As a sixteen-year-old abortion access activist in Virginia, the last few months of 2023 gave me hope, a sense of reality, and a strong urge to keep fighting.
But going into September of this year, I was scared.
I work for the Virginia chapter of the youth-led, nationwide non-profit Generation Ratify. We are a collective of intelligent, experienced, focused people between the ages of 13 and 23 collectively organizing to finalize the Equal Rights Amendment. Our national team works alongside congresswomen and pioneers Cori Bush and Ayanna Pressley as they lead the ERA Caucus’ push for the rightful ratification of our amendment in the U.S. Constitution and to stamp equality as an official priority of our nation.
The words “youth-led” can conjure speculation such as:
Young people can’t be that influential, right?
Young people don’t really care about health care, right?
Young people don’t have that much to say…right?
You’d be surprised by the sheer size and eagerness young people brought to the table this past election season.
In late August and early September, our policy team arranged meetings with general election candidates who expressed and proved their genuine interest in protecting abortion access, incorporating inclusivity into our schools, gun violence prevention, and, most importantly, the intersectionality of equality. As a mission-based organization, we understand that equality does not stand alone, a crucial leading concept of third-wave feminism and current Equal Rights Amendment organizers.
“The Equal Rights Amendment is something I hold close to my heart, as I was raised by a single mother.”
Our Policy Director, Lily, organized 16 events from August until the night before election day. We spent October weekends in Loudoun, knocking on doors for Russet Perry or in a Zoom on the phone for Nadarius Clark.
“This election season, I organized for pro-ERA candidates because young people’s rights were at stake, whether it had to do with abortion or education or safety. This is about our futures.”
Our shared passion over working for a movement with a mission to raise our voices has given me a community. It is validating to work alongside strong, intense people like Lily. People who are my age, who want to hear what I have to say, and who want to learn. Our community kept me grounded this fall.
Young people’s discernment for intersectionality protected abortion rights in Virginia because in relating abortion access to equity in their advocacy, voters understood that their daily injustices are interconnected. That an injustice to one is an injustice to all.
One of our major events this year was centered around disability justice–a significant equity issue not discussed enough in spaces advocating for equality. Bodily autonomy and essential resource accessibility for the disabled community is a constant target for anti-equity politicians and organizations who think they know better than centuries of oppression. They have fought and continue to fight with little recognition from non-disabled people who lead establishments that claim to care about equity.
During our most successful event, Canvas for a Cause, we collaborated with the disAbility Law Center and REV UP Virginia to showcase equity in the context of accessible voting. Our College Outreach Director and recent Virginia Tech graduate, Maya, led the online event on behalf of Generation Ratify Virginia.
“Protecting abortion rights is important to us, but we are not a single-issue organization. Creating an inclusive and intersectional movement is crucial to uplifting all marginalized communities.”
Maya presented an in-depth, step-by-step slideshow on how to vote, including pre-registration for our many underage attendees, absentee ballots, in-person voting, and descriptions of the pivotal issues on the ballot this year. In showcasing the voting process, we pushed many young people to the polls and ensured their voices were heard.
“We don’t do this work alone. In light of the expansion of voter rights during COVID and the subsequent attempt to roll them back, we hosted an event about disability rights at the polls and beyond. We highlighted how disability justice intersects with our movement and other issues, such as workers’ rights and affordable housing. We created a space for learning and collaboration and will continue expanding our movement.”
Spotlighting disability justice contributes to our mission: equity and accessibility. For many of us in attendance, this slideshow was our introduction to understanding why accessible voting procedures are essential. Events like this uplift the disabled community by sharing their stories, experiences, and needs while giving non-disabled people an outlet to learn more.
Attending events centering inclusivity as a major focus of the 2023 elections left me with a hopeful taste in my mouth, as is the case whenever I have the opportunity to talk to voters. Their stories are moving and inspire me to stay determined, especially this October.
So what’s next?
Please keep a lookout for our second-ever in-person lobby day in Richmond on January 29th, where we will be lobbying in favor of various bills such as SB 16: Search warrants; menstrual data prohibited, SB 15: Reproductive health care services; prohibitions on extradition for certain crimes, and SJ 1: Constitutional amendment; fundamental right to reproductive freedom.
We are excited to see what the 2024 legislative session brings Virginians this year. We are ready to defend our rights when they are inevitably threatened. Abortion is not yet fully protected; and therefore the movement is continuous. We will continue to push this message to our legislators and neighbors until abortion is constitutionally protected.
If you or a young person you know is interested in joining our mission to fight for equity, please encourage them to use this link to start or find a chapter near them!
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