Big ideas can spring from adversity. So it was that Nora Harren and Colette Raptosh, bereft after the loss of their presidential pick, Hillary Clinton, decided to do something to bring together people who felt dejected or disenfranchised by the outcome.
Texting each other near midnight after the election, they set upon holding a unity rally on the Capitol steps that weekend. With just a couple of days of planning and publicity, the event drew nearly 500 people.
It turned out so well that they hit upon on an encore: a post-inaugural women’s march in Boise, to mirror the national march planned in Washington and other cities nationwide. It’s still a month away, but already nearly 1,000 people on social media have pledged to attend and more than twice that number have expressed interest. A GoFundMe effort is underway.
Not bad for two young women who actually aren’t old enough to vote. Both are high schoolers in Boise, and their ages lead to some confusion when people they don’t know offer to help.
“People think we’re a lot older than we really are, like, ‘We’d like to host you with a glass of wine.’ It’s funny actually,” said Colette, 16, a junior at Capital High School. “I got one person who was like, ‘So, only two high schoolers are putting this on?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, only two high schoolers. … It’s definitely hard in some ways to be so young and to not be able to go out and vote, but we’re trying to have impacts in other ways.”
In fact, not being old enough to vote has served as something of a rallying cry.
“Right after the election, it’s safe to say me and Colette were both super distraught,” said Nora, a 17-year-old senior at Borah High School. After (Donald) Trump’s win there were kids at school “commenting to other students, making fun, like, ‘We’re gonna build a wall. Goodbye. Adios.’ And so I think the idea of a unity rally came out of that as in, like, we really do need to come together and be strong in numbers.”
Their undisguised preferences aside, they did want it to be a unity rally for all.
“We didn’t want to exclude people,” said Raptosh, who runs her own dress design and sewing business. Her mother, Diane Raptosh, was Boise’s first poet laureate and just completed three years as an Idaho writer-in-residence.
After the election, Colette Raptosh saw accounts about how the election might have turned out differently if more young people voted or got involved. “It kind of told me that, well, if these are the young people that would have changed the outcome, then we should probably be the ones going out and doing stuff and trying to make a change, because we will be able to vote in a very short amount of time.”
The success of the unity rally was inspiring, said Harren, who aspires to a career in environmental policy. “It was almost consoling for both of us ... seeing that we could influence so many other people in our community,” Harren said. “So I think we knew that we wanted to do other events. And then we saw the women’s march on Washington.”
They contacted the sponsors of the Washington march, but never heard back. So they forged ahead, aided by a steering committee of community organizers. They’ve lined up speakers including Boise lawmakers Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Rep. Melissa Wintrow, and they are looking for speakers to represent Native Americans and the refugee and LGBTQ communities. Food and clothing drives are also part of the event.
Families have been supportive; peers less so. Raptosh said some told her the march won’t change anything. Harren said someone drew swastikas on her car with a Sharpie. She reported it to the school and cleaned the markings off the car with nail polish remover.
ABOUT UNITY, NOT TRUMP
Both want the Jan. 21 march to be about more than the next president, and it’s certainly not for women only. Participants will gather at the Capitol and march the short distance to Boise City Hall for speeches. “It’s for anyone in support of human rights,” Raptosh said.
Though in class a good part of the day, they spend two to three hours a day planning.
They met with the steering committee Monday at the Linen Building. Gloria Totoricaguena, a Boise government affairs and public policy consultant and advocate, was planning to go to the Washington march but decided her energy and money would be better spent in Idaho. She had been in touch with organizations including the AAUW and Idaho Food Bank, all with a similar idea for some kind of event. An internet search turned up People for Unity, the two girls’ group. Totoricaguena sent an email and arranged an organizing meeting for all interested parties.
“When you lead, you lead by inclusion, by coordinating, not by controlling and by telling people what’re they going to do,” she said. Raptosh and Harren are learning from people with experience planning events. “They have direct access now and personal relationships with women and men who’ve been doing this for decades.”
STARTING SMALL AND LOCAL
Raptosh and Harren might not want the event to be all about the next president, but that’s hard to avoid.
“I think the attitude is, if he’s our president — and I’m not saying we’re doing this gladly — but we’re going to embrace him as our president, because if we embrace him as our president, then he needs to listen to us,” Harren said.
Raptosh added: “The president’s job is to listen to the people, so if the people stand up and say what they want, then it is his job to acknowledge us.”
The two also hope the rally and march will help dispel the notion that millennials don’t care much about what’s going on. They just need direction.
“A lot of people do care about this kind of thing, but a majority of their opinions are going out onto social media and things like that rather than in the real world,” Harren said.
“It’s all happening on social media,” said Raptosh. “None of it is happening in real life.”
Harren’s mother, Robin, consoled Nora on election night by telling her that action is empowering. She didn’t quite expect what was coming.
“I’ve definitely raised someone who’s willing to put herself out there,” Robin Harren said, “despite pushback from some of her classmates.” When Nora has come home discouraged or flustered, her mother has told her: “This is bigger than you. This is the right thing to do.”