Photo courtesy Josh Hughes.
BY KATHERINE BAUER
Most students on Drake’s campus are aware of being ‘Drake busy.’ But a handful of students are balancing and prioritizing their day to make it to the Iowa State Capitol quite frequently this semester.
From teachers’ rallies to women’s marches, collective bargaining rallies and immigration ban protests, students have found plenty of ways to be engaged off Drake’s campus.
“It’s important to me to have a position where I’m fighting for these issues,” said Grace Rogers, a senior public relations and political science double major. “Part of it is just making sure I’m staying up to date and getting the experience with these issues as they happen.”
Rogers attended subcommittee hearings at the Capitol on a bill looking to discourage sanctuary cities and campuses, as well as collective bargaining public hearings on changes to unions’ ability to negotiate pay, insurance and other benefits with state employers. She also advocates for Planned Parenthood; she started interning there in January.
Rogers said she joins causes against legislation she feels targets specific groups of people.
“It’s important that everybody has the same opportunities as everyone else,” Rogers said. “When you’re little they teach you the golden rule, ‘Treat others how you want to be treated.’ That’s part of my guiding value. As part of that, most of these bills are targeted at treating a subgroup of people differently from everyone else.”
Josh Hughes is frequently found on Capitol Hill, as well. The sophomore is working as a clerk for representatives and splits his time between class and paperwork. Yet, he said he tries to make it to every protest and rally he can.
Hughes has attended an Iowans for public education rally, the public hearing on collective bargaining, the subcommittee on the sanctuary city bill and hearings on defunding Planned Parenthood.
“I’m from Iowa, so I have a really strong connection with this state,” Hughes said. “I’m deeply invested in what goes on at the Capitol.”
While Hughes’ roots are deep in Iowa soil, he said those from out of state also have an obligation to make Des Moines and the state better.
“It’s really important to get off campus and into the community,” Hughes said. “Regardless of whether you’re going to stay in Iowa or not, or if you’re from Iowa or not, when you’re at Drake you’re basically a citizen of Iowa for four years. It’s important that we as Drake students get out of that bubble and work to help this community that we’ve chosen to come inhabit for four years.”
Rogers has taken this belief to heart. Originally from Lenexa, Kansas, Rogers said she thinks her advocacy work should take place in the middle of Iowa.
“I vote in Iowa, which is part of the reason why I think it’s important my activism happens here,” Rogers said. “These are people that I voted for, and these are people who are supposed to represent me.”
Some local protests have gone unheeded. Terry Branstad signed a bill into law Friday morning that strips collective bargaining rights for public sector workers and union members. That means professionals like teachers cannot negotiate their health care and other benefits.
A bill that, in essence, would cease government funding for Planned Parenthood is expected to pass in the Iowa House and onto the governor’s desk.
“It’s infuriating to me to know they’re not listening (to protesters and rally-goers),” Hughes said. “One of the things I think is going to be crucial to this resistance movement (is that)… they’ve got to make sure they’re able to turn that anger to help those people make the bridge to the next step of activism.”
But advocates have also said that protests and rallies are still important, even if they do not end up changing lawmakers’ minds.
“The more people who can show up for an issue, the louder your voices are,” Rogers said. “It’s hard when you go to a subcommittee and everyone speaks out against the bill, and they still pass the bill. It makes it feel like maybe that was pointless. But it wasn’t. You were still there, and those legislators still heard you.”
Rogers recognizes, however, that some of the legislation she protests against is what many Iowans may want. For example, some taxpayers are not comfortable with their money going to fund organizations that provide abortions, like Planned Parenthood, even if the money does not directly fund the procedures.
“Both sides are totally welcome to share their opinions and show up for the issues they believe in,” Rogers said. “I think everyone being involved in the political process is important. Where I take issue is with representatives claiming they were elected solely based on one issue. Most people aren’t single-issue voters.”
Rogers and Hughes both agree these protests are revealing people’s anger with current policies and that the people will remember that come the midterm election.
“I want people who are pushing these dangerous policies, so gutting collective bargaining rights, building a wall, banning people who are Muslim, I want them to know that people are paying attention and we don’t support these issues,” Hughes said. “I want them to remember that. I want people who go to these protests (to) remember when the elections comes around.”
Hughes said there is one other result he would like to see come out of the recent interest in activism.
“The substantive action I want out of these protests is to engage people at a level where they feel comfortable making the next step in activism, whether that be running for office or supporting a political candidate or becoming more engaged with an advocacy organization that they care about,” Hughes said. “It’s easy to go to a protest and wave a sign and a lot of people did that. It’s a lot harder to go door to door for a candidate or run for office or work at Planned Parenthood.”
Rogers said it is important for people to get engaged and make a difference, especially when things are not going how they want them to.
“There are a lot of people after this last election who feel like they want to get involved with sharing their opinions and joining the legislative process, but are either unsure how or don’t know how to do it correctly,” Rogers said. “It’s important to remember that there isn’t a wrong way to get involved. If you show up to a committee hearing and just observe, that’s great. If you show up and are advocating, that’s even better.”
Rogers said she helps host a phone bank every Tuesday morning in the Olmsted Breezeway along with Hughes and two other students. People can go there to hear about current issues going on in Des Moines and across the country. Then, students can choose to call different representatives, asking them to take a stand on an issue.