last 35 years, with his current position as a PR specialist at Tyson’s corporate headquarters in Arkansas.
Even though he’s spent the last 17 years away from Buena Vista County, Mickelson took great lengths to show how deep his roots were in Northwest Iowa. He explained to us that his ancestors came to the United States as immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and Norway. On his Norwegian roots, Mickelson said, “One kind of fascinating story to me is one of my great grandparents . . . one of their children wrote down their experience leaving Norway and coming to the United States, and how challenging that was. They felt like they were almost slaves or serfs in Norway.” Implicitly, this could have been meant to draw comparisons between the harsh conditions of Mickelson’s ancestors, and the current rough situations faced by many immigrants working for Tyson today.
Mickelson’s grandparents did encounter hardships once they came to the United States. They had fifty dollars each to make their new lives in this country. By the time they got to Storm Lake, they only had one cent to their names, no English skills, and no connections to the town. After spending the night at the train depot, Mickelson’s grandparents eventually made connections in town, working as farm hands until they could own a farm themselves. It is a good story of a poor immigrant family working hard and eventually making something for themselves and their children, similar to the current stories of immigrants coming to Storm Lake in the present, looking for a better life. Perhaps that is why Mickelson told it. It’s a multigenerational success story. His current position, as a public relations representative for Tyson, is far removed from his grandparents’ lives and from those of contemporary immigrants.
Our interview focused on two broad topics. The first was Tyson’s environmental impact, while supplying both the United States and foreign markets with protein. From the start, Mickelson characterized Tyson as part of a supply chain, which includes everything from the farmers growing feed for the pork producers, to the people at the meatpacking plants, to those who transport the meat around the globe, to the companies and grocery store chains that purchase Tyson’s protein. Mickelson made it clear that since most of the pork producers for Tyson work independently from the company, there is not much that it can do to ensure that they are being as environmentally friendly as possible. Despite this, he impressed upon the class how much Tyson is doing to assist in reducing its ecological footprint, including implementing methods to reduce and recycle wastewater and pledging to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.
Not only that, but Tyson has in recent years been diversifying its products to include plant-based protein. According to Mickelson, “We view ourselves as a protein company and our desire is to be a protein authority. Not just in the United States, but globally.” To that end, Tyson has recently announced that it will begin to add meatless sausages and hamburgers to its product line. This is a continuation and expansion from when Tyson first began to offer plant-based protein products in 2019. While the meatless division of the company only accounts for a small fraction of its business, this move shows that Tyson is diversifying its products in response to current trends among its consumers. Many customers are being more conscientious of what they eat, and are trying to have a more positive impact on the environment through their consumption of plant-based protein.
While this is all great news to hear, is it too little too late, given Tyson’s history with the environment? According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Tyson Foods is the world’s second largest meat producer and, when taking into account all the energy and chemicals used to grow the livestock it relies on (the supply chain Mickelson discussed), the company is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases on the planet. When Mickelson encourages us to read Tyson’s sustainability report or says things like, “You need to engage all parts of the supply chain to make progress,” it can feel like a deflection of responsibility of Tyson’s impact on the environment, implicating numerous actors that, as he admits, Tyson has little control over. Even if one were to grant Mickelson that you need to consider the entire supply chain when assessing the company’s impact, such a force remains incredibly destructive. Mickelson did not go into detail on how Tyson was getting independent actors to be more environmentally friendly, merely saying that it needed to happen for true change to occur.
The other major topic was worker safety, a recurring theme in many of our other interviews and in our research material. Both Mickelson and Ibarra made it clear that worker safety was the number one priority for Tyson. According to them, the company always looks for new ways to reduce worker injury and stress. This includes increasing automation to reduce the injuries and fill positions, rotating workers to reduce stress, and in some plants hiring ergonomic supervisors to ensure the safety of employees. Given the situation with Covid-19, Tyson has also apparently worked with several local organizations in Storm Lake to keeps many people as safe as possible, including having on-site Covid testing and vaccinations, offering up to four hours of pay for workers to travel and get vaccinated, allowing family and household members to get vaccinated, and (soon) establishing a health clinic, by late May or early June. From their descriptions, it would seem that Tyson is doing its best to ensure that workers are safe and healthy at its plants.
