Shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, the Iowa Capitol grounds filled with a sea of women newly engaged in politics, ready to take action at the state’s first Women’s March.
But could they keep that enthusiasm up all the way through the election, people asked.
They did, volunteering for Democratic campaigns, propelling Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne to Congress and women like Kristin Sunde, Jennifer Konfrst, Karin Derry, Heather Matson and Molly Donahue to the Iowa House.
But would they stick around for the nitty-gritty work of the Iowa Caucus and the next presidential race, others wondered.
They are, many of them — well, over 100 at least — filling the volunteer ranks of Kamala Harris’ Iowa campaign, ready to make history once again in the state.
The Harris campaign this week kicked off their new “Blue Wave Women” initiative, signing up women who first got engaged after the 2016 cycle to fill volunteer leadership roles in their campaign. One hundred Iowa women are publicly endorsing Harris today in that effort.
“The leadership that we saw throughout the course of the midterm was transformational to politics,” Deidre DeJear, Harris’ Iowa state chair, told Starting Line. “We are really, really excited to have all these women on board.”
These women will be asked to be precinct captains on caucus night, to serve as Women for Kamala captains that work their own network of friends and to attend women-to-women phone banks.
“I dream about Senator Harris taking down Donald Trump,” said Elizabeth Kutter of Cedar Rapids, a Harris volunteer. “But first things first, I’m spending my energy to help put her over the top at the Iowa caucuses in February.”
The campaign noted that many of them had first gotten to know Harris by watching her during the Bret Kavanaugh and William Barr confirmation hearings.
“People really value her sense of authority, but also value her grace and her compassion,” DeJear explained. “They identify with her passion and they also identify with her fearlessness.”
The women organized a large house party this past weekend of women supporters of Harris, drawing over 130 out to a Des Moines house to discuss how to get involved.
Harris’ niece, Meena Harris, came into town to speak with the crowd, talking with them about being raised in a family of strong women who were engaged in politics.
“Every day when [my grandmother] got up in the morning, she was thinking of what can I do to make the world a better place,” Meena Harris said. “She taught me that I had a duty, a responsibility to always make an impact, no matter what, no matter how small, how big. After 2016, I think a lot of us were feeling scared … I thought about her and what she taught me my whole life, and what can I do in this moment.”
Several of the people in the room were past volunteers for DeJear, who was Democrats’ Secretary of State nominee in 2018.
“It meant so much for me to have that support amongst women when I was running, but what’s most important is that they did not stop. So many of them started during my race, that was their thing, their introduction to this space called politics where they figured out where their niche was in politics,” DeJear said. “It’s important that we are allowing people to sit at the table, and we’re allowing them by inviting them to the process. That’s so critical.”
One Woman’s Path To Backing Harris
One of the women supporting Harris in the caucus is Jennifer Jean, from Pleasant Hill. She volunteers in the campaign as a “Kamala Captain,” which means she plans events, makes phone calls, knocks doors and hosts phone banks at her house. She does this every week.
“It was just kind of one of those love-at-first-sight things with Kamala,” Jean said. “I kept going back to her even after I educated myself on the other candidates and their policies and everything.”
It was Harris’s line of questioning during the hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh that first caught Jean’s attention.
“I literally looked at my husband and said, ‘oh my gosh, she better run for president,’” she said. “And he kind of laughed, and I’m like, ‘no, I’m serious, cause if she does, I’m going to watch her very closely.’”
Jean said Harris’s line of questioning and her speaking truth to power was inspiring.
It wasn’t just Kavanaugh that raised her awareness, though. Jean said she’s always been politically active and she’s wanted to get more involved in the wake of the last couple elections.
Originally a registered Independent, Jean said Harris inspired her to finally change her registration to Democrat in February this year because she knew she was going to want to caucus for Harris next year.
Volunteering has also always been a big part of her life, she said, and she fell into doing it for the campaign naturally.
“It feels amazing. I know it’s been great not only for my mental health but to really make an impact on the campaign and my community,” she said. “You know, I was spending my nights watching CNN and looking at social media and just feeling political depression of everything that’s going on.”
There’s another element to her support for Harris, too.
“I think, for a lot of us, we’re ready for a woman in the White House,” Jean said. She said that was her thinking when she started paying attention to candidates. “It’s time. We’re more than qualified.”
To Jean, it only makes sense that a woman should be elected.
“If you look at your friends and family, most of the women I know are the ones that run the household,” she said. “We organize well. You go to your church group, you go to your PTA, 90 percent of them are women.”
Engaging Communities In The Caucus
This week’s women roll-out comes after Harris’ campaign has launched high school student organizing programs and a Latinx outreach effort.
