Government

Protesters await Pence outside Rockwell visit

They decry gay rights record, rally potential voters

CEDAR RAPIDS — As Vice President Mike Pence departed from a visit Wednesday afternoon to Rockwell Collins, protesters who waited for more than hour to confront him got loud.

“Vote them out!” they chanted. As the vice president’s motorcade drove past, they yelled: “Vote Pence out!”

More than 50 people attended a protest and LGBTQ pride event that took place across the street from the avionics company facility, where Pence was on a visit to discuss tax and trade policies as well as hold a campaign event.

While Pence spoke in support of Republicans Rep. Rod Blum and Gov. Kim Reynolds, who are both on the ballot in November, demonstrators outside spoke out in opposition to Pence’s record on gay rights, as well as Republican policies they believe threaten the rights of women and immigrants.

“We need to let them know that they can’t get rid of us, and we won’t let this happen,” said Herbert Meisner, 21, a fellow with NextGen, a progressive nonprofit that organized the protest. “Whether he hears us or not, we are here for us and we know that we have each other.”

NextGen organizers said they are ramping up youth voter registration efforts in Iowa ahead of the November election. Many young people — on high school summer break — were out chanting and holding signs that read “God hates Mike Pence” and “gay love is beautiful.”

Nina Lavezzo-Stecopoulos, 16, a founding member of the Iowa City-based group Students Against School Shootings, brought a cardboard cutout of Blum dressed in a tulle, rainbow skirt. Since Donald Trump was elected president, she said most of her free time has been spent doing homework or practicing political activism.

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“Politics just escalated into a place I’d never seen before, and it was just suddenly alive to me,” the City High School student said. “I never knew all of this existed. I’d had maybe one little (political) conversation before 2016, and now it’s my life.”

NextGen hopes to maintain a presence on Iowa college campuses — including the University of Iowa, Coe College, Kirkwood Community College, Mount Mercy University and Cornell College — to capitalize on young people’s political energy, said Katherine Brennan, its regional organizing director for Southeast Iowa.

The Pence protest was met by two people — who both declined an interview — holding signs in support of Pence and the Trump administration.

Many protesters said the administration — as well as Iowa’s representatives — doesn’t reflect their values. Pence’s visit to Rockwell Collins came days after the company was the main sponsor of Cedar Rapids Pride Fest, and the company has received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index four years in a row, which judges companies on policies such as transgender-inclusive health care, equivalent spousal benefits and non-discrimination policies.

As Pence’s motorcade pulled away, Amanda Green and Jessi Stoll stood on the curb holding a giant rainbow flag with “peace” written on it. Green said that is the message she plans to remember about the vice president’s visit.

“In reality, today on the street we saw youth, we saw diversity, we saw love and joy and acceptance,” Green said. “ ... To me, that’s a much more important message. That’s the one I’m going to carry forward. Not that Mike Pence came to Iowa, but that a group of grass roots protesters got together and symbolized peace and unity.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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