Based on much of the available evidence and interviews we have compiled, according to others, Tyson’s best has not been good enough. Whether it comes from Matthew Marroquín or Art Cullen or Steve and Willis Hamilton, the consensus is clear that working at Tyson involves long hours with dangerous, grueling, and monotonous work with a high rate of injury. How many cases of carpel tunnel, broken bones, or other such injuries can occur and still be acceptable to the company, and to the town? Tyson hires over 3,000 people in the Storm Lake area according to Mickelson. It would be interesting to know many of those people have been injured or made sick thanks to the close working conditions and hard work required.
Not only that, but recent events relating to Covid-19 have shown how little some in the larger company value the safety of their workers. A wrongful death lawsuit begun last year against Tyson’s Waterloo pork plant has a heap of allegations against the managers and supervisors there. As of November 2020, the allegations included, but are not limited to:
- inexperienced low-level supervisors being given managerial tasks they were not prepared for because the plant managers began avoiding the plant floor for fear of infections;
- plant managers denying in March and April of last year the existence of any Covid-19 infections or confirmed cases within the plant;
- one upper-level manger explicitly telling supervisors to ignore symptoms of Covid-19 and to continue showing up to work even if they had symptoms; and
- one plant manager organizing a winner-take-all betting pool in mid-April of last year for supervisors and managers to wager how many people would test positive for Covid-19.
None of these incidents happened in Storm Lake. However, they are a sign of what some Tyson managers and supervisors thought was acceptable in order to keep their plants running. If this was the work culture for what was considered acceptable, then Tyson’s stance on worker safety was sorely misguided in Waterloo. To Tyson’s credit, seven of that plant’s top managers were fired shortly after an independent investigation confirmed allegations that they bet on how many workers would test positive for Covid-19. However, that is like crediting a doctor for stopping an infection that s/he allowed to fester and spread.
To be clear, no one in the class faults Mickelson or Ibarra for giving as bright a picture as possible of how Tyson operates. That’s their job. And we appreciate them taking the time to answer our questions as fully as possible. Their statements help to provide a new perspective on how Tyson operates.
Furthermore, their conversation with us reinforced how important it is, whenever conducting research, to have as complete a picture as possible, with many different voices contributing to the conversation.
Nathaniel Hieber received his M.A. in history from Miami University this month. He specializes in American history between 1850 and 1950. He also has a minor in art history. This summer, Nathaniel will work as a research assistant for Dr. Andrew Offenburger, continuing to analyze the history of Storm Lake, while he pursues employment opportunities in the field.
by Michel Reising
Is the meatpacking industry a positive or negative force in the town of Storm Lake? This was a recurring question this week, emerging in collaborative revisions of our profile pieces and in an interview with Steve and Willis Hamilton, lawyers with roots in Storm Lake deeper than 150 years.
Throughout the duration of this research project, meatpacking has made its way into every aspect of our research, whether in interviews or the archives. In our SourceNotes database, out of 682 current entries, 262 have been tagged with keywords relating to the subject of meatpacking. For a town that appears to be ever-changing, the one constant in its story is the main source of employment at its meatpacking plants. Names may change every couple of decades–Hygrade, IBP, Tyson–but the work remains constant.
Within the research I have conducted, and the interviews I have witnessed, the meatpacking industry is always championed as what caused Storm Lake to evolve into what it is today. Almost every interviewee from Storm Lake will have worked at the plants, known someone who has worked at the plants, and will most likely have an opinion on the plants. Within my inquiry into Storm Lake newspapers from the years 1986, 2000, and 2014, IBP and later Tyson Foods are praised for their trustworthiness and the commerce that their respective plants attracted to the town. To really drive a point home, according to an article I read from the Storm Lake Times from 2014, Tyson Foods was praised by Forbes as the “sixth most trustworthy company” out of the 8000 companies the magazine reviewed. On the surface, the meatpacking industry seems like the savior of Storm Lake, and a pillar of the community.
However, within the various interviews we have conducted, most interviewees from town associate a negative connotation to the local plants. There have been negative remarks regarding employee wages, working conditions, high turnover rates, and scandals related to IBP and later Tyson. All of these anecdotal stories and complaints against the plants were supplemented by our interview with the Hamiltons this week, legal experts engaged for decades with and against the meatpacking industry.
The Hamilton brothers, Steve and Willis, together with Mary and Molly now, have been practicing attorneys for around 40 years. Their family has been practicing law since shortly after the American Civil War. They certainly have strong ties to the community. One example: when Buena Vista faced a major financial crisis years ago, the Hamiltons’ grandfather, Willis Edson, mortgaged the family farm and donated the funds to the college. Edson Hall stands in his honor.
Both brothers spent a few summers working at Hygrade. Its operation as a union shop secured them higher wages than most other blue-collar jobs in the area. Willis stated that he stopped working at Hygrade after a few summers because he moved onto law school, and Steve jokingly added that he would have done so himself had Hygrade not fired him. The Hamilton brothers praised Hygrade, noting that they did not hear of injuries as often as they do now, that the workers were paid and treated well, and that the workforce was generally retained.
…When IBP took over the plant from Hygrade, IBP ensured that the workers were not able to unionize. Steve added that IBP’s doubling the speed of the production line, and decreasing safety features, sparked a flurry of new injuries. This resulted in an extremely high turnover rate. Steve said that a former client, previously a production line manager, spoke under deposition that during one year in the 1990s, IBP’s turnover was 7,500 workers, and this for a workforce (then) around 2,000!
By the time that IBP took over, the brothers were practicing law, and they have represented hundreds, if not thousands, of plant workers who have sued for damages, whether that be categorized as workers compensation or worse. The Hamilton brothers listed case after case in which IBP was brought to court over injuries. They stated that when IBP took over the plant from Hygrade, IBP ensured that the workers were not able to unionize. Steve added that IBP’s doubling the speed of the production line, and decreasing safety features, sparked a flurry of new injuries. This resulted in an extremely high turnover rate. Steve said that a former client, previously a production line manager, spoke under deposition that during one year in the 1990s, IBP’s turnover was 7,500 workers, and this for a workforce (then) around 2,000! Due to this high turnover rate, training was not as well emphasized, which Steve stated resulted in “a lot of injuries, a lot of minor, a lot of major injuries.” Steve further emphasized that IBP “would just fire the worker and make them fight for the money.” The Hamiltons noted that, especially under Tyson, the corporation would be willing to settle on minor injuries, but they generally would resist major claims.
Willis and Steve were especially critical of IBP. At one point in the 1980s, they said, the company was called to testify to Congress regarding major OSHA violations. During these hearings, the Hamilton brothers stated that the IBP representative basically lied to Congress about the working conditions of their plants and were forced to pay major fines. The brothers consistently represent workers from the plant (now a Tyson property) in which they still see the same major and minor work-related injuries that they witnessed under IBP’s ownership.
Currently, the Hamilton brothers are in a legal battle with Tyson over the alleged wrongful death of their client, Michael Everhard, by COVID-19, which they attribute to Tyson’s failure to adhere to safety protocols. The lawsuit is pending due to an appeal by Tyson to Iowa’s Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, in which Tyson claims the trial should be held in Federal District Court on the grounds that the plant was operating under Executive Order. The Hamilton brothers argued, with us, that Tyson is entirely responsible for their client’s death because of their blatant disregard for employee safety. Willis claimed that instead of slowing down production to allow for proper social distancing, “…they just did the opposite, they sped it up, so you couldn’t spread them out, in fact, they probably jammed them a little closer together.” The Hamiltons also stated that Tyson employees were not provided proper personal protective equipment. In the end, the brothers do not expect the lawsuit to be resolved any time soon.
