The journey for Karin Derry, a lawyer, and Rhonda Martin, a landscape architect, began when they crammed into Martin’s old van with three other Iowans and headed for the nation’s capital to take part in the Women’s March on Washington.
Although it meant pulling through toll booths with a non-functional driver’s-side window, they were committed to being part of the resistance to the Trump agenda on the heels of the president’s January inauguration. On a truck stop in Ohio to refuel, they were buoyed to find the place full of women in pink hats heading to the same place, for the same reason.
Martin and Derry had met a few months earlier at a party and commiserated over the election’s outcome. As Martin puts it, “Everything we took for granted in what it means to be an American and especially an Iowan was reversed by the election of Trump, and the takeover of the Iowa Legislature.”
By the time their van was headed home, they’d hatched a plan to start a political action group called “Making Change Happen in Iowa.”
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Eight months later, in a story repeated around the country, both Derry and Martin have announced runs for office, Derry for the Iowa House, and Martin for the city council of Johnston, a city outside Des Moines. Female-led activism is sweeping the country, some of it stoked by discouraged Trump voters, according to an August report in The Washington Post.
Derry and Martin introduced their campaigns at a Johnston house party, in keeping with their approach for person-to-person outreach. A mother, wife and in-house attorney for a private business, Derry said she had never before given a thought to running for office.
“I was watching what was happening in our state and nation and I did not like what I saw,” said the University of Iowa graduate who moved to Iowa 38 years ago from her native Minnesota.
That included the Republican-controlled Legislature stripping collective bargaining rights from public employees, preventing communities from passing minimum wage laws and cutting funding for public education.
“And the icing on the cake: They passed a Voter ID law that will cost $700,000 to implement, though there is no evidence of voter fraud. There was nothing about climate change or the environment, health care or civil rights,” Derry said.
The extent to which women are organizing, speaking out, showing up at rallies and constituent meetings with elected officials, and running for office since Trump took office is as striking as the wave of TV shows featuring gender discrimination that took the top Emmys Sunday.
It’s hardly surprising if women are the biggest resisters. Harsh Republican agendas disproportionately target low-income families, immigration, education, health care and women’s reproductive choices, issues that hit close to home for many women.
But it is heartening to see women push back this way. Emily’s List, which supports female Democratic abortion-rights candidates, has a video on its website called, “You marched, now run.” It says since the last elections, more than 18,000 women have signed up to run for office.
Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.