Kathy Francis of Carroll holds a sign she made at the Women’s March in Des Moines Jan. 21.
Kathy Francis of Carroll holds a sign she made at the Women’s March in Des Moines Jan. 21.

Jennifer Brincks is the daughter of immigrants.

She teaches children with special needs. She believes in women’s rights. She believes in the protection of black lives. She believes in the importance of education.

For all of those reasons and more, Brincks, 61, donned a pink hat, hopped on a bus last Friday and traveled to Washington, D.C., to take part in the Women’s March held Saturday.

“I don’t want to step back in time and revert,” she said. “I just want to step forward.

“The future looks a little bleak.”

The march took place the day after Donald Trump became president, but Brincks said it was important, for her, not to attend an anti-inauguration march. She had plenty of other reasons to attend.

She was one of several Carroll residents who traveled either to Washington, D.C., or to Des Moines — or elsewhere — to participate in the marches.

“This historical date is now set,” Brincks said of the date of the march, Jan. 21. “It wasn’t just a moment. It’s now a movement. How amazing it is that the world came together on this date to declare our rights.”

 

‘Speak for the voiceless’

The Women’s March, which organizers said began as a small movement to advocate for women’s rights, grew also to represent immigrants and refugees, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBT people and more.

“Sister marches” were held in cities in every U.S. state as well as in countries around the world. A small group holding signs and marching in Antarctica brought the number of participating continents to seven. Total estimates indicate that millions of people participated around the world.

Des Moines played host to many in Iowa who wanted to march but couldn’t make it to Washington, D.C. Organizers estimated 26,000 people marched around the Iowa State Capitol Saturday.

Among those were Barry and Mary Bruner, who live in Carroll, along with Mary’s mother, Margaret Gronstal, the Bruners’ sons, Ryan and Ben, and Ben’s wife, Lena, and their daughter Devereux.

Gronstal, 88, is no stranger to demonstrating. While teaching at St. Lawrence in Carroll in the ’60s, she took her small eighth-grade religion class to the Carroll County Courthouse, where they marched in protest of the Vietnam War.

On Saturday, the group she marched with around the Iowa State Capitol was much larger.

The Bruners said they enjoyed standing with a crowd of people of all ages, colors and sexual orientations.

“It was touching to see people with different agendas, different hopes and dreams with a common goal — we want to make it a better world,” Mary Bruner said.

And they particularly enjoyed hearing Earth Mama’s “Standing on the Shoulders” played.

It’s the song they play at their family reunions.

Kathy Francis, 65, of Carroll was there, too, along with her husband, Richard Francis.

Kathy wore a pink hat and carried a sign quoting Albus Dumbledore from “Harry Potter” — “Dark times lie ahead of us, and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

Just days before, she’d read “March,” the three-part graphic novel series by civil rights leader John Lewis about the Civil Rights movement.

When she finished those books, she said, she knew she had to participate in the Women’s March.

For her, the experience was about support in numbers.

“Bullies want the people they want to pick on to feel like they’re all alone, and there’s no one else,” she said. “And we aren’t alone. We saw that.

“We’re not alone, and we can’t forget that. We can’t let the people who want to hurt us forget that we aren’t alone.”

Also in the Des Moines crowd was Erin Stohlmeyer, 35, of Manning. She attended in part because she is concerned about support for public education in the future and said she appreciated that the “sister march” provided an opportunity to demonstrate in Iowa.

“I know some people wished they’d been in D.C., but I also think it was important to show your support locally, to go and be counted,” she said.

The Bruners said they plan to continue to implement the march’s ideas in Carroll — as they have for years.

“My parents modeled to me that you speak for the voiceless, speak for the people who need your help, if you have the power to do that,” said Mary Bruner, 65. “Locally, those in need are invisible to us, because we want to think everything is good. Locally, we need to find people who want to bring about change.”

They noted that the Women’s March ideas need to continue beyond last Saturday.

“Our communities are too small not to have everybody interested and involved in their communities,” said Barry Bruner, 65. “This community, the schools, the churches, the groups need to pull together for the good of our community. Carroll might think it’s strong and healthy, but if we don’t work together, it’s not going to stay that way.”

