When Congress passed a law requiring people aged 18- 26 to register with Selective Service for future military drafts in 1980, 19-year-old Rusty Martin refused. The student body president at the University of Northern Iowa, Martin was one of very few public non-registrants to actually be taken to trial for his decision. It took until 1985 to receive his sentence.
"I lost, which is not surprising," Martin said, "I was sentenced to three years in jail, three years probation and something like a $10,000 fine. I could get my prison sentence reduced to three more years of probation if I signed up for the draft the next day, which I did."
Martin, who grew up near Newell, Iowa before coming to UNI said, "I took a strong stance because I feel the draft is un-American and anti-democratic. If the government thinks you should kill and be killed, then our leaders should at least have to convince that person that the cause is just. These decisions are too important to hand over to someone else."
He wasn't the only politically active UNI student in the early 1980s. "I loved Cedar Falls, I thought the University of Northern Iowa was a great place," Martin said, "We always took pride because we felt that on a per-student basis we had more student activity at our political events than ISU or Iowa."
In 1983, Martin took time off from UNI to work on George McGovern's 1984 campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. After McGovern dropped out of the race, Martin went to the University of Iowa to finish his degree. "I earned about 45 credits in two semesters and graduated," Martin said. Upon completing his degree, a focus on communications and political science, he received a scholarship to Washington, DC. to work with the Christic Institute, the liberal public service law firm famous for suing the CIA on grounds of its involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. In 1987, Martin moved back to Iowa City with his wife to have their son.
It was back in Iowa City that Martin began learning about technology, which soon became, like politics, a recurring theme throughout his life. While his son was young, Martin got a job recording the nightly news on the three major channels and typing up a story by story summary to put into a database.
"That kind of got me hooked up with technology," Martin said. It led to a job as a technical writer at MCI where his knowledge of computers continued to develop. He started RM News, a free e-mail newsletter that grew to a readership of 300 people, in 1993 while working as a publicist at an Iowa City theater.
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"It was your first localized discussion group," Martin said. "I learned a lot about electronic communications and local issues as well." RM News was so far ahead of its time that old Courier articles referencing the discussion group also provide a definition of the term "Internet."
It took until 1995 for Martin to return to UNI, where he worked as a project manager for the Office of Telecommunications.
"We were on the bleeding edge of this computer stuff," Martin said. But the technology was still developing and he soon became frustrated with its limited capabilities. In 1997 he left UNI to take a break from computers and to teach at College Community elementary school in Cedar Rapids, but either ironically or tellingly, he soon found himself working as the school's technology director.
For a man who once had to attend two naturalization ceremonies to "see what a real citizen could be like," Martin has been very involved in his community and government, and he's been able to use technology to make an impact on them. Today, Martin has mixed his interests in politics and technology. In 1999, Martin began working as a member of the Senate Democratic Caucus in the Iowa Legislature, where he is now director of communications. "I help develop policy and communicate it," Martin said. In 2001, Martin was elected to the city council in Perry, Iowa, where he lives.
"This last year I was very focused on increasing the turnout of the Senate voters," Martin said, "We can communicate what we have to say more directly because I've been able to use some of the (technology) I could see coming ten years ago."
Martin, now 44, looks back fondly on his days in Cedar Falls, "It's a university town, lots of interesting people, lots of young people, lots of energy." And don't forget the technology, "The telecommunications utility you have is a really smart thing too," Martin said.
-- Cyrus Moussavi, Courier Staff Writer