At around 3:00 PM Sunday afternoon, a small group of protesters pulled up to the steps of the Iowa City city hall in a pickup truck. Behind them was a utility trailer filled with muddied and rusted scrap pulled from the nearby Ralston Creek. The drivers and participants already stationed at the scene proceeded to unload the trash on the steps of the hall all while being photographed by multiple media organizations. A handful of the organizers equipped with a megaphone stated their motivation and demands. Almost thirty people had congregated in front of city hall to listen in.
“A couple weeks ago I went to speak to the city council about all this garbage and was met with a simple “thank you”, so we decided words aren’t enough to fix this issue.” Stated one of the organizers. “We compiled this pile of trash to demonstrate to our city government their apathy for our natural resources. I cannot make this clear enough, this city government only comes here to help, not to address threats to our ecosystem, but to displace people’s personal belongings that they do not want on display to the public. Now that we have this crowd’s attention, we wanna make very clear our demands for this city, we need proper waste management, in the form of trash cans at every corner of ever bridge that this creek runs through.”
Image via John Glab
The day before, the protesters had spent fifteen hours removing the trash from Ralston Creek that they had set on city hall. One of the protesters, Jean, who helped out with the clean-up detailed the operation, saying that the group, organized around the local punk scene, went from Hickory Hill Park, to where the creek meets the Iowa River. She stated that the group had bought rubber waders to sift through the creek, and had set up pulley systems to haul up trash. Despite this, she said it was relatively easy to do, at least for six everyday people.
In terms of the danger of the clean-up she said, “The most dangerous part was by far the filthiness of the water. One of our members had water splashed inside his suit, and had developed a rash almost instantly.” She cited the immense amounts of pollution and runoff that went into the creek that made it so toxic to touch.
After making their demands, The protesters proceeded to pick up the trash, and loaded it back on the trailer to eventually take to the dump. As they were doing so I was able to talk to Izzy, one of the organizers for the demonstration and owner of the pickup truck. I asked her what motivated her to come out and do this demonstration. “I walk past Ralston Creek all the time. Seeing it, I’m like damn, there’s all that trash in there, it’d be so easy to pay some people and clean that up. I later found out there’s this labyrinth of just like unaccountability. It’s like multiple departments all saying that it’s not their job, and that it’s the job of another department.”
Image via John Glab
They restated their concerns over the lack of waste management and the city putting blame of the issue on the unhoused and using so as justification for their continued displacement. “They want to make it as difficult as possible to live there. Home owners, businesses, and corporations all come out and get mad about it. One thing we want to come out of this is more respect for those in Iowa City who don’t live in houses.”
When the protest and cleaning effort was over, I was able to interview Maurine Newman and Bennet Brown, a couple, and residents of Iowa city for over a decade. I asked what they thought of the demonstration and if they agreed with the protesters’ statements. “I like the idea. Definitely a positive opinion of getting out and doing something that’s creative and positive,” said Mr. Brown. “I guess the question for me is the choice of throwing this on city hall. I get it, but I might have engaged with or made some demands with a local factory. Our local government kicks ass. All the bike lanes and the buses are free right now. Our local government is taking tax payer money and trying to make us an exemplary city.” Mrs. Newman, a faculty of the biology department of Iowa University, stated I don’t think small government is driving the huge problems we’re having. I think it’s more so large corporations and the federal government.”
One of the attendees, Oro, gave his thoughts saying, “The trash is a huge problem. I often see it when I look around for graffiti and artwork underneath the bridges along the creek.” He also gave his sympathies towards the unhoused who use the creek for shelter with all the sewage that accumulates there, and the harassment they face from the police. Another of the attendees, Joe, stated that the protest is very indicative of the dire global environmental situation. He said, “having a demonstration like this is good, because it reminds us that we can’t lose hope.”
Poster for the protest