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Nora Harren

The long, hard climb


January 21, 2017 - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • January 21, 2017

It was December 2016 when we first met Nora Harren who, along with fellow high school student Colette Raptosh, was in the early stages of sending what would be a resounding message. In the wake of President Trump's election, Harren and Raptosh were the driving force behind the January 21, 2017, Women's March on Idaho rally. The massive protest attracted global attention, and the young women were instantly recognized as examples of the next generation of human rights leaders.

Raptosh graduated from Capital High School this spring and is preparing to head off to the University of Utah. Harren, meanwhile, has just finished her first year at Western Washington University, where she's holding down a double major in energy policy and management. Back in Boise for the summer, Harren, now 19, sat down with BW to talk about her uphill endeavors, both figurative and literal.

How has your life changed since January 2017?

I feel like the biggest change since then, in a very broad sense, is that I'm a lot more willing to take big leaps, even if they don't necessarily succeed. I've seen what hard work can do, and I know that it's always worth it to go for the big leap. I've seen myself being a bit bolder since the march.

The thing that impressed me, right from the start, was your resilience in the face of a good deal of criticism from strangers. What advice might you give your younger self in weathering that storm?

Now, I ask myself, "Is this going to matter in five years? Two years? One year?" And my answer is almost always, "No." So I wish, back then, [that] I would have asked those same questions. Whatever I was doing back then, or anything I'm doing now, is going to have a much bigger impact and a much more positive impact than the impact that that criticism ever would have had.

So, let's talk about your big climb earlier this year.

Mount Shasta. Well, I always wanted to do something big and bold. [At more than 14,000 feet, Shasta is the second-highest peak of the Cascade Mountain Range.]

Mount Shasta - PIXABAY CC1.0
  • pixabay CC1.0
  • Mount Shasta

How did that happen? Was it on your wishlist?

I was backpacking with friends in Utah during spring break, and my friend said she and a friend were going to climb Mount Shasta this summer. So I had to do it.

How did you prepare?

For 2 1/2 months, we'd wake up at 4 a.m., run stairs and later take a 7- or 8-mile hike, then head to class.

And the climb was a big test.

One of us suffered from severe altitude sickness pretty close to the top.

How did that sickness manifest itself?

It started with a headache, but it got worse and worse. And we were told that when altitude sickness strikes, you can start losing your ability to communicate if you climb any higher. The only thing was to go back down. It's really random. It can happen to anyone. We got back to base camp and she started feeling better as she was [getting] hydrated. By the time we got all the way down to the parking lot, she was doing much better.

Are you inclined to try again, since you didn't make it to the top?

Absolutely. I'm going back. My friend who got sick was the first to say, "We have to go back." My guess is that we'll try something a little lower-elevation first and then get back to Mount Shasta.

I hope you can appreciate the metaphor of your climbing mountains.

You think that politics is completely different from climbing a mountain, but then it's completely the same. It's all about trying again.

I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about your being honored at the inaugural Marilyn Shuler Forum on Human Rights this past May.

I was so proud of that amazing moment, because I know of all her amazing accomplishments.

She was quite a lady. Through all of her battles, she was formidable, resilient and always respectful—quite a contrast to the angry, frustrated, nasty vibe of 2018.

I constantly have to remind myself that groaning and complaining is not productive. I'm always asking myself, "What solutions can you talk about?" And I know this sounds a bit corny, but it's very useful for me to continue to practice gratitude.

Let's talk a bit about what your life will look like for the next couple of years.

This summer, Collette and I are working pretty hard on establishing a really strong foundation for People for Unity in Idaho. We're spending a lot of time with the next generation of high school students. When a student approaches one of us to thank us for what we've done, our response is usually, "Well, if you're really interested, come join us. Let us show you how it's done, because it's not as hard as it looks."

Are you ready to pass that baton?

That's the plan.