CCI member Maria Alvarez-Mendoza from Marshalltown called us to share some great news – she got her first driver’s license! 

A privilege many of us take for granted, this is quite a triumph for Maria given the obstacles she and too many others have had to overcome.

Maria is 23, but was never qualified to apply for her driver’s license because of her immigration documentation status.  Maria grew up in Marshalltown, graduated from the local high school several years ago, and has since been working in her community and raising her young daughter with her husband.  She is very involved in CCI and other social justice organizations.  But for all she does for her community, Maria wasn’t able to get her driver’s license because she was not born in the U.S.

Maria was very hopeful that change was coming last year when the federal government announced a program of deferred action (DACA) for young people who came to the U.S. as children, have grown up here, and who want to live and work here like Maria.  However, the Iowa Dept. of Transportation director didn’t think this group should have the right to get licenses and tried to stop them from doing so, impacting over 5,000 young immigrants.  Thanks to CCI and other community and faith organizations, the Iowa DOT got a lot of pressure and was forced to revert its decision. Soon after, Maria was eligible for a driver’s license.

Here’s what she had to say about her experience:

“As you turn 14, one of the biggest achievements in your teen life is getting your drivers’ permit, but reality hits you and it’s when you start noticing differences from other kids. It’s taken about 21 years in the U.S. to finally be accepted for any kind of status, and the excitement I have is like no other.

“Getting Deferred Action (DACA) has started to change my life. Yesterday, I went to get my license and though for U.S. citizens it’s not the biggest thing, for me it was a great accomplishment. A piece of plastic that’s turning my life around and taking the fear and worry away from myself and my family. I want to thank everyone who supports and works so hard for DREAMers like myself achieve our dreams.”    

– Maria Alvarez-Mendoza, 23, CCI member from Marshalltown, IA

During the past six months, CCI members have been busy informing, engaging and mobilizing workers; workers are learning how they can organize to reclaim their rights.

In the past four months alone, over 50 community members have attended the worker clinics. As a result, workers have secured some big wins:

  • Nereida of Des Moines, IA won back over $10,000 in unpaid wages for her family. After attending a clinic, Nereida worked with her coworkers to develop an organizing plan — after countless letters, calls, and an action, Nereida and her team won back over $10,000 in stolen wages. Since the win, Nereida joins fellow members at the Statehouse to lobby for legislation that cracks down on wage theft.


  • Yik of Perry, IA won back over $700 in compensation for hospital bills that his employer Tyson hadn’t paid following an accidental injury on the job. Additionally, Yik was able to negotiate his schedule with Tyson. Yik has two jobs, and as a result, cannot work at Tyson on the weekends when he’s scheduled to work elsewhere. Tyson had initially threatened to fire him if he was unable to work weekends, but Yik was able to negotiate otherwise. Yik says he plans to stay engaged in organizing for worker justice work because he sees “how badly some workers in the Latino community are treated, but many are too scared to speak out.”

Iowa CCI’s worker rights program hosts worker clinics the 4th Monday of each month.

Community members come to our worker clinics to fight:

  • wage theft,
  • discrimination at their workplace,
  • health and/or safety violations at work, or
  • other issues related to their rights in the workplace.

Our upcoming worker clinics:

  • Monday, March 24th at 5:00 p.m.
  • Monday, April 28th at 5:00 p.m.
  • Monday, May 26th at 5:00 p.m.


Join the Fight!


Larry Cohen is the keynote for CCI’s Bold Vision, Bold Action 2013 Statewide Convention. This article originally appeared in the Tuesday, July 9th edition of the Des Moines Register:|head&nclick_check=1

Click here to sign up to hear Larry speak at CCI’s Bold Vision, Bold Action 2013 Statewide Convention on Saturday, July 13th.


Is this what democracy looks likes?

Ordinary Americans are facing hard times. Strange, isn’t it, because the stock market is up, corporate profits are at a record high and the rich are getting richer.

But working people aren’t sharing in this economic good news. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Wages continue to stagnate. Workers haven’t seen a real increase in wages for 40 years. We worry about finding a job, how to help our children go to college and whether we’ll be able to retire.

We need economic justice in our country, and the only way we will get there is with all of us working together in new ways.

A new partnership called the Democracy Initiative is starting to make that happen. Workers, people of faith, community activists, civil rights and immigrant groups, students and many more are coming together to fight for real democracy. We’re partnering with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and National People’s Action to break through the barriers and gain economic and social justice for all.

