Published with permission from the fall 2021 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The PP is funded entirely by reader subscription, available only in hard copy for $12/yr. Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244. Click here for archived issues.
by Amara Andrews
I am a business leader, a social activist, a Black woman, a mom, and a candidate for Mayor of Cedar Rapids. I appreciate the opportunity to tell Prairie Progressive readers, especially those living in what we call the Corridor, why I’m running and what I hope to bring to city
government in my community.
My husband and I put down roots in Cedar Rapids because we saw an opportunity to raise our kids in a place with great family values. On first arriving from Illinois, we noticed the beauty of the city, the rolling hills, and the TREES! When asked by people in Los Angeles what it’s like living here, I would always say, “There’s no traffic!” It didn’t take long to identify other things to love: the people, the neighborhoods, the trails, and FIVE museums.
It was quickly clear that the many people who’ve come for jobs in industry, create a beautiful mosaic to rival any large city: African refugees, Czechs, African Americans, South Asians, to name a few. Having lived in cities across the country, large and small, we recognized and valued the quieter pace in a still thriving, vibrant place to live.
Cedar Rapids is the best of all possible worlds. We love it here. It’s only when you love something that you’d take the time and put forth the effort to contribute in ways that enhance and improve it. In that regard I have been active on several non-profit Boards of Directors. I am very proud of the work accomplished by the Advocates for Social Justice (ASJ) even during COVID. It is through our research, conversations with representatives from Civilian Oversight Boards, the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, and meetings (often contentious) with Mayor Hart and some City Council members, that the Mayor can tout the fact that Cedar Rapids now has a Citizens Review Board.
Policy issues affecting Cedar Rapidians are also key to the health of surrounding cities. Case in point: Cargill/Rompot. While community members weighed in at City Council meetings, they were not at the decision-making table. Destruction of the Prairie Pollinator Zone was something to which they were strongly opposed. It not only effects the value of their property – many having moved there understanding the City was committed to the preservation of that land – but more importantly, it eliminates the natural flood plain buffer. Bulldozers currently are literally scraping the zone of all flora, destroying fauna habitats. One need only look back at pre-Katrina infrastructure policy decisions of New Orleans lawmakers, and remember the ensuing disaster, to understand these policies have deep, far-reaching implications. It’s as if CR city leaders learned nothing from the devastating flooding of 2008.
Homelessness is a huge concern in cities across the country. Derecho displaced numbers of families increasing the need for shelters in Cedar Rapids. Plunging winter temperatures create an urgency for emergency shelter. Several local and statewide non-profits and social
action organizations, among them ASJ, are urging city leaders to allocate American Recovery Act funds to create at least 250 new shelter units.
Local governments need to partner with non-profits, neighborhood associations, and community leaders already on the ground, deeply involved with affected communities. It doesn’t work for governments to create policies and develop strategies affecting these communities in silos, unilaterally presenting their solutions to the communities which may have better solutions or other concerns.
Tactical skills are needed to actualize any goal. But without the heart investment, without a commitment to morally and ethically driven solutions, a key component goes missing. Deciding without community input results in contentiousness, leading to a closed-mindedness antithetical to successful alliances. We must be better listeners so we can be better doers.
Compelled to run for Mayor, I’m courageous in pursuit of justice, a committed advocate for vulnerable communities whose voices are mere whispers to others. I understand where compromises can be made while maintaining the integrity of the mission and leaving the goal intact, and I have the requisite credentials.
Service to the wide community cannot be accomplished without deep listening skills, sensitivity, and compassion. Government must be open, accessible, and genuinely interested in bringing residents to the table, voices not only to be heard, but welcomed. That will be my promise to the people of Cedar Rapids.