In Search of What Doesn't Divide Us


The good news: Sound, nonpartisan civic engagement is on the horizon. The bad news: We'll probably need to wait a generation to see it. Not for a second do Nora Harren and Colette Raptosh suggest they have all the answers; but, spend some time with these two lean-in activists, and you'll see that if Idaho has any hope of doing something about gender or pay equity, Harren and Raptosh may be game-changers.

The two Boise high-schoolers—Harren is a senior at Borah, Raptosh is a junior at Capital—admit they're part of a demographic typically not engaged when it comes to politics.

"Not being able to vote this past November was a struggle, we admit that," said Harren.

"At first, it felt to us that we couldn't have an impact, but we've come to learn that's simply not true," she added. "We decided that if we can't vote, then what we can do is take action."

"That's why we decided to organize the unity rally on the steps of the Capitol," Raptosh said.

With the recent election season highlighting what separates us more than what unites us, Harren and Raptosh saw an opportunity to start looking for the latter. Just four days after Election Day, the two young women stood at the top of the Statehouse steps—one holding a sign reading "I Have a Dream"—looking out on a sea of faces.

It was a tough crowd, though, with more than a few attendees not yet ready to concede Donald Trump would be the next U.S. president.

"What I feel now is anger," one Boise State University student said. "I don't think the president-elect represents me as a woman."

"All the things I'm teaching my kids, Trump embodies none of that," a young mother said.

Where some saw frustration or fear in the new political climate, Harren and Raptosh saw a chance to make a difference.

"I can't imagine a better time to volunteer, to step up, to be counted," said Harren. "Think of it: Can you think of a better opportunity to volunteer for the Women and Children's Alliance, Planned Parenthood or the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence?"

Raptosh said it has nothing to do with how old you are.

"Whether you vote or not, whether you're currently involved in any issue or not, you have a say in changing your community. You have a say in turning your passion into real change," she said. "You know the cliche about 'talking the talk?' Well, I can't think of a better time to 'walk the walk.' Here's the real message: Maybe you voted, but were you involved? If you want to have a bigger impact, then you have to do more than vote."

For Harren and Raptosh, "doing more" includes organizing the Women's March on Idaho, Saturday, Jan. 21, starting on the steps of Statehouse and continuing to Boise City Hall.

"The first thing you should know is that this isn't simply some kind of anti-Trump political rally," said Raptosh. "This is about inspiring and honoring those who champion human rights, dignity, diversity and justice."

But even a novice would note the event takes place one day after Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, the same day there is expected to be a massive women's march on Washington, D.C..

"Yes, our rally in Idaho will take place on the first full day of Donald Trump's presidency and we support the sisterhood of marches that will take place all over the U.S.," said Raptosh. "But to be clear, we're not trying to send a message of protest. Our march is about the progress of women's rights, gender equity, environmental justice. That's our message."

The pair has already secured some impressive speakers for the Jan. 21 event: Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb (D-Boise), Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) and Jennifer Martinez, the daughter of migrant workers who rose to mount a 2016 challenge to Congressman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho).

Idaho House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) is familiar with how skillful Harren and Raptosh are at convincing high-profile speakers to participate in their rallies. They secured his attendance and participation at the Nov. 12 unity rally.

"I can't tell you how impressed I was by how many turned out for that rally," Erpelding said. "When I spoke to the gathering that day, I said we had two choices: to be fearful of Donald Trump's risk to progress or to lean against that risk and take it on. I know that risk can be defeated and we can, indeed, move forward again. As for those two young ladies who organized that rally? Wow. There's the future."

The future is what Harren and Raptosh are most focused on.

"I'm hoping that after our Jan. 21 march, that people don't look at this engagement as some kind of ending point. It has to be the starting point, to go out, get involved with organizations and have more of a say about Idaho," said Raptosh.

With engagement comes pushback, and Harren and Raptosh have heard plenty. It only motivates them to double down on their message and work harder to bring people together.

"Yes, we've received a bit of hate already, particularly through social media," said Raptosh. "But that's the risk that we assume. It's not something to stopsus. If a few people want to label us politically, they would be jumping to the wrong conclusions. "

Harren smiled before agreeing.

"For us, it's a waste of time and energy to fight back against that kind of hate," she said. "Look, this isn't about the election. We want to have a separate conversation. It's not about who won. It's not about who lost. It's about being involved."