Tag Archives: Cedar Rapids

In Praise of Winter Walks


The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can.
“Roads Go Ever On” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

In contrast to earlier the season—when we were blasted with cold in late November, December in Iowa has gifted us with some mild days. And by bike and foot, I have taken some advantage of that.

Monday, I was tied up much of the day with finishing semester grades. At least I did bicycle to campus. But on Tuesday, after some errands, my wife and I took a late afternoon stroll. We only walked maybe a total of two miles or so, but it was a pleasant (by December standards) sunset journey.

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Sun setting along C Avenue in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 18, 2018. During a stroll with my wife as we celebrate being married 36 years. It was warm Dec. 18 36 years ago, too.

On Wednesday, I biked to campus to finish some additional odds and ends, and then met my wife and youngest son. We drove down to the NewBo area for lunch at Parlor City, and then went for a stroll along a part of the Cedar River Trail, including the new Sinclair Levee path.

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Dec. 19, 2018, view during stroll along Sinclair Levee trail.

It was breezy, and sunshine was starting to turn to clouds, but again, with a temperature around 40 or so, quite nice for December. We happily chatted as we strolled, enjoying the companionship, the outdoors and the effort of the walk.

John Green created a recent Vlogbrothers video which was a walk through some Indiana woods in cold, wet weather with some friends. I’m not sure I completely agree with his point that the bad weather helped make it a good walk—I’m more of a fair-weather journeyer—although otherwise I think he’s on to something. We are all on a life journey, and sharing that journey with friends as we make our way is partly what it’s about.

And it is important to just get out there, when you can, whether in Indiana rain or Iowa sunshine. A walk outside is a way of enjoying the world beyond our artificial shelters, when conditions allow. We re creatures of this Earth and should feel our connection with it, now and then. Which is one thing a winter walk is good for.

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The Party of Joe


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Yard signs seems on morning of Oct. 30 during my bike ride to work. Contrasting ideas at work here.

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The day before Halloween was both exhilarating and scary—a bit like Halloween, in a way. On Halloween, kids walk around in costumes to beg for treats. My wife and I dressed in business casual attire and went downtown hoping to get for some rhetorical hope.

I think we got it.

The news was that Joe Biden was coming to town. The former vice president was here for a campaign rally to boost Fred Hubbell, running for Iowa Governor, and Abby Finkenauer, running for Congress.

We had signed up online, as we were urged to do, but that didn’t seem to matter. When we got downtown, it took some time to find a parking spot, so as a mild, cool drizzle halfheartedly tried to start, we trudged a few blocks to wait in a line that stretched for over a block from the entrance to the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium on Mays Island.

The night was damp and cool, but not cold and wet. We sometimes put up umbrellas, but then folded them (a trick our President seems not have learned) because it just was not worth it.

We ended up in line with a couple of other college professors, our colleague at Mount Mercy Dr. Joy Ochs, and her science-teaching spouse at Kirkwood Community College, Dr. Fred Ochs.

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The long line that leads to Joe.

The wait wasn’t all that long, and we had some pleasant chats as we worked our way to the door. At one point, a Planned Parenthood volunteer handed me a sign. I didn’t really want to hold a sign, and regretted my knee-jerk reaction to take it.

We got close. I could see Fred Hubbell chatting just a few people in front of us, and got my camera out—and like a Halloween apparition, suddenly he was gone. Still, there was a state House candidate, Eric Gjerde, next to us, so I snapped his image.

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House candidate I will be voting for.

And then we were in the lobby. A uniformed guard was by the door. “You can’t take that in,” he said of my sign, and confiscated it, much to my relief. And then we were in the auditorium. I was surprised at how lax security was—if there was a metal detector, I didn’t detect it.

And we were crowded together. Honestly, we were not squeezed all that much, and the space was large, so it was not uncomfortable, but I was glad I had decided by good camera would be too bulky to hold. At times, moving to take an image with a phone or little camera was challenging enough.

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The crowd inside, and Dr. Joy Ochs.

