116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — The city has changes to make to be more equitable and welcoming to people of color, speakers at a rally hosted by the Marion Alliance for Racial Equity said Saturday.
The rally was attended by several dozen people lined up outside the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection near Butterfield Park. Speakers included Marion Alliance members, local faith leaders and students from Linn-Mar High School.
Marion Alliance co-founder Janessa Carr, who spoke at the rally, told The Gazette the purpose of the event was to promote unity and understanding in Marion — while also raising attention about ongoing issues of inequity.
The Marion Alliance for Racial Equity formed in July 2020 in the wake of nationwide protests against police violence and systemic racism. This was the first event the Marion Alliance has held this year. The group has worked with the Cedar Rapids Advocates for Social Justice and on the city’s Community Equity Task Force, but Carr said rallies are an important way to take the message public and keep pressure on local officials.
“It's a unique way to check up on where we at a year ago when we started,” she said. “And it's also us continuing to keep the city accountable and let them know that we're here, and that these things matter to us.”
The group made six demands — most but not all focusing on the of the city of Marion — in 2020: establish a citizens’ police review board, decriminalize marijuana, increase diversity and inclusion in city departments, open doorways to make voting easier, hire a mental health liaison with police and for Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden to resign. Vander Sanden, a Democrat, was elected countywide in 2010 and has run unopposed since.
Last August, the Marion City Council formed a Community Equity Task Force. In October, the council approved an agreement between the police and Foundation 2 to embed a crisis counselor within the department.
Several speakers Saturday called for more action.
Joshua Milam, a Marion resident and pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church in Manly, said the government has made overtures of supporting social justice reforms but hasn’t been listening or engaging enough with advocates like the Marion Alliance.
“Yes they’ve given us a seat at the table, but they don’t want us to have a say,” he said. “But I’ve come to tell you this evening, that’s going to change.”
Tamara Marcus, a co-founder of the Advocates for Social Justice and a candidate for Cedar Rapids City Council in District 3, encouraged the attendees to be politically active and engage with local officials. She urged the crowd to continue appearing at community events like the rally, join area organizations and run for office.
“I’m hearing pastor Milam talk today about MARE’s interface with local government. Just imagine how different that process would look if you had people on the council who already supported your vision,” she said.
Four students of Linn-Mar High talked about discrimination they’ve faced at school. Students detailed being called racial slurs and being ostracized by white peers.
Despite the issues speakers said still are facing Marion, Carr told the crowd at the onset she is hopeful for unity and improvement.
“As a Black woman, if I thought it were horrible, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. “There is hope, and there is potential here in Marion. We are stronger together than apart.”
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