Iowa,are we being bullied?

August 10th, 2020

As the scourge of COVID-19 ravages the country and around the world, I’ve watched our Iowa cases spike drastically. We have over 20,000 new cases in 30 days, campuses are blowing up, 250 more Iowans have died, schools are re opening, and our poor numbers are making national news.

I’ve watched carefully for signs that show that the Governor’s office is being, open, transparent, willing to change if wrong, willing to take responsibility for mistakes, and most importantly, if they show care and concern for the lives of citizens.

I’ve seen them ignore the opinions of experts, such as guidance from the White House task force and our own epidemiologists and doctors, regarding additional closures and a much needed mask mandate and the pleas of citizens, doctors, faith groups, and educators.

Iowa, we’ve got a problem. In my opinion, the citizens of Iowa are experiencing a form of bullying.

That may seem a strong statement, but in my years of anti-bullying work, I’ve come to learn that adult bullies in positions of power don’t always follow the pattern of the traditional school yard bully, who beats up another kid and takes his lunch money.

The type of bullying we are now seeing from the Governor’s office is not as overt. It’s subtle. It’s dangerous, and it’s real.

About 15 years ago, we partnered with Drs. Garie and Ruth Namie, of the Workplace Bullying Institute, to sponsor the first Workplace Bullying study in America. Our work, in addition to supporting domestic violence prevention programs, had focused, and still focuses, on school bullying and cyber bullying. We sponsored the Emmy nominated 2012 film “Bully,” as well as others, to shed more light on the problem.

But early on, I wanted to take the work further, and to see what more we could find out about adult bullies in the workplace or bullying from those in positions of power.

A CEO of an organization can create either a healthy workplace, or a workplace filled with fear, confusion, and anxiety. Our Governor is the state’s CEO and what I’ve been seeing recently concerns me deeply for all Iowans.

Interestingly, I met then Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds at an anti-bullying event in Sioux City. She and Governor Terry Branstad had heard of the anti-bullying work the Sioux City School District was doing and came here to see what programs were working well.

Governor Reynolds and I had a nice talk, and she seemed genuinely interested in preventing bullying. I believe to this day that she is supportive of that work and cares about bullying in schools.

Despite Iowa closing down much of Iowa this spring, even though stopping short of a stay at home proclamation, many of the decisions were good ones. I still do not agree with not ordering a stay at home, nor do I agree with the tragic lack of monitoring of meat packing plants. But something was being done. Something.

But then came late spring. The door was flung wide open within a two-week period, despite not following CDC guidelines of safe reopening. Cases spiked as they did in many places, but they didn’t have to. Citizens were to blame as well, by not wearing masks, crowding into packed bars and ignoring the pandemic. The Governor said there was no need for a mask mandate, despite the huge majority of states who imposed them, as she trusted Iowans.

That didn’t work out well. In the last month, as campuses reopened, a mask mandate and more closures were desperately needed.

Hundreds of Iowa medical professionals banded together to plead for a mask mandate, citizens write, call, and petition. Epidemiologists who know what they are doing submitted papers. They were ignored.

Cities then attempted to mandate face coverings in their own communities, only to be told that the power was in the Governor’s hands, and that their actions were illegal. I repeat, they were told, while trying to save lives, that their actions were illegal.

The citizens were then chastised for their behavior, while no further action, with the exception of the closures of bars in six counties, was taken by the Governor to slow the spread of this silent killer.

The action done to our local school districts by the state was the most disturbing. School districts were asked to submit three plans to the Governor and the Department of Education. They worked tirelessly for months, only to be told that their efforts were in vain. The about face by the Office of the Governor was ill advised. Many communities were well above the percent of infections set by the CDC and other health organizations to safely reopen schools.

Districts went to court to fight to remain online. They were denied by both the administration and now a judge.

Why do I think the State is bullying the citizens of Iowa? As I learned over the years, some forms of bullying are overt, some more covert.

As Dr. Namie has said, “Bullying’s common theme is a need to control.” It can be aggressive or passive aggressive.

Passive aggressive bullying is called “Gatekeeping,” one of the four main types recognized by the WBI.

The Gatekeeper blames others.

The Gatekeeper withholds information.

The Gatekeeper demands deadlines, and then changes the rules.

The Gatekeeper creates stress and horrendous anxiety on those affected.

The Gatekeeper threatens to withhold vital resources necessary.

The Gatekeeper strikes when others are feeling the most vulnerable and then blames others if things go terribly wrong.

In an early August press conference, AP reporter David Pitt asked if the Governor was concerned about the risk of opening schools. It was a valid and necessary question. The Governor’s response was to blame the media.

As the Des Moines Register beautifully stated August 7th, “Iowans need comprehensive, detailed, information as we try to safely navigate our daily lives and make decisions. We are too frequently not getting that information from the Governor. Questions are ignored. Public information requests are not fulfilled. Interviews are refused.”

In short, my friends and colleagues in my beloved Iowa, there is a pattern here . And it is costing lives.

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