After a half hour or so, warmup acts began. A state party official spoke. A man in a wheelchair who has appeared in videos supporting Fred Hubbell spoke. A pause. Then, a high school girl doing a fine job with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Next, Sen. Rita Hart, Democrat running for Lieutenant Governor, spoke. I was quite impressed—I had not heard her before. I kind of wish she was running for the top job, but maybe if Fred is elected, that’s the next step.

Next came Fred. He’s a good guy, gave a nice speech, which the crowd enthusiastically received, but to be honest, he’s not the best speaker in politics today. No matter, we liked Fred, and it showed.

And Fred introduced Abby. Rep. Finkenauer maybe sticks to her familiar message a bit too much, at least to my ears, but she is great to hear. She was excited, it showed, and the crowd loved her.

And she got to introduce Joe.

Joe, Joe, Joe. What a great guy. What a nice man. He spoke like warm honey, his distinct voice booming out and becoming animated. He got emotional at times, choking up when he spoke of how Iowans supported him as his son was battling cancer. He compared his early life to Abby’s.

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Joe!

And he took President Trump to task for irresponsible, incendiary rhetoric. It was nice that he himself was never insulting to any Republican, other than noting the President’s excessive language. Even then, his criticism was of what the man says, not of the man.

Unlike Trump, Biden can take a stand without belittling or insulting anybody.

“This is an election for the soul of American,” Biden said. Granted, that’s a pretty typical political line, but I feel that it’s true this time.

We can’t afford to be the ignorant, coarse country represented by the Donald.

I am feeling some trepidation going into the final week of the fall campaign. To me, the core of Trump’s support has been rock solid, despite or because of the ridiculous, hateful things he says. Trump has successfully painted media as “fake news,” and not because it is, but because it’s an easy excuse for the lazy of mind to hunker down in narrow ideological silos.

Well, Biden didn’t cure me, but he helped a lot. I feel a bit better now. I was in a crowd of like-minded souls, and it felt good.

I don’t know if a blue wave is coming, although I hope so. Trumpism is a national disgrace, the modern American nightmare. I hope my country wakes up and tosses off the yoke of xenophobia and nationalism.

I’m not sure it will. But it sure felt good to hear Joe, a nice counter balance to the latest bombastic tweets from the Twit-in-Chief.

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Friday Floral Feature: When Shy Bloomers Decide the Time is Now


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April 19–Moscow Lilac starting to bloom for the first time.

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April 19–Harsh winter two years ago killed off a red bud tree, which I replaced with a Magnolia. It is also blooming for the first time this spring.

News this week from the gardens: Several shy flowering plants have decided 2017 is the year to get into gear.

I purchases a tiny “Moscow Lilac” some years ago, about 8, I think, in a fund-raiser by the Art Program at Mount Mercy University. The bush is in a spot a bit too shady for lilacs—but then again, that pretty much just means it’s somewhere on my property. I’m a bit tree crazy, I admit.

Nonetheless, various other lilacs in my yard manage to push out a few flowers despite the copious shade. I was not surprised the first couple of years when the new bush was busy growing and not blooming. But two years ago it had reached about 5 feet, and it started to seem ridiculous—how big does that bush need to get before it can spare some sugar for sex?

About 8 feet, it appears, because that’s how tall the bush is. Two weeks ago, its leaf buds started to show, and I took a close look and decided, darn, another sterile spring.

I was wrong. On Easter Sunday, I noticed that way at the top of the bush, where I could not check the buds easily, Mr. Moscow had a surprise lurking. Flower buds were visible, and three days later, on Wednesday when I shot my second set of pictures for this weekly flower update, the buds were starting to open.

See my weekly Facebook flower gallery for more images. But here are a few of my favorites flower photos of the week:

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As advertised, the Moscow Lilac bush has pretty white blossoms. Now that it has started, let’s hope it can catch enough photons between the tree leaves to continue to flower.

The lilac isn’t all that’s newly bloomed this year. My “new” magnolia tree, planted in 2015, didn’t bloom in spring 2016, but is doing very well with pretty pale lemon yellow flowers this spring.

