Cedar Rapids women discuss why they’ll march

Trio will be among thousands participating in Women’s March on Washington

Calling these three Cedar Rapids women who will be part of the Women’s March on Washington “precious snowflakes” is a waste of time.

The “snowflake” moniker, derived from the 1996 novel “Fight Club” and typically used to describe college students perceived as over-protected and too easily offended, was widely co-opted by supporters of President-elect Donald Trump to describe and dismiss those who showed somber emotions or actively demonstrated in the wake of the presidential election.

It’s been so frequently used on social media in connection to the women marching on Jan. 21 that it’s effectively shorthand for demonstration participants.

But when I asked Marilyn Davenport, Denise Mineck and Velga Easker what they would say to those that attempt to label and degrade them as “precious snowflakes,” I received blank stares.

“I have absolutely no idea what that is,” Mineck said.

Easker shrugged as Davenport echoed, “I’ve never heard of that.”

The exchange was proof that what I thought I knew and understood about this trio and the thousands of women gathering in D.C. this week was sorely lacking and shamefully one dimensional.

Workers construct the viewing stands ahead of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 8, 2016. The Women's March on Washington will take place the morning of Jan. 21, with marchers meeting at the intersection of Independence Ave. and Third Street S.W., just a few blocks west of this inauguration site. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Workers construct the viewing stands ahead of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 8, 2016. The Women’s March on Washington will take place the morning of Jan. 21, with marchers meeting at the intersection of Independence Ave. and Third Street S.W., just a few blocks west of this inauguration site. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The women have subtly different reasons for marching, and individual hopes for what demonstrating might accomplish.

Absolutely they all want to be counted among those who object to the tone of the President-elect specifically and the presidential campaign generally.

“Releasing all of those lowbrow, awful instincts that some people have more than others, gives it license. It makes it all right for those types of things to be said out loud, because (Trump) has done that. As a President, as a CEO, as a leader you set a tone … you decide what’s acceptable and what isn’t. So it feels like some of these things that were out-of-bounds are now considered normal,” Easker said.

But beyond the lingering disappointment or outrage about campaign rhetoric is a strong desire for togetherness and healing, a want to exercise a newfound feeling of empowerment and a need to simply see and be seen.

There’s a keen understanding that they’ll be standing on behalf of thousands unable to make the trip, and the ever-present historical significance surrounding their upcoming action pricks their nerves.

Unlike other events linked to the inauguration, the Women’s March wasn’t launched by a corporation or nonprofit. It sprang from a question on Facebook, posted just after the election by Teresa Shook, a retired attorney in Hawaii: What if women marched on Washington around Inauguration Day en masse?

About a day later Davenport learned of the march. She immediately sent it to Mineck with two words: “I’m going.”

“It wasn’t something that I had to stop and think about,” she said. “It was immediate. I knew I was going.”

Mineck and Easker reported similar “compulsory” reactions. This journey was simply something they had to do, a task they had to complete.

Five days after the election, Mineck received an email confirming her travel arrangements.

“That was out of character for me. I’m usually a pretty private person,” Mineck said. She called her daughter in Chicago to relay the decision and the daughter’s initial reaction was shock that her mother would be participating. A few heartbeats later the daughter, now six months pregnant, decided she would go too.

“In the 60s and the 70s, my kids were young and they were my primary responsibility,” Davenport said. “But it has always been in the back of my mind that I need to do something. So when this came up I took stock of myself and decided at this stage of life, what do I have to lose? Why not?”

Easker was active with various causes while in college, but let that activism take a back seat to life’s other demands. And “private” Mineck had never really flexed her activist muscles.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, when thousands across the nation took to the streets in protest, this Cedar Rapids trio stayed home, devouring Netflix and engaging and supporting each other through email and social media messages. “I didn’t even know at first that people were protesting like that,” Mineck said with a laugh.

“When the march came up I saw it as an opportunity to be with people who had been disparaged and with people who support those who have been disparaged. And, maybe, through that to begin to heal.”

Making a statement, Davenport said, is also important. “We want the civil rights that have been won to continue. All civil rights, not just women’s, but all civil rights.”

Easker, an immigrant to the U.S., moved to Boone with her family when she was seven. She remembers how small things like her family speaking publicly in their Latvian language made her feel scrutinized by locals and disconnected from her new home. She still feels many of the campaign statements made about immigrants personally and deeply.

“For me, I’m not going for healing. That’s something I access through my art,” Easker said. “I really feel this person is not an appropriate leader of this country. As an immigrant, I think about this country and what it stands for. I want to be somewhere where I can make that stand. … I want to be counted in that group that does not support him on the basis of what he says he stands for.”

While the women are new to activism at this level, they aren’t strangers to voting and campaigns. They’ve all experienced the letdown of having a preferred candidate lose an election.

“Of course, we’ve felt that disappointment,” Mineck said. “Sometimes my candidate has won, sometimes my candidate has lost. When that’s happened, I’ve been able to shrug it off. I’ve had faith in our process, in the checks and balances and of our history of peaceful transition. This is different.”

“I have a new grandson … and I think about the world he’ll be growing up in,” Easker added.

For these women the march isn’t so much about who lost the election, but more about the type of person who won. If they ignore the call to come together, to present a united front, they worry the language they found objectionable could escalate, and fundamental issues like civil rights will lose prominence.

They want to be there for themselves, but believe they need to be there for the country.

“With so many different viewpoints coming together for this march, I think it will be messy. But that’s pretty representative of our messy democracy,” Mineck said.

And for all three, the march isn’t just a single day event. It’s an accomplishment and experience they hope to carry forward into other areas of their lives.

“I not only want to stand there, I want to be more active here as well,” Easker said. “Doing that has become even more important to me.”

As of this writing, the Women’s March on Washington is expected to be the largest gathering linked to the inauguration.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on January 15, 2017. Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters