SANDPOINT — In 2017, she marched. In 2018, she ran. In 2019, she insists.
The North Idaho Women’s March theme perfectly sums up the movement, march and rally emcee Kate McAlister told the crowd.
“Let’s remember to dedicate ourselves to show empathy, empower and take each other seriously; let us not judge but encourage and promote kindness. Our North Idaho Women’s March theme says it all. In 2017, she marched. In 2018, she ran (for office), and now in 2019, she insists on social justice changes being made.”
The event, which attracted more than 400 people to the rally and an additional hundred or so who just took part in the march, is a chance to continue a commitment to not only one another, but to progress and change.
“She marched, she ran, she insists; and indeed her insistence and persistence is starting to pay off,” McAlister told the cheering crowd. “In 1992, it was called the Year of the Woman — 24 women won seats in the House of Representatives. This was considered the largest number to enter the House in a single election — until 2019, where we as Americans recently elected 102 women representing 46 out of our 50 states. The 116th Congress is the most diverse in current history, representing the better picture of what our America truly looks like.”
That march to inclusion and social justice isn’t a new fight; instead in can be traced to events more than 100 years ago and the labor struggles of 1917.
After paying tribute to the Salish Nations, whose territorial homeland encompasses the region, Dr. Ryanne Pilgeram — a Sandpoint High School graduate and now an associate professor at the Unviersity of Idaho where she researches and teaches on issues of racial, gender and class inequality in rural communities — said those early woodsmen were actually a pretty radical bunch.
Convinced by the timber and railroad barons, early settlers claimed the lands held by the region’s indigenous people. It wasn’t to become rich; instead, Pilgeram said these settlers were used as an offensive line against the tribes while their labor was used to benefit a few.
“They were pushed and pulled through hardship to build a railroad, to fell trees or to farm the stump-covered land that logging left behind,” she told the estimated 400-500 people who gathered for Satuday’s third annual North Idaho Women’s March.
The work the loggers did was brutal, their beds were infested with lice, they were maimed, and they died. it was brutal work, Pilgeram said, and the loggers often had work 12-15 hours, seven days a week.
“But people always resist brutality. And these workers brought with them the radical notion that an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay,” she said. “That their bodies weren’t to fill the coffers of the rich, but instead were to hold their families close and to labor on behalf of their communities. To be clear, North Idaho was forged with progressive values, with radical values.”
Too often, Pilgeram said, the region’s discussion of human rights begins with the Aryan Nations when it should begin with the Salish Nations and the forced displacement of indigenous people. Because to move forward, she told the crowd you first have to understand the laws, customs and policies which, ultimately, make everyone vulnerable.
“One of my pet peeves is when people say if you’re progressive or you’re liberal, you don’t belong in Idaho. That is baloney,” Pilgeram said. “The loggers, the sawyers, the miners in North Idaho, they weren’t progressive. they were radical. In 1917, a 26-year-old labor organizer, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, gave a speech to 700 people in Sandpoint, a broad swarth of the community who supported workers’ rights.”
The fight for human rights is a fight generations in the making, from the labor struggles of 1917 to the continuing fight today. To stand for human rights in Idaho is to take a stand against fear, and the way to fight fear is with justice, Pilgeram told the crowd.
Those fighting against human rights are alone and scared, believing that something was taken from them to which they were entitled. And while it is OK to be afraid, to be anxious, Pilgerams said it must made it clear that is unacceptable to turn that anger upon “the other” or to marginalize them.
“We have routinely been asked to participate in a race to the bottom and to blame the least among us for our struggles,” she said.
“These are not zero sum games, but make no mistake, someone profits when we can’t find common ground,” Pilgeram said. “Anger has a place, but it has been too often used to pit people against each other rather than see the ways our destinies are tied together.”
While her bid for a seat in the Idaho Legislature in District 4A was unsuccessful, Rebecca Schroeder told the crowd her campaign was never about the role, it was about the goal of healthcare for all.
After her son Brady, now 11, was born with cystic fibrosis, Schroeder spent more than a decade as a health care advocate, fighting to gain healthcare for those falling in the gap. The frustration of a decade of meeting with lawmakers and a lack of action, motivated her to run for office. So while she wasn’t elected, Medicaid expansion, the central platform of her campaign, was approved by more than 60 percent of the state’s voters.
“The severity of our health care crisis in Idaho led regular, non-elected citizens to dust off this lever of power and put together the strength of many hands to achieve our goal,” she said to the cheers and applause of the crowd. “We made a law that will have a massive, positive impact on our state and we didn’t do that within the hierarchy of concentrated power in the Statehouse. No, we went around it.”
With a clear, positive message based on a vast network of postive relationship, Schroeder said the movement went straight to the people “to build a new kind of power within our communities, a vast network based on relationships and caring about the issues that affect people that we love rather than this tribal partisanship that is killing us.”
The legislation has been signed by Gov. Brad Little, Idaho Code has been modified and expanded Medicaid access is the law of the land in Idaho. Now, Idaho residents must remind the state’s lawmakers that they work for the people and must honor the will of the people to expand Medicaid as the initiative was written and without wasteful red tape.
Make no mistake, the work to address the state’s serious problems isn’t over, Schroeder said. Women must continue to rise up and organize and reach for every lever of power that is available to build a more just society.
“We need to keep building that power within our communities and we keep saying out loud what we expect of our government and our lawmakers, because the concept that families should be going bankrupt from of medical bills in one of the richest countries in the world, that is not a radical concept. The idea that we should be appropriate funding our public schools, that’s not a fringe theory. And the idea that we should get paid a decent wage for a day’s work, that’s not too much to ask because math, math, tells us that $7.25 an hour isn’t even close to making ends meet.”
Power concedes nothing without demands, she said, and it is time that the women of Idaho demand more.
“It’s time that we insist that the Idaho government serve all of its citizens, not just the wealthy slice at the top, not just the extreme ideologies migrating to Idaho and working their way into our power structure,” she added.
For Corinne Capodagli, Sandpoint High School senior and editor in chief of the school’s newspaper, The Cedar Post, being asked to speak at the rally was both inspiring and out of her comfort zone but also gave her a chance to tallk on something on which she is passionate. She gained inspiration from the quote, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being mad.”
“I think this quote perfectly embodies the spirit of this movement as we continue to take forward strides toward more positive advances,” Capodagli told those gathered. “Whether this is your first time marching or you are a seasoned veteran of these events, I think it’s important to access the meaning of this rally. And while it may seem pretty obvious, a women’s march, our incentive should be to empower all voices.”
The challenge now is to build upon the successes of the past, to channel energy and power to positive advances for all, she said. It was when she struggled to answer a question on a college application asking her to describe a time when she had been discriminated against that she realized just how lucky she is.
“I drew a blank,” she said. “I realize how unique my situation is and how lucky I am. Much of the acknowledgment for this progress lies in past generations. Because though my generation may be leading the pace of current change, we wouldn’t be where we are today without the carefully laid groundwork of women and visionaries of the past have forged for us.”
But she said, the work can’t stop until everyone struggles to find an answer to that question of discrimination.
“And though at times, the road before us seems arduous, it is critical that we keep pushing toward inclusion and acceptance,” Capodagli said.
Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.