Youth Empower Indiana hosts rally for women’s rights on steps of Indiana Statehouse

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Youth from across Indiana stands in front of the Statehouse in Indianapolis on March 27 watching a variety of speakers take to the steps and give their own stories, ranging from their experiences as women or calls to action for women’s rights in the state. Music blasts as participants draw on sidewalks and paint banners. Booths are set up along the sidewalk representing Planned Parenthood and several high school clubs, including Youth Empower Indiana and Student Coalition for Consent, providing informational pamphlets and opportunities to donate. Carmel High School senior and Co-President of Youth Empower Indiana Erin Gordon leads the charge as one of the event’s main organizers.

Photo by MaKenna Maschino Women’s Rally attendees stand at a booth sponsored by Planned Parenthood and fill out contact information forms for summer volunteer opportunities. The booth provided a variety of informational pamphlets, merchandise and a poster board on sex education.

Gordon said a lot of preparation went into this event, including gathering at coffee shops, contacting organizations and legislators and flyer drops around Carmel and central Indianapolis. Ultimately, there is not a specific focus for the event except for the celebration of women, she said, and they wanted to include aspects of women’s history, women’s rights and women’s issues.

“Indiana is not great when it comes to women’s issues; we’re ranked horribly when it comes to health, education, political representation, especially when it comes to women of color, it’s even worse,” Gordon said. “We just wanted to kind of pull in a lot of different aspects. We could kind of expose weaknesses within Indiana, lack of representation and kind of highlight organizations that are helped building that up.”

City-County Councillor for District Five Ali Brown was one of several speakers at the rally, focusing on her support for the activism of Generation Z. She said anytime there are going to be young people trying to change the world for the better, she wants to be there to support it. 

“I started my activist days in high school, and it’s shaped the way I’ve gone, and where I’ve gotten to go today has come from the people who I met then and who held my hand and introduced me to the world,” Brown said. “And if I can do that, and help and support, I’ll definitely be there. But the ideas and the plans for this event, whether it’s talking about reproductive justice, or climate change, consent, those are all things that are incredibly important to me, as both a woman and as a mom and as a leader in the city that, we just need people to have education and access and we need to plan for a better future, and look not just four years from now, but 40.”

Photo by MaKenna Maschino Members of Youth Empower Indiana and Student Coalition for Consent watch as another organizer shouts in a megaphone to encourage people across the street to join the rally. Booths at the event offered snacks and activities as encouragement to join the rally.

There are six women on the City-County Council currently, a historically large amount, Brown said, out of the 25 total seats, and there were fewer before she ran for her seat. She said she ran for the council to help properly represent the community.

“I was running because I didn’t think there was anybody representing young families, representing working mothers who could be a voice out there,” Brown said. “I’m very lucky to have a lot of support in my life. But I know there’s a lot of people struggling to get by, to make the best for their kids, to make the best life for their families that face a lot of challenges.”

Senior at Carmel High School and Co-founder of Student Coalition for Consent Lisa Venckus ran the club’s booth at the rally and said the club’s main initiatives are to advocate for comprehensive sex education in Indiana and legislature that properly defines consent. Venckus said women’s rights are still important because people should not tell women what to do with their bodies, and it is important to bring women’s issues to light because the conversation has been fading. Coming to events like this rally, she said, is important because of connecting with organizations.

“It’s good to obviously connect with other organizations and people who will support causes like this, but at the same time, I feel like issues like sexual assault and consent have a long history of silencing women because they were ‘being dramatic’, or ‘They were making up stories,’” Venckus said. “And it’s just to empower women to be able to tell these stories and share out the experiences that they’ve had is really the end goal with all of it. So I think that’s a good reason to connect with other organizations like this.”

Gordon said the main message of organizing the rally is to show people that women are here and they are ready to fight because a lot of rallies and protests like this get pushed down. She said this is often seen as complaining, but these groups are working hard to create change.

“ … We’re in a state that does not necessarily always work towards progress …,” Gordon said. “A lot of times when you’re on social media, and you’re feeling like you’re the only person either posting something or supporting an idea, it helps people kind of like, group together … And especially when a lot of the ideas kind of brought here today are Minority ideas within Indiana, it’s nice to kind of see that representation and kind of feel like, ‘Oh, we’re not alone in this fight for women’s rights.’”

Photo Gallery by MaKenna Maschino

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