“Women have always had this power, we’re just using it in a different way,” DeJear said of the group. “We want those ‘Blue Wave Women’ on board with us, and we welcome so many more because they are the change we need to see. And they’re our ears on the ground, they see what’s happening in our communities, the implications of who this president is and what he’s done. They take issue with that, and they’re standing up against it.”
DeJear noted the campaign is giving them the tools to organize their own communities and networks organically, in addition to the usual volunteer work of a caucus operation.
Most importantly, they want the women to stay engaged throughout the caucus and beyond.
“This is going to be fun,” DeJear said.
The full list of 100 Blue Wave Women for Kamala Harris is as follows:
Ruby Bodeker, Benton County
Marlene Peterson, Benton County
Wendy Purdy, Benton County
Lytishya Borglum, Black Hawk County
Pam Correll, Black Hawk County
Shayla Fowler, Black Hawk County
Marcia Buttgen, Black Hawk County
Jennifer Tompkins, Calhoun County
Tracy Smith, Cerro Gordo County
Rose Boehmer, Cerro Gordo County
Stephanie Scholl, Cerro Gordo County
Eileen Peterson, Crawford County
Hope Johnson, Dallas County
Lindsey White, Dallas County
Martha Tabor, Dubuque County
Julie Norby, Dubuque County
Heather Holm, Franklin County
Beth Thompson, Grundy County
Randa Wall, Guthrie County
Tawny Wilson, Henry County
Rachel Foubert, Iowa County
Kim Martin, Iowa County
Ann Sohl, Jackson County
Barb Hood, Jefferson County
Jackie Reger, Johnson County
Jennifer De La Cruz, Johnson County
Allison Bettine, Johnson County
Jan Stewart, Johnson County
Leann Cortimiglia, Johnson County
Diane Thayer, Johnson County
Elizabeth Kutter, Linn County
Katie Hill, Linn County
Gretchen Mellberg, Linn County
Jill Forbes, Louisa County
Barbara Paulding, Lucas County
Joan Rafter, Muscatine County
Sabrina Davis, Polk County
Jennifer Jean, Polk County
Jennifer Norum, Polk County
Ali Henkle, Polk County
Julia Henkle, Polk County
Taylor Millar, Polk County
Brenda Schumann, Polk County
Maggie Crabb, Polk County
Alena Rae Treat, Polk County
Mary B. Doidge, Polk County
Kim Durbin, Polk County
Beverly Mae Pitt, Polk County
Jane Lee Garras, Polk County
Allison Nagel, Polk County
Dawn Black, Polk County
Brooke Black, Polk County
Cherry Shogren, Polk County
Lynn McCartney, Polk County
Diana Shera, Polk County
Alex Vandermeide, Polk County
Robin Kline, Polk County
Kristin Esche, Polk County
Maria Mattiace, Polk County
Katlyn Waltz, Polk County
Vanessa Phelan, Polk County
Jean Hessburg, Polk County
Kyrsten Delagardelle, Polk County
Rebecca Taylor, Polk County
Dianna Baker Hoye, Polk County
Janelle Turner, Polk County
Lori Jones, Polk County
Kathy Schooley, Polk County
Teresa Powell, Polk County
Calla Devlin Rongerude, Polk County
Sheryl Farrand, Polk County
Anne Middleton, Polk County
Melanie Wenzel, Polk County
Ann Dvorsky, Polk County
Shekinah Young, Polk County
Amy Yochem, Pottawattamie County
Kim Swanger, Pottawattamie County
Becky Jackson, Pottawattamie County
Sherlene Eicher , Pottawattamie County
Darlene Roush, Poweshiek County
Sarah Millender, Poweshiek County
Jessie Anderson, Poweshiek County
Brenda Anderson, Poweshiek County
Jennifer Rasmusson, Poweshiek County
Mary Little, Poweshiek County
Liz Kantner, Scott County
Jacqueline Young, Scott County
Kelli Emerson, Scott County
Veronica Conklin, Scott County
Heidi Cullinan, Story County
Lora Jean McMillan, Tama County
Pam Richardson, Warren County
Nichole Poindexter-Wilson, Warren County
Kim Robinson, Warren County
Typhanie Mahlstadt, Warren County
Sara Carspecken, Webster County
Cyndi Hansen, Woodbury County
Cathy Dailey, Woodbury County
Kim Vermilyea, Woodbury County
Celeste Sudduth-Triplett, Woodbury County
Phyllis Kurzak, Woodbury County
by Pat Rynard and Nikoel Hytrek
Photo by Julie Fleming