Colorful Crosswalks in Ames, Iowa
Updated: Jan 16, 2020
If I asked you to name LGBTQIA activism hotspots, a couple locations might come to mind, San Francisco, New York, West Hollywood.
Ames, Iowa probably wouldn’t be on that list.
Among the hardest nonviolent actions to track are those government personnel or governments take because often, when they occur, they happen behind closed doors and go unpublicized.
On September 25, 2019, the city council in Ames Iowa, executed a series of nonviolent actions against the federal government, and did it in a public session so we all could see.
This year to celebrate Pride and “to signal that it was welcoming and inclusive to people of all gender identities, sexualities and races,” the Ames, Iowa city council passed a resolution to repaint the crosswalks at the intersection central to the town’s annual Pride celebration. Two of the crosswalks were to be painted to reflect the minority inclusive Rainbow flag, a third with the colors of the trans flag, and the fourth with the colors of the gender nonbinary movement.
Shortly after work began in early September, the Federal Highway Administration (who has offices just down the block from the intersection) sent a letter demanding a stop to the project. The stated rational was the colored crosswalks would confuse drivers and did not conform to Federal requirements.
The city council was faced with a conundrum, continue with their work (which had been publicly announced and approved in early summer long before the September 5th FHA letter) or reverse course. At issue, I believe, was the use of a very specific federal statute to prevent open support for marginalized communities. The FHA letter’s author apparently believed the city council would simply acquiesce to their demand and remove the colorful crosswalks.
They were counting on two things. First, that the city council would back down in the face of an implied threat from the federal government, (bullying at its finest), and second, that no one on the city council would care to look more deeply into the statue. Instead, the city council asked the city lawyer to examine the situation and report back at their September 25 meeting.
It turns out a 2013 ruling states crosswalk art with muted colors and no reflective property meets FHA guidelines. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the lawyer dug into who holds jurisdiction over the roads involved, and that specific intersection, and found it fell outside of the Federal Highway Administration’s realm of power.
We all have power to stand for our beliefs, to stand against overreaches in power, and to stand as allies for marginalized communities.
 No. 142: Selective refusal of assistance by government aides and No. 145: General administrative noncooperation