So far, the apple trees that are adjacent to the white Moscow lilac seems to be following their usual habit of not blooming. But, who knows?

I’m hoping some year soon to see Tulip Tree flowers and Catalpa blooms. Maybe 2017 is the year.

Maybe I’ll even see some apple flowers soon … if not this spring, then maybe next year? After all, crab apples in my shady yard manage to flower.

the weather has been good in Iowa this week. We’ve cooled off a bit, and there has been some rain, but we still have enough warmth and sun to feel like spring. How are your gardens doing?

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The Rhetoric of an Immigrant Building


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Dr. David Klope speaks.

The Mother Mosque, the oldest standing mosque in North America, was built in Cedar Rapids in 1934, used as a house of worship until the early 1970s, and then fell into disrepair until it was renovated as a historic building in the 1990s.

And, according to Dr. David Klope, the building “speaks” to Cedar Rapids. That is, the associate professor of communication at Mount Mercy University made the case Nov. 1, 2016, buildings can be thought of as a medium of communication that send messages.

For example, he noted the new African American Museum in Washington, D.C, communicates by its design and location that it represents an important and integral part of the American experience.

The mosque is in a quiet, modest residential neighborhood south of the Cedar River. The way it is designed and located, Klope said, communicates that Muslims are long time neighbors in Cedar Rapids, part of the immigrant quilt that built Iowa’s second city, an integral and accepted part of the fabric of our community.

image-of-logo-colorThe presentation tonight, part of the MMU Fall Faculty Series on immigration, was attended by about 40 people—a good turnout for a Tuesday night. It also brought the first reporters to one of our series events—which is a bit of a surprise to me. The Gazette, KCRG, KWWL, KGAN, WMT, Mediacom—they all have had material about our series, but primarily small announcements of upcoming events, or, in the case of The Gazette, guest columns by speakers. Here is a link to Dr. Klope’s column.

While I’m grateful that the fall series has generated some local media buzz, I’m a bit taken aback that the first journalists to attend a series event are from Japan. Julia Masuda, from Yokohama, and Akihiro Yamamoto, an NTV production coordinator from Japan but based in New York, were at the forum tonight. I don’t know for sure what story they are working on—they actually were speaking with Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque when they learned of the MMU event—but there you have it. Journalists have arrived. I guess I just assumed when that happened, they might be from KCRG or The Gazette before they were form Yokohama.

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Akihiro Yamamoto, a production manager, listens. Two journalists attended the presentation tonight–both from Japan.

Anyway, I found Dr. Klope’s presentation to be engaging and interesting. I had not thought of the way a building itself is the convener of messages, but I think he makes a valid case. His rhetoric sold me.

But the best line of the night, I think, was from Imam Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque, who spoke after Dr. Klope finished. Tawil recounted a bit of his personal journey from Jerusalem to Cedar Rapids, and reviewed, as did Dr. Klope, some of the history of the Mother Mosque. He also invited all of us to call him someday and tour the Mother Mosque, something I hope to do soon.

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Taha Tawil, Imam of The Mother Mosque.

Anyway, Tawil finished the night with some thoughts about American Muslims and politics. He noted that Muslims in America are a diverse group whose members have more political opinions than “the colors of the rainbow.” And he noted that it’s a terrible error to paint all Muslims with the same brush—to say, for example, that ISIS, which he condemned, is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.

“It’s like saying the mafia represents Catholics,” he said.

Yeah, that was it. Valid rhetoric, I think.

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Filed under History, Journalism, Mount Mercy

What We Learned About Immigration


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Art by Gabriel Acosta. The MMU student displayed many of his works that center on immigration.

Well, that was a quite a day.

Today, Oct. 15, Mount Mercy University held an event called “Our Immigration Stories: Coming to Cedar Rapids & Mount Mercy.” It was a series of presentations that began at 10 a.m. and went until about 4 p.m.

So I’m struggling a little on how to contain my reactions to one blog post. I have something like 6 pages of notes. A lot happened and was said today—my only regret is that I wasn’t quick enough to get everything nailed downs so that the event could be publicized more. We had about 25 people in the audience at the start of the day, and that dwindled to about a dozen by day’s end (it’s wasn’t all the same people, audience members could come and go, so the total number of people who attended any part of the event was more than 25, possibly 50 or so).