The interview with the Hamiltons this week really displayed why so many of our interviewees have had negative experiences or opinions related to the meatpacking plants in Storm Lake. With past interviews, one could say that the experiences presented were anecdotal at best, but the Hamilton brothers have represented hundreds if not thousands of clients who have had legal battles with the meatpacking plant under multiple companies. The experiences shared with us by the Hamiltons furthered our understanding of the darker side of the industry.
That said, there are always two sides to every story. As historians, we strive to provide objectivity within every study, and hopefully our scheduled interview with Tyson representatives next week will provide the perspective that our project is missing.
Michel Reising is majoring in business at the Farmer School of Business. He is also majoring in history, with a specific interest in American history and the World Wars. After graduation, Michel plans to attend law school with interest in constitutional law.
by Talon Wolter
Can intimacy and face-to-face encounters change individuals’ perspectives of others, specifically of Latinx immigrants in the United States? This week, our class delved into three chapters of Dr. Jane Juffer’s book, Intimacy Across Borders, and we held a conversation with Dr. Juffer herself. As her work makes clear, Dr. Juffer’s scholarship has been shaped by her personal experiences, bridging private and public life. This methodology nicely echoes an assertion in her work, building on work by the theorist Emmanuel Levinas, that deeply held views are most powerfully shaped (and challenged) by face-to-face encounters.
Dr. Juffer studied journalism as an undergraduate at Drake University. After graduation, she worked for a time with the Wall Street Journal, and then as an activist for Latinx migration issues along the U.S.-Mexico border. While many scholars focus on Latinx communities in urban areas, Dr. Juffer’s Intimacy Across Borders does so in rural communities in Iowa and Pennsylvania. Additionally, her work takes Latinx studies a step further by drawing out thematic similarities between social policies and community formation in the United States with those in South Africa. The strongest connections in this work focus on the shared ties to the Dutch Reformed Church and how that institution adapted to Latinx migration in the case of the United States, and to the anti-apartheid movement in the case of South Africa.
On a personal note, Dr. Juffer grew up in Orange City, Iowa, and her husband, the South African academic Dr. Grant Farred, grew up in Cape Town, under apartheid; each was heavily influenced by the Dutch Reformed Church. She begins her preface analyzing a picture of her at age five and him at age four, implicitly wondering how historical currents would bring them together. (They first met at an academic conference.) In the 1980s, Dr. Juffer participated in the anti-apartheid movement and was critical of how the Reformed Church had used scripture to assert racial superiority and validate segregation in South Africa. All of these personal aspects of her life inform her work. As she notes in her preface, when her husband’s mother in Cape Town learned that they were to be married, she remarked, “Dutch Reformed girls all over the streets of Cape Town, and you had to find one from Iowa?”
In chapter 3, Dr. Juffer examines in great detail the history of the Reformed Church denominations and her personal connection to Reformed Christianity. She describes how it shaped her childhood in northwestern Iowa, and she then investigates the origins and recent history of Amistad Cristiana, a largely Latinx congregation in Sioux Center. Its roots extend to 1995, when the local Covenant Christian Reformed Church offered services in Spanish, had a Latino pastor, and was theologically based in Anglo Reformed teachings. The church soon constructed another building, for Amistad Christiana, which developed into a hybrid blend of Anglo and Latinx Christian culture, a mix of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America.
