The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be no problem for the second annual Cedar Valley Women’s March as the organization, like so many others this past year, took their mission online on Saturday, Jan. 30.
The virtual event, held at 11 a.m. via Zoom, brought together a wide array of community members from all ages and backgrounds. The online format offered the ability to gather and listen to local women speak on current issues facing other women in the area while simultaneously empowering others in attendance to get involved if they have not already.
Co-organizer and LGBTQ+ Student Services Coordinator for UNI Gender & Sexuality Services Kalyani Kannan explained the thought process she and other organizers undertook leading up to this year’s Cedar Valley Women’s March.
“We tried to consider ways to harness the energy of an in-person march and how best to channel that into a virtual format – that’s why we decided to keep the focus on highlighting community voices, to hear first-hand from people who are involved in this work and generate some awareness and momentum,” she said.
Kannan, along with co-organizers Staycie Lyman, Noah Andrew and Melody Kosobucki from the UNI Women’s and Gender Studies program, spearheaded this year’s iteration of the march. The event was also supported by community and university groups such as the Northern Iowa Feminists and UNI Proud.
Kannan kicked off the teleconference, stressing inclusivity, solidarity and what it means to be a woman while simultaneously shining a hopeful light on the future.
“We must recognize that what it means to be a woman has never been static, and those that seek to impose a monolithic ideology of womenness are those who look best in their narrow definition of what we can be,” she said. “Together, we can reimagine a society in which all people are free and able to care for and nurture their family and communities, however those are formed.”
She ended her introductory statement expressing the importance and service of women in the Cedar Valley area specifically.
“I am pleased today to lift up the voices of women in our own Cedar Valley community whose work embraces the spirit of the freedom and equity that underpins the Women’s March platform,” she said.
Kosobucki then took the reins and introduced a number of speakers working and advocating for women’s issues in the Cedar Valley, ranging from state legislators, business owners, nonprofit directors and community members.
Dr. Belinda Creighton-Smith, an adjunct instructor at UNI and pastor at Faith Temple American Baptist Church in Waterloo, headlined the Cedar Valley Women’s March as the keynote speaker of the day. She began her address highlighting the current racial climate of the United States and questioning the causative factors leading to this current condition.
“In every social index, (Black people) fare worse than their white counterparts,” she said. “How did we get here? How did we get to a point where COVID is ravaging our communities of color? How did we get here?”
She continued, “We must acknowledge that we’ve always been here. We must acknowledge and address the harsh reality that the very foundation on which this country was established was established on a race contract and that every institution is infused with that lifeforce that says people of color are less than their white counterparts… We must admit this horrific truth in order to make any gains, any inroads in dealing with and dismantling this system.”
Creighton-Smith then pivoted to point out the shared characteristics of this complex system of oppression while invoking Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire.
“Freire says it this way: ‘We must proceed with the reality of oppression, not as a closed world from which to exit, but as a limiting situation that we can transform,’” she quoted.
Finally, Creighton-Smith ended her speech appealing to those at the meeting.
“I admonish you to please join in this work, for there is much work to be done, and until we deal with it, it will not be reconciled,” she said.
More information on upcoming events for each of the organizations involved in the Cedar Valley Women’s March can be found at their respective Facebook pages. These groups schedule events year-round and have several upcoming events open to community members and students.