Well, live and learn. I’ll have to process what I think are lessons from the day from the point of view of how the series is organized. But logistical issues aside—what a day! Those who were there learned and experienced a lot. I was hoping to have interesting, multiple perspectives from many sources—and that’s what we got.

The day began with a keynote speech by Gabriel Acosta, a senior graphic design major from Monticello, Iowa, who sneaked across the U.S.-Mexico border with his mother when he was 6.

He noted that his father had to try to cross into the U.S. nine times before he made it—luckily, Gabriel and his mother only had to try once. His story of that crossing, and his adjustment to life in Iowa, was full of interesting details: How he was separated from his mother for 30 minutes during the border crossing, and it was the longest half hour of his life. How he planned to just get a job after high school, but a guidance counselor recommended college, and Gabriel contacted several, and first heard from Mount Mercy, which said it didn’t care about his status.

“Whoever called back from MMU said, ‘we’re not the border patrol and we’re not ICE,’” Gabriel said.

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Gabriel Acosta speaks at MMU.

He made a point that was echoed throughout the day by others: it’s OK to call someone “undocumented,” but the term “illegal alien” is demeaning. “There is no such thing as an illegal human being,” he said.

From a legal standpoint, a later speaker, attorney Yer Vang, pointed out that crossing the border without a visa is considered a civil infraction under federal law—it’s not a criminal act, so the term “illegal alien” lacks legal correctness as well as political correctness.

Gabriel at one point ruminated on how there are two very conflicting stereotypes of undocumented immigrants: That they steal American’s jobs, and that they are lazy. “What am I going to do, steal your job and then just sit there?” he quipped. As for Gabriel, he noted: “I will be working hard.”

Under DACA, Gabriel is now here legally and has a green card. Bravo, I say—his presence certainly enriches MMU.

Anyway, after Gabriel gave his excellent keynote speak, students from a Latino-Latina literature course taught by Dr. Carol Tyx recited poems, accompanied by pictures. Carol herself also read a poem.

That somehow set the stage for what came next, which I consider the two highlights of the day. First, we heard from four students, who told of their personal immigrant experiences. Gabriel was one, and there was another student who was also from Mexico, plus a Liberian and a Salvadorian.

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Student immigrant panel, Mauricio Diaz from Mexico; Philemina Towah from Liberia; Gabriel Acosta from Mexico; and Marlon Flores from El Salvador.

Gabriel gave yet another memorable line during this panel presentation, describing how when he first started school in Iowa: “I was the only burnt piece of rice in the bowl.”

After the student panel spoke, a group of faculty and staff (or spouse of faculty) shared their experiences. I was moderating both talks and asking questions, so I don’t have detailed notes, which is too bad because, as I said, I think these two panels were very important. It’s hard to denigrate immigrants as a faceless, scary “other” when you have eight of them sharing their compelling, personal stories.

Dr. Ayman Amer, for example, talked about how the Cedar Rapids community rallied around its Muslim neighbors to protect them from any backlash in the wake of 9/11.

Amir Hadzic described how, in his first nights in America, he wanted to go for a walk—but the cousin he was staying with lived in a sketchy neighborhood of Queens in New York City, and told him that a walk at 10 p.m. was not a good idea. He ended up the soccer coach at MMU almost by accident—he was in Iowa and saw an ad in the Gazette. He didn’t have a resume or any materials, but had been a professional soccer player in Croatia. The MMU athletic director liked what he saw and hired Amer.

Father Tony Adawu told of a priest in Baltimore, Maryland, who sight unseen invited him to be part of his parish. He didn’t have a work visa and couldn’t earn a salary, but could accept a place to live. Father Tony spoke of how there was tension in the parish when he arrived—but not “go away” tension, more like “who are you?” tension. “Together, we worked it out,” he said.

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Faculty-staff panel: Ayman Amer from Egypt; Suresh Basnet from Nepal; Father Tony Adawu from Ghana; and Amir Hadzic of Croatia.