[This book] is a narrative, at times an argument, about the possibilities generated by movement and desire. … How do the encounters produced by these migrations lead to intimacies and vulnerabilities and desires that draw on the past yet also present new possibilities? … Compassion and rage. Belonging and racial profiling. People, legal and undocumented, interact intimately, face to face, creating the possibility of friendship, community, desire, animosity–all generated by the vulnerability of face-to-face contact.Jane Juffer, Preface, Intimacy Across Borders
Dr. Juffer sets this in context of the Reformed Church itself, going all the way back to the Protestant Reformation. In the 1500s, the Reformation changed Europe. Protestants fled persecution and immigrated to Holland. In 1550, a group of exiled Dutchmen decided to form the Dutch Reformed Church. This held ties to the Dutch West India Company when it formed in 1629, and eventually many Dutch Reformists immigrated to North America and, later, southern Africa. In 1857, the Dutch Reformists in the United States changed their name to the Reformed Church of America. Between 1857 and 1882, 47 congregations left the RCA and formed the Chirstian Reformed Church, with minor differences in ideology.
By 1995, and the Covenant Christian Reformed Church began a project to hold Bible study classes for Latinx members of the community. Amistad was born. By 2004, it had gained large enough of a presence that it left CCRC and became its own church. By 2011, it became so big that it overtook the whole building. Amistad’s popularity for both Anglo and Latinx members of Sioux Center, as well as members of both reformed faiths, continues to grow to this day. Its popularity flourished such that the church started a Sunday radio program with more than 5,000 followers. While Dr. Juffer thought that, in the 1980s, the Reformed Church had yet to grapple with the moral failings of its teachings and leadership in apartheid South Africa, she felt as though the example of Amistad Cristiana is addressing these issues by supporting Latinx members, helping and educating them, rather than dismissing them as “Others.”
Dr. Juffer uses anecdotes from her personal life and those of others to help illustrate her argument, based on the theories of Emmanuel Levinas about the power of face-to-face encounters. Briefly, Levinas theorizes that meaningful encounters with another person in an intimate setting can allow for a greater understanding of one another and change how the other is perceived. The vulnerability in these encounters–especially through eye-to-eye contact–can serve as the source of an ethics of love and empathy, while it can also lead to feelings of rejection and hate.
Dr. Juffer applies this theory to the example of Maria G., an undocumented immigrant with false papers whose abusive husband caused a domestic dispute. As a result of this, Maria was detained for forgery and risked losing her 10 month old son to the system, along with the likelihood of deportation back to Guatemala. In her trial, she received three years in prison for the forgery charge, yet she needed to be out in less than a year to avoid problems with her “U” visa, which would allow her to stay in the United States with her son. Through grassroots activism and face-to-face encounters with a social worker and the sheriff , the judge agreed to reduce her sentence to 364 days, thereby averting visa problems and personal calamity.
In another personal anecdote, Dr. Juffer describes the experiences of her mother, who got to know Latinx immigrants in her town. She offered to tutor a few folks, and in the course of tutoring them in English, she began to pick up Spanish. It was through her personal experiences, face-to-face with immigrants, that her perception of them as a whole began to change, and real intimate connections were made. Dr. Juffer and her mother also took a trip to Mexico together, to visit a mother and daughter they had met previously in Iowa. During this visit, they lived and experienced Mexican culture, and Dr. Juffer witnessed her own mother’s growth through these personal connections and “well-worn path between Orange City and Aguascalientes.” When they reunited with treasured friends there, now south of the border, she writes, “This was not simply a case of reversing the position of the ‘Other,’ though I suppose there was an element of that–although if anyone was the Other, it was me, as Peggy’s friends didn’t know me. Rather, there was little sense of anyone being an Other–simply a sense of community reconstituted in the plaza of Jesus María, transported thousands of miles from the windmills of Orange City’s town square.”
