Writing under the handle “Bronxiniowa,” Ira Lacher, who actually hails from the Bronx, New York, is a longtime journalism, marketing, and public relations professional.
If you’re reading this on Wednesday, July 12, you will likely find that Iowa has a new law prohibiting abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. Legislators met in special session on July 11 so that Republicans could send this bill to Governor Kim Reynolds by cover of night for her to sign. Which made Tuesday’s protest at the Iowa capitol pretty much confined to letting off steam.
And steam they did. The steam was so thick, you couldn’t cut it with a chainsaw.
But what did it prove? Informal talks with folks on both sides—those carrying signs reading “No Bans,” as well as those carrying signs reading “No Murder”—only illustrated that the special session accomplished exactly what Reynolds and the Republicans wanted: to elevate the rhetoric on both sides to show the state and national media that only those in power can accomplish their aims, and rational discussion is impossible.
Walking amid the roaring crowds on the first floor, it was quite clear that strategy was working.
One woman I encountered wore a MAGA hat and said her Catholic faith convinced her abortion was murder. To talk further, we had to sidle away from a small crowd that was harassing Vivek Ramaswamy, who apparently believed his job as a Republican presidential candidate was to annoy the liberal rabble. (Whether you agree or not was no reason for sweaty people to get within inches of his face.)
Once we escaped the mini mob, this woman and I spoke, reasonably, for about ten minutes. Behind us, the crowd roared their vexation to the fait accompli going on behind closed doors, including some obscene chants directed at Reynolds. We agreed the rhetoric needed to be tamped down.
In closing, I asked why she couldn’t simply agree that if she thought abortion hateful, then she could choose not to have one. I also asked her whether she believed, as a libertarian, why a nanny state should dictate personal policy to all women. Finally, I requested that to acknowledge our amity, she remove her MAGA hat; she laughed, said she’d consider it. We exchanged contact information and agreed to continue the discussion.
Then I sought out protesters and found a couple of older men, who fell under the umbrella description of “dicks,” as many of the female protesters characterized the more than 70 male Republicans who attended the session (and, by association, all men, apparently). I asked these protesters if the obscene chants and vulgar descriptions, lettered on signs with all kinds of TV cameras in proximity, advanced their argument. Sheepishly, both men admitted those did not.
Encountering a table sponsored by the ACLU of Iowa and Planned Parenthood, festooned with free buttons and banners for the taking, I asked a woman sitting there in apparent authority whether their organizations believed the heightened rhetoric would make a difference in the outcome, and if not, what the demonstration hoped to prove. She told me they could do nothing about the way their supporters were acting and the demonstration was held to voice their anger at the governor and legislature. When I pointed out that the politicians had been voted in by their fellow Iowans, the woman asked me to leave.
If this demonstration were to accomplish anything concrete, I figured, it would be to catalyze the Iowa Democratic Party to register new Democratic voters. But I found no such table, inside the building or out. I did, however, encounter two younger Iowans, both members of the gay community, who were there to protest not only the special session but the recent Iowa laws targeting therapy and support for trans people. I asked them what they hoped to prove by protesting what was Iowa law. They responded with an obscenity-laden tirade.
So, I went home. There, I encountered a neighbor who has repeatedly worked for the progressive side of issues, within government and without. His wife had been at the capitol, he said, and asked whether I’d seen her, which I hadn’t. He asked me what the demonstration was like, and I told him.
And then I asked what had become my boilerplate question: Why couldn’t the heightened rhetoric on both sides, the obscene signs and chants, the utter hatred of people for others they didn’t know, be ratcheted down to where some rational discussion and maybe even a compromise—if nothing more than “live and let live”—were possible. His answer was swift and unequivocal.
“No. We’ve had it with those effing people.”
According to my neighbor, and with many persons I spoke with, those protesting the special session and the expected bill were on the side of rights for all, that it was the other side restricting those rights, and engagement was impossible. It was too late to do anything about them.
But from the other side I heard the left was all about wanting the government to force everyone to accept ideas and precepts that run counter to certain deep-seated traditions of faith and other beliefs.
And nowhere did I hear what should be obvious: This became possible because more people who believe in opposing abortion and trans rights voted than those who didn’t.
In the 2022 elections, which gave the Republicans a supermajority, only 6 in 10 registered Iowa Democrats voted, compared with nearly 7 in 10 Republicans. Republican women voted at a 7-in-10 rate compared with 6-in-10 Democratic women. (The rates were the same for men.)
If you don’t like what’s coming out of the statehouse and the governor’s mansion, sure: show up at the capitol to demonstrate. Write signs till your fingers fall off and wave them until your arms shrivel. Shout slogans till your vocal cords calcify. In the words of Buffalo Springfield:
What a field day for the heat . . .
A thousand people in the street . . .
Singing songs and carrying signs . . .
Mostly say, ‘Hooray for our side.'”
We’re angry, frustrated, and despairing. But let me suggest two ways to alleviate this.
First, tone down the tension, person by person. Find someone whose politics run counter to yours, get to know them and invite them over for a beer or coffee. And above all, listen to them. Yeah, you can disagree, but to get past that, you need to understand. It starts with respect. Beats chanting obscene slogans.
And second, signs, slogans, and demonstrations are a reaction to inaction. We have state elections coming up in 2024. Vote in them. Damn it.
Top photo taken by Ira Lacher at the July 11 protest in the Iowa capitol rotunda. Published with permission.