I’ve been thinking about writing an essay to close out the year for weeks if not months now — apparently I want to bid this year goodbye — and it’s only now, seven hours until midnight that I’ve started.
Procrastination is indeed my middle name.
New Year’s Eve has long been my favorite holiday. Growing up, I spent many of my NYEs at our family friends’ German restaurant and bar in the deep Northwoods of northwest Wisconsin. Watching my Czech uncle dance the polka until practically midnight is a highlight of my childhood. And I mean that. I can still see him dancing like it was yesterday and not over 25 years ago.
Racing around the spacious restaurant ballroom with my little sister Ellie while a live band played — snow gently falling outside the windows — swiping as many German licorice mints as we could from the front desk — my parents happy and joyful — is a gift I still have with me.
I tried to do the same for my children through the years by planning a fairly elaborate menu of fondue and appetizers and desserts — encouraging any and all decorating by my children of the dining room in the 24 hours leading up to the end of the year no matter the mess — watching special movies — trying desperately to make it to midnight (I tend to pass out from exhaustion like literally five minutes to midnight) — my kids have come to anticipate the end of the year with happiness and joy.
And then 2021.
I won’t put much more ink to that. If you’ve been through a divorce with children, you know.
It is hell.
A divorce that can’t be easily worked out taking place during a pandemic is like hell warmed up, somehow.
My kids and I celebrated NYE yesterday. And it was special. But it wasn’t the same. And that’s just the way it is.
In this past year since the election of 2020, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about change and attempting to go back, to build what once was. To build back better.
I started working for a different newspaper in July as a full time reporter and with each story of rural erosion or rural survival or just of rural being, I’ve thought and thought and thought about it.
And I’ve decided we aren’t going to go back — the rural Iowa of today is the rural Iowa we get and the best we can do at this point is to keep ourselves adrift, happy, and making it.
I would like to think we could staunch the loss of farm numbers.
I would like to think we could increase the number of beginning farmers on the land.
I would like to think we could keep the number of school districts where it is right now.
I would like to think we could turn the tide of teachers leaving the profession.
I would like to think we could better support the little guy by restoring Chapter 20 (collective bargaining) to our public employees and for all that is good in this world, raise the minimum wage in this state.
Those are worthy goals. Goals I think the people in charge should work to make happen.
I’m not in charge but I write about people who are in charge at the local rural, small town level, and, by and large, they embody everything we ran for in 2020 — working rural people who are tired at day’s end — who want to go home to their families alive and healthy and find some peace before they head out the next morning to do it all over again.
I think about those people a lot when I write — when I decide what to put on the front page or what to include on our editorial page.
Recently my editor and I were discussing the lengths we go to sometimes to fill the front page of three rural newspapers spread across two counties with two staff members and a freelance photographer.
I think it boiled down to ‘we are rural warriors’ to which we both then scoffed and laughed but deep inside we both know it’s true.
I was interviewing an Iowa statehouse legislator recently and I mentioned to them how there are so many jobs out there that pay more than what I’m making as a small town newspaper reporter and how it’s so tempting to jump ship.
But then the ship might go down. I don’t want to be The Last Reporter at any of our consolidated papers.
The legislator listened intently and then said to feel that way is not something my editor and I really should feel the weight of so much — it wouldn’t be on us if the papers folded.
It was a nice thing for that legislator to tell me.
But the weight would be on us.
I know a lot of small town bar owners feel the same.
A lot of farmers in their 60s and 70s and 80s still at the helm of a Century or Heritage farm that isn’t anywhere near as big as it needs to be in this day and age feel the same.
A lot of teachers are starting to feel the same.
A lot of school board members who didn’t want to run again but no one else was stepping up feel the same.
A lot of people in rural Iowa feel the same.
I’ll close with this before I leave you with a list of my most treasured articles I wrote this year — I hope you’ll check them out below! — even if we are the end of the line, we’re not going anywhere.
I am not giving up the work we started by running for Iowa House District 75. I won’t be running for Iowa House in 2022. But I also won’t be absent from the work, that is a guarantee.
We’re working every week here at Ruby for Iowa on what’s to come, but the playbook of old doesn’t work anymore and the two-party system is a failure in rural Iowa. But I believe there is a way to expand the conversation for working people, for rural people, for people in the Iowa Legislature.
The power held by both parties — especially the party in charge — isn’t being shared. And it’s time someone dropped some serious tinder on that.
I feel the rumblings. There is a movement on the line. I think 2022 is a make-or-break year for this state. One way or the other. So please don’t disengage as much as many of us would like to do and just say — it is what it is, we’re it, show’s over.
I think the show just needs a different tune.
Happy New Year!
May you feel the blessings of the land which gives us strength in the year ahead.
My Top Five Favorite Articles of 2021
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