Open letter written by Lisa Ketelsen to the Mason City City Councilors regarding the proposed Prestage slaughterhouse. More about this ongoing fight can be found here.
Yesterday morning I woke up exhausted and heartbroken. I was exhausted because I watched every second of the nearly seven-hour city council meeting that ended around 2am and heartbroken because it was Earth Day. Changes, it seems, are coming to this town. None of them are good for the Earth.
My husband and I moved here 8 years ago. We did not plan to stay here and certainly did not plan on falling in love with this community. But, we have. We love it here—the culture, the architecture, the neighborhoods, the kind people, the excellent schools and teachers, the fantastic medical care available, the stores and restaurants, the beautiful parks and nature trails, the river. Mason City is a good place to live.
For the past six years, I have taught writing and argumentation at NIACC. I am familiar with the three foundational pillars of a good argument and how to present a case to others and show them how and why you’re right and they’re wrong. I train students to use logical and emotional appeals to research and argue for what is true and right and good.
A lot of people in Mason City (and surrounding areas) do not want Prestage to come here. These people have come to the council with logic—the facts, the evidence, the historical proof that shows bringing Prestage here will damage our air, our water, our schools, our access to excellent medical care, our Earth, our town. We have used emotional appeals and spoke of the morality of the issue as well. At the last meeting, a woman, who has admitted to getting rich off of hog farming, stood before the council, crying, and pleaded to keep Prestage away. Parents, pastors, teachers, students, farmers, business owners, doctors, the people who think and breathe and move and exist within this community have come to the council with our ethos, too.
After logos (the logic) and pathos (the emotional appeals), ethos is the final segment of the argument trifecta. Ethos means credibility; it means why an individual is worth listening to. We have come to the council with our ethos. We are educated. We are invested. Several individuals the night before last shared they are fourth-generation inhabitants of this town. We have researched. We have collaborated. We have argued, and we have argued well. And yet, still, the council is not listening, which was the exact request of speaker after speaker: “Listen to your constituents.” One councilman, in his closing remarks, patronizingly retorted, “Listen, listen, listen … all we’ve done is listen.” I beg to differ. The council is hearing us, yes. However, you are still not listening to us. Hearing and listening are two quite different verbs. Look them up, please.
My understanding of the city council is that it’s a group of individuals who have promised to listen to and fairly represent those who elected them. I urge the council to do better. Many people gave the council specific requests at the last meeting. Answer the questions we typed out and handed to you. On May 3rd, instead of bringing in biased speakers who only present one side of the hog plant picture, have members of the council read our questions and then share the answers you have carefully sought for us. Prove to us how and why Prestage is good for our town. Give us the independently contracted environmental study we’ve demanded. Do your due diligence. Listen better. Represent those of us who are terrified and heartbroken over this proposal. Represent us better. Your votes are not representing us.
My oldest son started kindergarten this year, and I, with our younger two children beside me, have walked with him to school. Every single day of this school year so far—rain, shine, sleet, and blizzards—we walk. My husband is a teacher and coach here. He served on the Blue Zones committee and has dedicated much of his personal time (and our family time) to set up a community-wide running club to promote running, overall wellness, and an enjoyment of being and moving in nature.
I walk my son to school, because I believe in the importance of exercise as a lifestyle and because, quite frankly, Mason City is a beautiful place to walk. I grew up in Marshalltown, Iowa—a town similar to Mason City. My parents still live there. I witnessed, first-hand, how the hog processing plant there irrevocably harmed the community. Anyone who disagrees with me is either wrong or has a very different idea of what a thriving community looks like or both.
I do not want to walk my son to school in a town that reeks of hog rendering.
I do not want to play outside with my children in a town of compromised air quality.
I do not want to support and send my children to schools that are not thriving.
I do not want to own a home and spend money in a community that supports what Prestage is, does, and represents.
Yes, Iowa was built on farmers and agriculture. Every day, but especially around Earth Day, we should celebrate farmers—the stewards of the land, our land. Prestage is no such steward. Quite the opposite, I would argue. And, Mason City does not need Prestage to continue to be a beautiful place to exist.
Council Members, I ask you, I beg you, I implore you to listen to your constituents and to be faithful stewards of this most precious community.
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