In our conversation with the author, we discussed Storm Lake, racism, and the acceptance of Latinx immigrants. We came to the conclusion that Storm Lake and Sioux County have some similarities when it comes to the rise of immigrants since the 1990s, to an overall general acceptance of newcomers, and to the underlying racism that can still exist. Gillain Davis, a student in our class, told Dr. Juffer that she had learned in her interviews with Storm Lake residents that racism still exists in the schools through unevenly promoting trade school to students of color, and college for white students. Dr. Juffer told a similar story about another teacher, saying, “She said that one of my Hispanic students just got a job at the Pizza Ranch and she just thought that was some, like, huge indicator of success, and she was going to claim part of the credit for that success.” Both Gillian and Dr. Juffer touched on how subtle racism still exists in these communities and can be seen through occupational segregation.
Dr. Offenburger asked Dr. Juffer if she felt that meatpacking plants still somehow provide the old idea of the “American Dream.” Her response took me slightly by surprise. She said, “There never was a real American Dream.” At first I disagreed, but then, as I thought about it from the perspective of an immigrant worker, I came to realize she is likely right. The American Dream exists for those with the agency and opportunity to get there, but those who have obtained that dream have made it inaccessible, or at least more difficult, for others to attain. There will always be racism, immigration, and inequality. And yet we can point to real success stories in Storm Lake, of immigrants coming and making a better life for themselves despite all these challenges.
In a concluding thought, Dr. Juffer shared her optimism for the future with us. She said, “At Cornell, we have this activist group that is working to abolish immigration detention and we’ve been visiting people, immigrants who are being held at the Batavia Buffalo Federal Detention Facility, and I became particularly close” to several people and their stories. She and others assisted one person to be released while her immigration case is pending. “There are those little victories, I think, that keep me optimistic,” she said, “difficult as it was during the Trump years, because I am feeling a little better now with Biden.” Her optimism is refreshing to hear.
Talon Wolter is a junior history major with a minor in German. He enjoys early American, colonial, and Native American history.
by Travis Shane
Politics have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. The research in the books we have read, as well as in the newspaper archives, tells us much about the different political issues over time and their ongoing relevance. This interest leads me to examine the politics of Storm Lake. While I will be heavily focused on my own personal research for this blog post, I will pull up relevant materials from others that have been tagged “politics” in our notation system.
The newspaper archives, discussed by Anna last week, go back as far as 1865. However, our focus has remained on people and events from 1979 to the present. Like everyone else, I was assigned three years to research in the archives in order to collaboratively study Storm Lake’s past and present. I am personally responsible for the years 1987, 2001, and 2015, all of which were crucial to local and national politics. At the time of writing this blogpost, we have taken 656 SourceNotes, with 54 of them related to politics, and more than a quarter of those posts originating from my research.
The politics of the era were interesting, since 1979 marked the tail end of the Carter era and the ascension of Ronald Reagan to national office. In Storm Lake, though, the late seventies and early eighties marked a key change with the closure of the Hygrade meatpacking plant and its reopening in 1982 under IBP. Throughout this time, there were arguments with political undertones familiar to us today: the efficacy of pooling labor from immigrants while laying off local workers, unionization efforts, and other topics.
I began my archive research by focusing on 1987. That year, a number of articles appeared about Democrats making stops in Storm Lake to campaign for the presidential nomination. This included a ‘darkhorse’ candidate, Bruce Babbitt, then Governor of Arizona. With his appearances at the Gingerbread Day Care Center, he fingerpainted with children and outlined the key pillars of his campaign, which most importantly addressed childcare and education. He was also very critical of Reagan’s Star Wars defense system and desired more negotiations for ceilings to the nuclear stockpiles of the U.S. and USSR. Another visitor to Storm Lake in 1987 was Richard Gephardt, then a congressman from Missouri. He stopped at the Country Kitchen to outline himself as an antidote to President Reagan. He espoused similar points on education and trade like Babbitt, while also lambasting the administration’s corruption with the ‘Contra Aid’ scandal perpetrated by Oliver North. Iowa for the past few decades has been a bellwether state and, despite its importance, it was interesting to see more direct stories in how Storm Lake played a key role in the campaign stops of multiple nominees, some of whom actually visited town more than once during this election season.
Shortly after this, in 1990, there was a hearing in Des Moines about the hiring practices of IBP. (Thanks to Anna Rottenborn for her note on this.) The bill proposed fines up to $1000 for the first infraction of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and then a $2000 fine for every time after that. The bill also outlined that if more than 5% of a workforce in a given company can’t speak English, then an interpreter needs to be provided. The bill also prevented companies from deducting the costs of company housing and safety equipment from their paychecks. A short story like this really exposes the tensions of the time that continue to have relevance in town today.
In 2001, we saw politics come up in other areas that haven’t been discussed much. Early that year, the changes from the Federal Balanced Budget Relief Act were set to help the hospital save roughly $254,000 over the course of five years. The bill was designed to help hospitals across the nation keep costs down, saving them 11.5 billion total dollars. Seeing the impact on the Buena Vista County Hospital itself was interesting because, when looking through the lens of politics, one can draw connections with Storm Lake’s political influence on the outside world, and vice versa.
Other political intrigues from 2001 included the ever-controversial politician, then-State Senator Steve King, declining to run for governor in 2002 against Governor Tom Vilsack. The article went into detail as to why he dropped out. His platform criticized Vilsack for taxing the poor people of Iowa to provide more accommodations for the rich and well-off residents of the state. In 2001, there was also a rollout of a new program that allowed for sponsorships of illegal immigrants to become citizens if they had at least a bachelor’s degree and four employment sponsors. This was notable. Many applauded the program, since leaders disliked seeing families split up, yet others said that the program did not go far enough to help illegal immigrants who could not meet some of the requirements like formal education. There was even a national story on how the government had Microsoft on the ropes with an antitrust case that had been waged since the Clinton presidency, demonstrating an earlier example of the careful relationship between the federal government and big tech companies. Politics have reached into a new stratosphere with the arrival of a candidate who would somehow beat the odds and secure a term as President: Donald Trump. However, my research year of 2015 preceded his victory over Hillary Clinton, and most of the articles covering Trump and Iowa came later in the year. They especially detailed the battle between Trump and Ben Carson, who had surged in the polls. Another article covered Congressman Steve King’s comments about Donald Trump’s campaign platform–specifically immigration. Representative King, in an interview with CNN, said that Trump’s stances on immigration were promising and that Trump owes his success to his ability to tap into the political discontent of middle America.
But 2015 provides other focuses that are more liberal in their point of view. Continuing with the article about Steve King and Donald Trump, another point of view was provided by LULAC, which planned to protest Donald Trump whenever he held a rally in the state. Other articles address the platform of Storm Lake resident David Walker, who was running to keep his seat on the city council, praising the direction of the town.
From 2017 to the present, there are a number of SourceNotes that cover the policies of the Trump administration, but there are plenty of SourceNotes connected to politics that came from our class “news responses.” To learn more about the town and to practice how to properly craft our SourceNotes, we created weekly news responses based on articles in the Storm Lake Times in 2021. As a result, we learned a great deal about the community today and how it is grappling with the political realm. This included community support for a bill that would provide protection for mobile home dwellers, to coverage of the Myanmar-related protests back in February. We are also up to date on the saga revolving around the marina. SourceNotes and our research have allowed us not only to better understand the past, but they give us a sense of what issues are facing Storm Lake at the moment.
While politics may be a source of division between people today, as they always have been, they provide a helpful perspective to understand life in Storm Lake. Here I am reminded of Police Chief Chris Cole, who spoke on truth, trust, diversity, and community building. I am paraphrasing his thoughts here, but I think it is an important point that has stayed with me: in life and politics, only with truth and trust can there be a path to peace.
Travis Shane is a senior history major with interests in American and military histories. Beyond class, Travis also draws, reads, and likes to hang out with friends.