Father Tony spoke of some lower class white parish members, and how they had no choice but to live life “the hard way.” He says he thinks of those people when he hears others talk of “white privilege,” and said it’s dangerous to generalize too much about others. Some white people “struggle big time,” he noted. He echoed Gabriel, and noted he agreed with Gabriel’s point was that it’s always important to try to understand another’s point of view.

Interestingly, all of the faculty-staff panel members had their very initial experiences of the U.S. in New York City, while three of the student panel crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the afternoon, Yer Vang, an immigration attorney, clued us in on the complexity of the U.S. immigration system. She described a system that is complicated, slow and not always logical. She also said that the U.S. already does extensive screening of anybody attempting to claim refugee status—“the screening process is very burdensome and involved multiple agencies,” she noted. To me, it sounded like we already have “extreme vetting.”

In Iowa, she noted, about 5 percent of the state’s population is foreign born. Close to 100,000 are not citizens. In a state that struggles with stagnant population and whose economic growth is limited by that factor, I would think we would be all about welcoming immigrants. We need them, even if we don’t always remember that.

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Yer Vang, based in Decorah, is an attorney with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

After Yer, we heard from Paula Land of the Catherine McAuley Center; Monica Vallejo of the Young Parenthood Network; and Kassia Scott of Kirkwood Community College. All noted that many local agencies want volunteers who can work with immigrants—Land in particular talked about tutoring English at the Catherine McAuley Center. That’s something that’s been on my “to do” list for some time. Maybe if I can get someone else to coordinate next year’s fall series it will be time to try that out.

image-of-logo-colorThe day was capped off by Mark Stoffer Hunter of The History Center in Cedar Rapids. He described the patterns of immigrants coming to Cedar Rapids over time, especially the wave of Bohemians after the Civil War, and the early arrival of a Muslim population. Cedar Rapids, he said, was different from many other Iowa cities. While the Czech population did settle in an area that is still called “New Bo,” the city overall was less divided into distinct ethnic or religious neighborhoods. Partly, that’s attributable to the rather open minded attitudes of the Bohemian population that settled in Cedar Rapids—they often opened their social halls to any other group that wanted to use them.

So Russian Jews, Muslims and others became part of the fabric of this city.

Well, that’s just scratching the surface. There was a lot more said and learned today. I am grateful for all the fine speakers who contributed so much to the event today at MMU. More of my photos.

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Mercy Week & Mother Nature


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Father Tony Adawu talking about Pope Francis and Mercy. My wife, a nursing faculty member and OB nurse, was impressed Francis clearly knows how to hold a baby.

Here we go again. Just at the end of Mercy Week 2016, as we celebrate Mount Mercy’s heritage as a Sisters of Mercy institution, we have a reminder that the Sisters of Mercy take an extra vow—a vow of service. So service is part of the ethos of MMU.

In 2008, when devastating floods destroyed neighborhoods, Mount Mercy became a staging area for Iowa National Guard troops called in to help with the disaster. But that flood took place in summer—we’re facing the Flood of 2016 in the midst of a semester.

The good news, knock on wood, is the crest is not expected to reach the 2008 level. But it will be bad, and it will do some damage to some culturally important parts of Cedar Rapids—Czech Village and New Bo, for example.

And one reason that the Flood of 2016 might not be as devastating as 2008 is whole areas wiped out by the earlier flood have left empty patches of land where once vibrant neighborhoods stood.

In eight years, lots of plans have been slowly made to protect Cedar Rapids from flooding, but little has been done. Here’s hoping Mother Nature shows us some mercy—may this be a “brush-back pitch” that gives us fair warning, rather than the gut punch that 2008 was. And may it spur government, especially the federal government which provides the most finding for flood protection and must approve plans, into action.

Anyway, Mercy Week continued on campus today, with several fine events. In a morning class, which had three sections combined for the presentation, Sister Jeanne Christensen from Kansas City spoke about human trafficking, and showed this video.

