Bitterly cold temperatures didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the almost 200 people gathered on the Ped Mall Saturday morning for Iowa City’s 2019 Women’s March.
“In Des Moines, they decided to move this inside the Capitol,” said state Rep. Mary Mascher, referring to the freezing weather. “We said, ‘hey, we can do it.’ We’re Iowans, right?”
Mascher, a Democrat who has represented Iowa City in the Iowa House of Representatives since 1997, was one of the event’s three featured speakers.
This was the third annual Woman’s March. The nationwide marches began in as way to demonstrate resistance to the then-new Trump administration. But this year, the focus was on recognizing how much has been accomplished since January 2017.
“We’re making progress. We’re making progress throughout the county, but in Iowa this year, we elected two women to Congress,” Mascher told the crowd. “You helped do that. You’re the ones that made the difference.”
“In the Iowa House, we now have five more women in the Democratic caucus,” Mascher said. That means for the first time in history, she explained, there are more women than men in the Iowa House’s Democratic caucus.
“We are on our road to better days, and it’s because of the work each and every one of you do in your communities,” Mascher said, as the crowd cheered.
Mascher’s fellow speakers, Iowa City Councilmember Mazahir Salih and Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter, exemplified some of the progress made in the last three years. Salih made international headlines in 2017 with an election victory that made her the first Sudanese-American woman elected to office in the United States, and Porter likewise made history in December, when her landslide win in a special election made her the first black person ever elected to countywide office in Johnson County.
“The year 2018 was really important for women, indeed,” Salih said. Not just because of the number of women elected to office, she continued, but because of their diversity.
“We now have the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. The first Muslim woman elected to Congress,” Salih said. “The first two Native American women elected to Congress. The first Somalian-American elected to Congress.”
She added, “Understand that when we come together for the Year of the Women, we are together for all people.”
Porter began by taking a moment to celebrate the fact that Johnson County now has the first female majority county board of supervisors in Iowa history.
“The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has four women and one Rod Sullivan,” she said.
Porter then turned to the importance of what remains to be done, repeatedly invoking the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“How far you go in life is yet to be seen. Don’t let other people’s limited beliefs about what’s possible diminish your potential,” she said. “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. Love is the most durable power in the world.”
“We are ‘a beloved community,’ and together we have to continue to fight for what is right,” Porter said near the end of her speech.
Then she told everyone to hug a person next to them, regardless of whether they know each other.
“As a community, we can do nothing without love,” Porter said, as people hugged. “They say they want to make America great again? Then we have to bring back love.”
Once the hugging finished, the march around the Ped Mall began.
There were no apparent counter protests or incidents at this year’s Women’s March. In 2018, a man in a Pepe the Frog hoodie was spotted plastering the Ped Mall with white nationalist stickers. When he was approached by people attending the march, the man, later identified as Jonathan Charles Koch, ducked into MERGE, the co-working space on the Ped Mall. Koch attempted to barricade himself in the conference room, and started shouting that people documenting his activities were trying to “kidnap” him.
Koch was eventually removed from MERGE by Iowa City police officers.
Additional reporting by Jason Smith