CEDAR RAPIDS | Heavy rains that came and went, and came again, didn’t deter scores of protesters who waved signs, chanted and elicited honks from passing cars while awaiting President Donald Trump’s arrival downtown Wednesday evening.
Familiar cheers and jeers rang out as about 150 protesters near the U.S. Cellular Center yelled “my body, my choice,” “lock him up” and “this is what democracy looks like.”
They were there to show concern for the environment, health care and public education as well as to support equality and what they feel had been positive progress.
Pink shirts and buttons dotted the crowd, as Planned Parenthood supporters came out to show their displeasure at what they believe to be attacks on women’s health care.
Planned Parenthood has announced it will close four of its 12 Iowa clinics on July 1 — a move affecting more than 14,600 people — after the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature earlier this year decided to forgo federal family planning dollars and instead set aside $3 million of state money to create a program that excludes facilities that also provide abortions.
The dollars are used to pay for cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection testing and birth control for low-income men and women. The women’s health organization is closing clinics in Keokuk, Burlington, Sioux City and the Quad Cities.
“I just can’t believe we’re going backward and not forward,” said Abbie Bowen, 55, from Cedar Rapids. “I’m terrified for young women who want to have control of their sexuality.”
This was the first time Bowen has ever come out to protest, she said, adding she was happy to see a strong showing of dissenters despite the gloomy weather.
“But it breaks my heart to see women in that line instead of this line,” she said pointing to the line of Trump supporters snaking around the arena and down Fourth Street SE. Thousands of Trump supporters stood in line, a few even over night, to get into the rally.
Avery Cassell, 37, a Medicaid recipient from Hiawatha, said he’s concerned about the future of the government-sponsored program, which provides insurance to nearly 70 million low-income and disabled Americans — about 600,000 of them Iowans.
The GOP-backed U.S. House plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — which is now being reworked by the U.S. Senate — gets rid of income-related tax credits in favor of age-based tax credits, eliminates federal funding for the Medicaid expansion starting in 2020 and places a per capita cap on the insurance program.
Cassell’s 11-year-old son, Logan, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he said, and he worries he won’t be able to afford necessary care.
“I feel like he doesn’t care about the people who are suffering,” Cassell said.
Health care wasn’t the only thing on protesters’ minds, as told by signs that ran ink and disintegrated during rains.
A pair of Cedar Rapids school district employees said they’re worried about future cuts to school programs, as well as anxiety some of their students are feeling.
“I teach second grade this year,” said Jenna Buhr, 26. “When he was first elected, I saw a lot of behavioral changes, I saw a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty with what was going to happen next with their families. Some of them worried their friends were going to be deported, because they didn’t know the facts of the issues and things. It was me trying not to put my beliefs on my students, but also let them know I was going to keep them safe and that I wouldn’t let anything happen to them.”
Maddie Paxton, 26, and Buhr’s partner of six years, said her school has a large number of students who rely on food assistance.
“Are they going to keep that?” she asked. “You never expect young children to soak in or worry as much as they do, but they understand. They get it.”
The couple, holding a sign that read, “respect existence or expect resistance,” also worries about their ability to get married and whether same-sex marriage rights will be rolled back.
“I think it’s just a constant state of things being so up in the air and not knowing what’s going to happen next,” Buhr said. “I feel like in the next four years we’re going to be in a constant state of, ‘What happens next?’ We’ve come so far, and homosexuals, their community has blossomed with their rights and people realizing who we are and what we stand for and that we’re people, too, and we’re worried we’re going to be set back so many years.”
The protest — organized by a handful of Democratic groups including Americans for Democratic Action Iowa, Women’s March Iowa, Iowans for Public Education and Planned Parenthood Voters — also featured speeches from Democratic politicians.
“This is not about Republicans and Democrats,” said Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker. “It’s about the soul of America and these policies are bad for workers, bad for the environment, bad for women and minorities.”
Walker said it’s important to focus on 2018 and 2020 — a sentiment other speakers echoed.
Walker is considering a run against U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, the 1st House District Republican, though hasn’t decided.