In small towns and urban communities, we are standing together against banks that are continuing their predatory lending and illegal foreclosures. We are marching for immigration reform. We are standing with miners who have had their retirement security stolen. We are fighting for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and to achieve retirement security for ordinary Americans.

We are asking: Is this what democracy looks like?

Democracy doesn’t look anything like our current election process, which is dominated by corporate America as never before in the history of our nation. More than $7 billion was spent during the last election cycle, an increase of $1 billion over the previous cycle.

This massive amount of spending, overwhelmingly by corporate groups and shadow organizations doing their bidding, was allowed by the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 called Citizens United. The decision said that corporations are people and are entitled to free speech rights. The decision went on to equate speech with money so these groups can spend millions of dollars — anonymously — to influence elections anywhere in the country.

Iowans are proud of their grass roots involvement in the election process. The system enables citizens to hear directly from the candidates and participate in the caucuses. That citizen involvement is being drowned even here by an obscene flood of money in our democratic process. We must end the corrosive influence of big-money contributions.

Democracy doesn’t look like the obstruction that is the rule in today’s U.S. Senate.

Too many measures, like setting a fair interest rate for student loans or programs for repairing collapsing bridges or protecting consumers from predatory lenders, don’t get a minute’s debate on the floor of what is supposed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body.

With each day, protections for consumers, the environment, workers and citizens seeking justice in our courts become harder to attain. If the U.S. Senate can’t even debate ideas about climate change and unjust home foreclosures, how will we move forward? Is this what democracy looks like?

The growing attack on voting rights is another block to real democracy. Instead of trying to restrict voting hours and close polling places, we should adopt universal registration, as so many countries have, so that people can exercise their right to vote and not be turned away by a right-wing agenda.

That’s why, whether we’re black, white or brown, young or old, living in a rural community or a big city, we are working together for real change that will build our democracy.

We see all too clearly the barriers that prevent progress for ordinary Americans. But we are aiming high for the democracy and economic and social justice that all of us deserve.


Join the Fight!

Enjoy Larry’s writing? Check out a video of Larry in action here.

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Today, the comprehensive immigration reform bill cleared the U.S. Senate with a bipartisan majority of 68-32, including every Democrat and 14 Republicans.

“We are closer than ever to winning immigration reform and fixing this inhumane system,” said CCI member Gloria Aguilar from Des Moines. “This is a very big step for our communities. It will change millions of lives. With the bipartisan support in the Senate, Congress has no excuses not to pass immigration reform this year.”

Senator Tom Harkin voted to pass the bill, while Senator Charles Grassley remained consistent in his anti-immigrant efforts to kill immigration reform and voted against the bill.

“The bill’s provisions militarize the border and put extreme control measures in place, yet Grassley still voted against immigration reform,” said Aguilar. “This is not about border control; it’s about excluding immigrants from a chance at the American Dream. Grassley’s vote does not represent Iowa values.”

CCI members, along with national allies have been fighting for a path to citizenship for 11 million hopeful Americans.

“The horrific raids in Marshalltown and Postville were a dark episode in Iowa’s history with our broken immigration system,” said Aguilar said. “We cannot wait any longer to fix this.”

CCI members believe the bill is extreme in its border control provisions and will keep pushing to change this. The militarization of the Southern border will have serious consequences for border communities and taxpayers. Yet, the path to citizenship—the heart of this bill—is largely intact and will provide relief for millions of families around the country.

“Iowans want fair immigration reform that keeps families together, protects workers’ rights and provides a path to citizenship for all 11 million hopeful Americans,” said Aguilar. “House Representatives must know this and act. We will keep fighting until the path to citizenship is a reality.”

Since the beginning of this year, Iowa CCI members have held dozens of meetings across Iowa, engaged hundreds of immigrants, weighed in with Iowa’s Congressional delegation in Washington D.C., joined with ally groups for demonstrations and marches and have been at the forefront of pushing for fair immigration reform that puts families and communities first.



Long-time Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement leader, retired farmer and factory worker, Oliver ‘Wayne’ Simmons, 72, passed away on Thursday, June 13, 2013, at the Guthrie County Hospital.  Wayne was born on March 25, 1941, the son of the late Oliver Wolfe Simmons and Helen Etna Ivers.

Wayne graduated from Guthrie Center High School in the spring of 1959.  Following graduation, he began farming and raised both cattle and pigs. Wayne married Diane Etta Sease on September 1, 1962. In that union, came the birth of their daughter, Joni Diane Simmons. A few years later, he began working for Oscar Meyer in Perry as a meat processer. He held this position for 21 years, where he had perfect attendence for 17 of those years. Starting in 1991, Wayne took classes at DMACC where he achieved his associates degree in Marketing, graduating with honors.

Wayne married Stephanie Ann Farmer on August 11, 1991. During their time together, they enjoyed studying the newspaper, listening to NPR and country music, going to the movies, and eating at Ryan’s Steakhouse. Wayne was very passionate about politics, religion, and the environment. He was a devout Christian who enjoyed reading scripture with his dear friends. Wayne was a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and served as vice-president of the Iowa CCI Carroll Regional Chapter.  Wayne was also a proud member of the Trapper’s Association. He also cherished spending quality time with his cat, Buff.

He leaves his loving memories to be cherished by his wife of 21 years, Stephanie; his sisters Nancy Wetzel (Charles) and Judy Flanery; and his daughter, Joni, all of Guthrie Center; his stepson Patrick Douglas Farmer (Jessica) of Granger, Iowa, and his six grandchildren, Jessica Lynn Crannell (Nate), Abigail Diane Thompson, Carter Lee Farmer, Logan Nicole Farmer, Hayden Mitchell Farmer, and Lillie Joelle Farmer. Friends and family were invited to attend the burial at the Guthrie Center Union Cemetery that followed the service.

Below is a copy of the prepared remarks delivered at Wayne’s eulogy by Farming and Environment Organizer David Goodner:

We came from two very different generations, but Wayne Simmons helped remind me about  all that was great about the generation that came before mine.

I remember when I first met Wayne at an Iowa CCI water quality monitoring training back in 2009 out west here somewhere.  We had just came in for lunch and had our nets and our little petri dishes and things.  And we were standing in line and he struck up conversation with me.  Right away, I learned about Wayne’s farm background and why he cared so much about clean air, water, and a rural economy that put people first, before big corporate interests.  But I also learned that Wayne was a former factory worker and union member.  Wayne understood the importance of organization, of unity, and standing up together to fight for what’s right.  He understood the power that people have when we band together.

That day, I invited Wayne to the Showdown in Chicago, one of the largest big bank, Wall Street protests in 20 years, and it was right after the big economic crash.

Over the next several years Wayne and his wife Stephanie became more and more active with Iowa CCI, and I saw them more and more at planning meetings in Carroll and Des Moines, at protests and vigils, and even twice at their house for dinner and coffee.  Stephanie always called Wayne her “chauffeur”, and it was said with such fondness and such love.  He loved you so much, Stephanie.

I remember I once invited a young friend of mine from Des Moines named Justin Norman to Wayne’s house in Guthrie Center because Justin wanted to know more about what life was like in the country.  He wanted to know more about life in smalltown Iowa, and I took him to Wayne Simmons’ home because Wayne was the archetype of that kind of everyday Iowan.  The best this land has to offer.

I learned two things about Wayne at those informal dinner meetings in his living room.  The first was, Wayne was a kind and gentle man, yes, but he was also a fierce and passionate critic of injustice.  If he read something in the paper he didn’t agree with, or saw something on the news he didn’t like, you would hear about it.  He could give a blistering critique when he wanted and that was something I really related to.  We didn’t debate politics, because we generally agreed about these kinds of things, but we often talked about what was wrong with the world and how we could organize to make it better.

The second thing I learned about Wayne from these home visit was how much his Christian values impacted his worldview.  His farm and his work experience drove his labor and environmental activism, but his Christian faith also gave him a unique concern for the poor, the disabled, and the immigrant, the foreigner in our midst.  And he lived out those values everyday.  Wayne lived a christian life, not just in faith, but also in action.

Matthew 25:40 states “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”  But there is also a related passage earlier in Matthew, Matthew 10:32, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”

Imagine the reception in heaven Wayne must have had last Thursday night after his long journey!  But just as important as his reception in heaven, is the reception we hold for him here.  Because the truth is, as long as we remember him, honor his life’s work, and follow the call of justice that he followed, than not only is Wayne in heaven alongside the Father and Son, but his spirit is also resurrected here on Earth.