Dispatch from a Red State

Why stay?

A “Vote Here” sign points voters toward a polling place in Ray Lounsberry’s shed on November 3, 2020, in Nevada, Iowa. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
 A “Vote Here” sign points voters toward a polling place in Ray Lounsberry’s shed on November 3, 2020, in Nevada, Iowa. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In 2016, the narrative about the election was that blue-state liberals lived in a bubble. That’s why they didn’t see the election coming. SNL mocked liberals with a skit called “The Bubble.” 

“The bubble is a planned community of like-minded free thinkers and no one else,” said Sasheer Zamata, playing a real estate developer in the skit.

Articles from blue-state liberals who moved to red states extolled the homespun virtues of red living. If you want to make a change, move back to your little hometown in Iowa! That was the argument to liberals. Get out of your bubble.

All that advice was and is incredibly myopic. 

Living in a red state presumes that your body is safe here. And many bodies are not. Queer bodies. Disabled bodies. Black and brown bodies. All of these bodies face risks living here.

Last year, a state house representative from Fairfield called the act of flying the trans flag over the Capitol the “rainbow jihad.” People laughed and made jokes. Raygun made a shirt. And it’s funny, until you realize he was dead serious. And it’s funny until you remember that he is actually in charge of voting on things like clean water and school-funding bills. It’s funny until you realize he was just re-elected.

I never fault anyone for moving to a place where they feel safer. A place where they belong. A place where they are not the one who is too loud, too gay, too much.

As a liberal who has lived in the middle of the country all my life, I have never been in a bubble. The county I live in, Linn, is one of the remaining blue strongholds in what is otherwise a very red state, but materially, that means nothing. A large number of my neighbors are Trump supporters. And yes, we talk. 

After the election was called on Saturday, I took my kids to get ice cream and play outside at the NewBo Market. Even there, as we ran and played and danced, a family showed up with a small boy who was riding a dirt bike covered in Trump stickers.

The conventional logic of Iowa is that it’s purple. But as Laura Belin over at Bleeding Heartland argued, quite persuasively, Iowa is very red. “Some Iowa Democrats believed the 2016 election was an aberration, stemming from an aversion to Clinton,” she wrote. “According to that theory, we should have reverted to our norm once misogyny (or, if you prefer, Clinton’s unique baggage) was taken out of the equation. It didn’t happen.”

I have never chosen where I’ve lived. I’m a person who moved with her family and then moved with her husband. And now I am bound to this place because this is where my kids are. Some days all I want to do is move. To be very honest, I have dated the majority of available men here and even some of them twice. There aren’t a ton of jobs. And once, in 2009, when I applied for a job, my boss at the time, who didn’t know I was applying elsewhere, met the man I was interviewing with at the country club and they talked about my job application, and I didn’t get the job. Also, it would be nice to live in a state where my kids aren’t forced into school, so that maybe I could have had my sister over for Thanksgiving. 

You know, sometimes it’s very claustrophobic when everybody knows your name.

Whenever I say this, I know it makes my friends here sad. People who love this town. People who are dedicated to it. People who have built incredible communities here with art, literature, and music. 

But it’s a real feeling. And it’s a question people ask of me a lot. “Are you going to move?” “Why don’t you move?” Two weeks ago, as I walked out of my local bookstore, a woman I know, who is very active in local progressive politics, saw me and said, “I thought you would have moved by now!”

I talk a lot about this with my therapist. She is wonderful. But she’s also best friends with my PA and grew up with a friend of mine and knows a good friend of mine because their kids go to school together. 

So, once again, last week, I was in her office, talking to her about how sometimes it’s not fun being recognized on your trip to ALDI to buy milk. Sometimes it’s nice to be not so cozy with your neighbors.

And she said something to me that I have been thinking about a lot: “This is your town, too.”

This town, this state, it belongs as much to me as it does to anyone else. I don’t know why I keep waiting around for Iowans to say I belong. I belong. I have now lived here longer than I have lived anywhere else. And truly, the problems here exist everywhere; it’s just easier to hide from them in other places. Maybe somewhere else it would feel less personal. Maybe somewhere else, I could go to a bar with a friend and not run into my divorce mediator, but also, maybe I would. 

And I don’t know who needs to hear this, but the place you are, it belongs to you, too. Even if your state is run by a party that is actively undermining your rights. Even if you have to watch as local politicians annually debate your right to make your own healthcare choices. Even if you have to watch people who make your body and your life a joke get re-elected over and over.

I am here. And I love this town. And I guess, settle in, because I’m going to keep fighting for it.