She noted that trafficking can impact anybody, and can involve enslaving another person through three strategies: Force, often physical abuse; fraud, making false promises; and coercion, or various kinds of threats, such as threatening to embarrass someone by revealing their secrets.

One theme of her presentation is that local law enforcement often treats the virtual slaves engaged in sex trade as criminals, when they need help and treatment. As the woman in the video said of her own experience: “Being arrested over and over again did nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Anyway, at least the woman in the video was able to escape from her pimp. Sister Jeanne brought home the reality that slavery is not really something we left behind in history, but rather is something that has become a modern, shadowy reality.

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Sister Jeanne Christensen speaks to three 8 a.m. classes. By being there, she said, “We have all earned sainthood.”

The mood was lighter at lunch today when Father Tony Adawu spoke of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy. He had us write down who we would want to show mercy to—and at the end noted few of us had included ourselves.

“It’s OK to be merciful with yourself,” he said. Well, that’s a relief, because I managed to accidentally erase a whole bunch of very fine images I shot of Mercy Week events today—I copied them to my computer without realizing I had files of the same name, and when the computer asked if I wanted to copy over the old files, I said “no.” I assumed I had accidentally copied the files twice and formatted my SD card before I checked.

Ouch. Mercy me.

Anyway, sadly many of the gone images were of the Peace March that took place at 11:30, but at least I posted two of those images before the fiasco. I lost some good ones—I really liked a few I shot at the end after the group reach the Peace Pole, but there’s not use crying over spilled pixels, especially when an impending flood helps make little tragedies seem appropriately tiny.

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Freshman Kasey Kaimann, who wrote a op/ed reflection on today’s presentation for the MMU Times. And, Times reporters note–she was done with her story by 4 p.m. Just saying.

Back to Father Tony—to illustrate Mercy, he talked about a man in his home town in Ghana, Kwesi Essel Koomson, recognized girls in the town had little educational opportunities. He was a driving force in setting up a new girls’ school, and in coming up with a financial incentive so that local fishing families would send their daughters to school rather than off to work.

Sadly, Koomson grew sick and died a few years ago, but the school is continuing the grow, Father Tony noted.

Well, it’s good to know that parts of stories sometimes turn out well. I hope that is the case with the Flood of 2016—may it turn out to be less than we fear and puny compared to 2008. Inevitably, though, it will hurt some. May we find ways to show them mercy.

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The News From Precinct Six


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Crowd in Peace Church, deep in Bernie country, looking out towards Hillary Town.

Man, I never knew there were so many Democrats in north Cedar Rapids. We’re a pretty white bread, GOP neighborhood, but several hundred showed up to pack the Peace Church for the Precinct 6 caucus Monday night.

In the end, it was pretty much a tie. The few Martin O’Malley people and a few undecided joined the larger Clinton and Sanders camps.

On the way, I decided to stick with my tribe and stand with Sanders. I can’t wish Hillary any ill will, and am sure I will vote for her if she is the nominee, but I went with my heart more than my head tonight.

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Audrey in Bernie area. The three behind her  are the O’Malley crew. Then, on the other side, Sandersville continues. O’Malley is the University Heights of Bernie Sanders.

I don’t know how things were at other places, but in Precinct 6 we were mostly a polite, if rather disorganized, lot. Despite the clear almost 50-50 split, which meant both Sanders and Clinton would get two delegates to go on to the county convention, they had to keep recounting and recounting. The totals added up to more than the number of people registered, until they realized they had under counted the registrations.

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Erika, a former ME of the MMU Times. Her first caucus.

In the meantime, I got to chat with Erika, a former Mount Mercy student who now works in marketing for a big accounting firm. I’m hoping to get her to come back to MMU to speak with one of my classes.

The meeting room at the church was a bit stuffy and got rather warm. After an hour and a half, my young grandson decided he was done. We tried to leave and got held up because their plan was to have the Hillary people leave first—and they would count again to verify numbers as people filed out.

But a cranky baby is a powerful motivator, and they figured they could count three Sanders votes first.

That’s my report from Precinct Six. How was your caucus night?

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There you go, Ben Sheller, I did it. Are you pleased?

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