Gronstal agreed — she’s been speaking out for years.

“Nothing changes without action,” she said.

 

Republican response

Some around the country, including Republican politicians, derided the marches as thinly veiled abortion marches rather than demonstrations announcing support and demanding equal rights for marginalized groups.

In Indiana, Sen. Jack Sandlin shared a photo on Facebook describing the protesters as “fat women out walking.” He later said it must have been a mistake.

In New Mexico, Carlsbad City Councilman J.R. Doporto posted on Facebook that women have “a right to cook and a right to clean,” and “a right to get slapped.” He later said it was a joke.

Carroll County Republican Party Chairman Craig Williams declined to comment for this article.

Mark Segebart, a Republican state senator from Vail who represents Carroll County and several others, said he supports Americans’ right to speak out after an election, as has happened many times throughout history.

“But the importance of an election needs to shine through,” he added. “We have some respected traditions, and the transfer of power in a civil way is an important part of our country. To throw that under the bus is disturbing to a lot of people.”

He noted that Trump’s actions and decisions in the past week — building a wall between the U.S. and Mexican borders and moving to block Syrian refugees from entering the country both have been discussed, among many others — are making many of Trump’s voters happy.

“He’s keeping good on many of his promises,” Segebart said.

As for those in various groups, including women, minorities, LGBT people and people with disabilities, who believe the new administration won’t represent them, Segebart said, it’s too early to tell how those groups will be affected and simply to fall back on the Constitution.

“It’s times like these where the Constitution guides you,” he said. “It protects everyone’s rights. Without that document, there is a real danger of rights being stepped on. I’d say the power of the Constitution here is very important, as is obeying its articles and bylaws.”

State Representative Brian Best, a Republican from Glidden who represents Carroll County and several others, also noted that he supports peaceful demonstrations.

He added that if Planned Parenthood is defunded, he believes there need to be plenty of places in Iowa for women to get affordable, non-abortion reproductive and health services, including birth control. He noted that there are more than 200 organizations around the state, both health-related, faith-based and more, that offer those types of services and said he believes money that was given to Planned Parenthood should go to those agencies instead.

In many cases, he said, that would bring those services closer to home.

“We need to make sure that there are other options,” he said. “The state needs to make them available to women — many of whom fall through the cracks with their normal medical insurance. I want to make sure that even if they don’t have the funds to get it done (with insurance), there are places available.”

 

‘We can’t stop’

Lori Lange, 57, of Carroll traveled to the Washington, D.C., march with Brincks.

Estimates for attendees at that march ranged from 500,000 to more than 1 million.

Lange and Brincks headed first to eastern Iowa to travel to D.C. with Brincks’ sister, Monica Moehn, who helped organize the trip, and childhood friend Ann Gronstal. Both Moehn and Gronstal grew up in Carroll and now live in Iowa City.

They traveled with more than 100 people to Washington, D.C., where they met up with Lange’s daughter, Emma Lange, who graduated from Carroll High School in 2012 and now lives in Washington, D.C. Their group included one man who had been dropping off his significant other at the bus and decided to join the trip at the last minute with nothing more than the gym clothes on his back.

Lange noted that not everyone marching was there for themselves.

“They were marching for people who weren’t privileged,” she said. “We need to have compassion for other people.”

And this movement isn’t finished, she said.

“I don’t want people who marched to think they did their jobs and they’re finished being a voice, because we can’t stop,” Lange said. “It’s important to pay attention to what’s happening and to make your voice heard.”

The eastern Iowa group piled onto two buses Friday afternoon for the 16-hour drive to Washington, D.C. They left D.C. early the next evening, returning to Iowa City Sunday afternoon.

That was about 48 hours spent crowded onto buses and then in the streets of Washington, D.C., with hundreds of thousands of people. There were few stops, questionable bathroom facilities, scanty teeth-brushing opportunities and no clothing changes.

Showers weren’t even on the table.

You felt a little on the grubby side, but doggone it, it was for a good cause,” Brincks said.