This is what democracy looks like

This is what democracy looks like

Gazette Column
Hundreds of area residents who took time this past snowy Saturday morning to attend a League of Women Voters’ Legislative Forum also should take a moment to pat themselves on the back. It was a job well done, and all participants — residents, lawmakers and organizers — deserve kudos for creating and being part of such a civil political display. Despite inclusion of hot-button issues like abortion, state finances and gun rights, Democratic and Republican lawmakers sat side-by-side and answered questions while people listened — a refreshing exercise of democracy that has lately become the exception instead of the rule. And, given the most recent national revelations, such events may serve as a cure for our political dysfunction. [caption id="attachment_1945" align="alignright" width="500"] Local members of the Iowa Legislature answered questions…
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Feminine hygiene product drive began with dignity

Feminine hygiene product drive began with dignity

Gazette Column
As Iowans extend a helping hand to those in need, feminine hygiene supplies are too often forgotten. A local group is stepping up to help. Members of the Cedar Rapids National Organization for Women are collecting pads and tampons to help support homeless and incarcerated women and girls. “The idea for the feminine hygiene product drive followed discussions on initiatives like the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act,” said Bailey Mendenhall, chapter president. “Throughout our last few meetings we had been discussing legislative solutions, as well as other organizations’ efforts to assist women abroad and at home with access to these products. We decided that we should be doing something right here, within our own community.” The women learned that there is a near constant need for feminine hygiene products in local transitional housing…
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Theology as advocacy on death row

Theology as advocacy on death row

Gazette Column
Intersections luncheon features former Wartburg professor A former Wartburg College professor returns to the Hawkeye State this week to tell the story of a friend and theology scholar who was put to death by the state of Georgia in September 2015. And she has some questions. Jennifer M. McBride was board of regents chair in ethics, assistant professor of religion and director of peace and justice studies at Wartburg, a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in Waverly. She now is associate dean of doctor of ministry programs and continuing education, and assistant professor of theology and ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. McBride first met Kelly Gissendaner — at the time, the only woman on Georgia’s death row — while directing a theology certificate program for the Atlanta…
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Life goes on beyond the bars

Life goes on beyond the bars

Gazette Column
People with incarcerated loved ones gather twice each month in Cedar Rapids for support and to learn more about navigating a complicated justice system. “Living Beyond the Bars is a non-judgmental support group. We strive to be understanding, honest and supportive of people who care about someone who is in the criminal justice system,” said Sue Hutchins, who co-facilitates the group with Leon Kroemer. The group, which has been meeting on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of each month at Kenwood Park United Methodist Church for more than two years, has about seven core members. Many more have attended in times of crisis, or when an immediate need for emotional support arose. “As a society, we often talk about jails and prisons in terms of the impact they have on those who work…
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Iowa coalition begins death penalty discussions

Iowa coalition begins death penalty discussions

Gazette Column
As state lawmakers consider reinstatement of the death penalty in Iowa, a coalition of opposition groups plans to travel the state as part of an information campaign. They began Monday night in Cedar Rapids. “At the very least, we want Iowans to better understand what reinstating the death penalty will mean; how it will impact us all in a variety of ways,” said Sue Hutchins, a counselor who formerly worked in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and now helps lead Living Beyond the Bars, a support group for family and friends of inmates. The local group is working with the bipartisan Iowans Against the Death Penalty and Iowa Justice Action Network to convene a series of information sessions. “Iowans can have civil discourse on this issue,” said Wendy Wittrock, who spoke on behalf of Iowans…
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Iowa Republicans blinded by abortion

Iowa Republicans blinded by abortion

Gazette Column
However shortsighted, expensive and harmful the resulting policies may be, Iowa Republicans remain obsessed with abortion. Last legislative session, they chose to scrap the Iowa Family Planning Network waiver, primarily funded by the federal government, and replace it with a new program funded solely by the state. That initiative, now known as the Family Planning Program, took effect July 1. Both programs provide men and women of childbearing age who do not qualify for Medicaid a cost-effective way of accessing reproductive health services including contraception, exams, screenings and testing. The Iowa switch wasn’t proposed because the original program was riddled with fraud or otherwise ineffective. In May 2016, the University of Iowa Public Policy Center concluded that more than 80,000 women had used the Iowa Family Planning Network waiver since…
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Education is aim of ‘Know Your Neighbor’ religion series

Education is aim of ‘Know Your Neighbor’ religion series

Gazette Column
Can three community discussions on religion improve life in Cedar Rapids? Organizers hope so. “Hans Kung has a great quote about there being no peace without the great religions coming together. So, we need to start at that level,” Charles Crawley, president of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County, said. The council worked with the Cedar Rapids Public Library for a series of three “Know Your Neighbor” events. Crawley says the idea was to work with the library on its mission to improve literacy by offering information that specifically addresses religious literacy and fosters community understanding. [caption id="attachment_1815" align="alignleft" width="400"] The first Know Your Neighbor religious discussion took place Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, before an overflow crowd at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. It was organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.[/caption]…
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Affordable Housing Commission isn’t really optional

Affordable Housing Commission isn’t really optional

Gazette Column
When Cedar Rapids mayoral candidates Brad Hart and Monica Vernon met last Tuesday night in a public forum, listeners may have left with the impression that reviving a long dormant Affordable Housing Commission was optional. According to city code, it isn’t. Still, such a perception can be forgiven because city leaders have failed for more than a decade to populate the commission, which is charged with identifying “the nature and scope of the housing needs of low- and moderate-income citizens” and recommending “to the City Council effective strategies and programs to meet those needs.” Commission members also are “to generally assist in implementing appropriate activities in the accomplishment of these strategies and programs.” As our editorial board noted in a March 2016 call for the commission’s revival, the group was formed…
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Not too late to join the work of the SET Task Force

Not too late to join the work of the SET Task Force

Gazette Column
Many sparks needed to ignite a fire of change Members of the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force held their first comprehensive public meeting Thursday night since releasing their final report and recommendations last February, and an important perspective was missing — yours. The SET Task Force, as it is called, was formed in the fall of 2015, a collaborative and community effort endorsed by the Cedar Rapids Community School District, city and county. Cedar Rapids and the metro area was reeling at that time due to a variety of violent crimes, in particular a rash of “shots fired” incidents. But it was the shooting death of Aaron Richardson, a 15-year-old, by Robert Humbles, a then 14-year-old, near Redmond Park in September 2015 that ultimately coalesced political will and led…
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Time to stop the Chicago blame game

Time to stop the Chicago blame game

Featured, Gazette Column
There’s a persistent rumbling of how Chicago transplants are to blame for just about every negative trend in Eastern Iowa. Perhaps you’ve heard it? The lack of affordable housing in our communities, as well as the strain on local social services organizations, according to the rumbles, is because people from Chicago are moving here and jumping to the front of the line. Incidents of violence are skyrocketing, they say, because Chicago transplants are bringing gang activity, guns and illicit drugs with them. Even if violence and mayhem isn’t the intent, there’s a cultural divide between small city Iowa and big city Illinois that’s impossible to cross. And, perhaps worst of all, the rumbles single out people from Chicago’s south side as instigators of neighborhood corruption, which is too often a…
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