Activists See Opportunity For Engagement As Thousands Attend Kansas City Protest

Jan 20, 2017

Angeliina Lawson lost her bid for a post in the Kansas legislature from western Shawnee, Kansas, earlier this year. In spite of, even because of that, she’s encouraging other women to step up and run for office – for school board, city council, mayor or state representative.

As vice president for the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, Lawson says a lot of women are intimidated by the idea of a campaign. The only way to counter that fear, she says, is to be around other women candidates, officials and advocates.

That’s why she’s helping organize the Women's March on Washington in Kansas City at Washington Square Park on Saturday, the day after Donald Trump is inaugurated. Similar demonstrations are anticipated around the country –“sister marches” to what’s expected to be the biggest rally related to an inauguration in U.S. history.

Lawson says there’s a lot of anxiety in the wake of this election.

“After the election we’ve seen a big spike in people trying to get active for the first time and (they) don’t really know how,” she says.

Activists like those with the Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus want to provide some guidance.

“There’s a feeling that because so many things are being attacked, people might just sit back and watch things burn to the ground.”

She says local women will be gathering in preparation for Saturday’s rally on Friday night at 5 p.m. for a sign-making party.

Paula J. Willmarth, president of the Missouri Women’s Political Caucus, says St. Louis and Jefferson City also will sponsor sister marches like the one in Kansas City.

“Missouri is in full force in support of the March on Washington,” Willmarth says. “We’re making our voices heard by proxy, so women who can not go to Washington will also have the opportunity to stand with their sisters and brothers.”

Willamarth says she’s heard from many women who’ve never marched before, never engaged in a protest of any kind. Women of all ages, races and economic status want to join the effort, she says.

"These women are so excited to stand together to protect and defend our rights," Willmarth says.

There are many Trump supporters from the Kansas City area who are equally excited about attending and celebrating Friday's inauguration festivities.

Alana Roethle, from Leawood, is one of them. She's been active with the Kansas Republican party for years. She's excited to share her experience of being at the inauguration with her four young children when she gets home. She feels the Trump administration is going to make the world better for the next generation.

"(Trump) has already accomplished more for what I believe in than Obama did for eight years, so I'm hopeful, especially being the mom of four little kids," she says.

Jennifer Byer is among those from Kansas and Missouri who will join the protest demonstration in Washington D.C. The Prairie Village woman says she’ll be “distracting herself at home” Friday while the inauguration is going on. On Saturday she’ll head to D.C. to participate in the Women's March.

An activist at heart, Byer says she feels compelled to go for a variety of reasons — to protest President Trump's policies as well as to support women and marginalized groups.

But she’s also going to send a message to her representatives. She says she was disappointed none of her elected officials in Washington spoke out against the divisive rhetoric during the campaign.

“Their sort of tacit acceptance felt like approval to me and I just want to tell them I’m watching and I will hold them to account.”

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer at KCUR. Follow her on twitter @laurazig  or email her at lauraz@kcur.org.