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Young activists across Kansas lead efforts against abortion bans, voter suppression

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The U.S. Supreme Court last week overturned Roe v. Wade, reversing the 1973 landmark decision that guaranteed the right to abortion, but local reproductive justice activists and voting rights leaders had seen it coming.

Kansas organizers have been planning and mobilizing in the months leading up to the decision, and young people are fiercely leading the charge.

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With just more than five weeks until the Aug. 2 election, young activists and leaders have been mobilizing across the state.

As part of the broader reproductive justice movement, these students are currently focusing efforts on urging Kansans to vote “no” to the amendment on the ballot which, if passed, would remove legal protection of abortions and allow legislators to enact a complete ban.

The Kansas Youth Power Coalition is a group of numerous youth-led and youth-centered organizations. Though youth voter turnout is the coalition’s overarching, collective goal, their work goes beyond a simple vote. 

Their voices are loud.

Rija Nazir, Vote Neigh and Loud Light

Rija Nazir said she empathizes with people who feel discouraged right now, but she is inspired by the ways in which young people have taken action to combat equity issues, such as voter suppression.

“There are so many people in our state, in our country who are being kept from voting, whether that be Black and Brown communities, whether that be young people — they’re not given those opportunities, and when they are, they often feel like it’s not really working due to higher powers, like the Electoral College. They feel like their vote really won’t count,” Nazir said. 

Rija Nazir

Of the upcoming Aug. 2 election, she continued, “But with this election, whatever side wins 50% of the vote plus one, that will be the law. There’s no interference. Your vote will directly affect our state and so I highly encourage people to go out at least for this election because it will directly affect you and it will directly affect everybody around you. Voting ‘no’ is truly to preserve our freedom.”

Nazir is the lead organizer of Vote Neigh, a movement with a fun, western theme aimed at mobilizing young people to vote in the upcoming primary. She credited the creation of Vote Neigh to a collective effort by the Youth Power Coalition, who wanted a fresh brand to re-energize folks.

“Vote Neigh is meant to be super positive and bright, abortion positive, young, … Our main goal is to really mobilize young and marginalized people under 30. We welcome everybody, but we are trying to get those people out to the polls” and to help them become more knowledgeable about reproductive rights, Nazir said.

Nazir, an incoming senior at Wichita State University, has future plans to attend law school and then contribute to public policy or civil rights law. She’s grateful for the community that has been built around the movement, she said.

In addition to leading Vote Neigh, Nazir is an organizer with Loud Light, a Kansas organization focused on raising youth voter turnout and empowering young people to get politically involved. She spoke to the groundwork young people have been leading as well as their ability to effectively use digital communication, like posting on social media and phone banking.

“I think young people have definitely revolutionized the way that digital organizing works. Specifically during the pandemic, that has pretty much been our main way of reaching out to people,” Nazir said.

Are you ready to vote?

The next election is Tuesday, Aug. 2. You must be registered to vote by Tuesday, July 12.
You can quickly make sure you’re registered and request a mail ballot by visiting KSVotes.org.

* We are not election workers *

Chloe Chaffin, Loud Light and URGE

As a current political activist and future educator, Chloe Chaffin wants to make their voice heard on multiple levels. Chaffin is an incoming junior at Washburn University, located in the state’s capitol, where they are fighting for their fellow students.

After meeting URGE Kansas State Organizer Sarah Myose last summer and learning about their efforts, Chaffin took the lead on revitalizing Washburn’s chapter of the organization. 

URGE, which stands for Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, is centered on reproductive justice for young Black and Brown people, queer people, and other marginalized groups. There are URGE chapters nationwide, and at least six colleges and universities in Kansas, including KU, have one.

Chloe Chaffin

“I am passionate about these issues because I am passionate about people. The growing threats against democracy jeopardize all aspects of civil life and social justice and I am so proud to be a part of the national movement of young people working to take back our civic destinies,” Chaffin said.

The Washburn chapter of URGE is focused on reproductive and gender equity, explained Chaffin, which includes issues like racial justice, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry. Last year, the chapter was able to get dispensers with free period supplies installed into the walls in bathrooms on campus.

To promote more inclusive sexual education and safer sex practices on campus, the chapter distributed 1,000 condoms and made “Sex Be Great” kits, which included internal and external condoms, lube, emergency contraception, ovulation tests, and more, available to all Washburn students.

In addition to their leadership in URGE, Chaffin is an organizer with Loud Light. Loud Light has three student fellowships each year, including electoral in the fall, legislative in the spring, and community organizing in the summer. Each fellowship includes 10 to 20 students from all across the state meeting virtually to learn about local politics and policy and how to be a better advocate for their homes. 

As program lead, Chaffin is responsible for teaching these fellowships alongside Program Director Anita Austin.

At Washburn, Chaffin is studying secondary English education and political science with minors in leadership studies and poverty studies. 

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Chaffin has been vocal about getting their peers to the polls, saying the college student vote is “essential” because voting young and remaining consistent creates a positive pattern. They also spoke to the power young people hold in today’s society to continue the work done by previous generations.

“It is also important to remind ourselves that Gen Z is the most diverse in the history of this country. They have unique experiences and perspectives to bring to the table and more information at their fingertips than earlier generations thought possible,” Chaffin said. 

“They are the ones who will inherit the Earth and all the unfinished work of our elders. We have the passion and drive and a clear-eyed vision that will serve us well as we face ongoing crisis after ongoing crisis. These voices matter, thus their votes must as well.”

Donnavan Dillon, Loud Light

Donnavan Dillon, of Lawrence, said he has always been interested in politics, and by joining as a fellow with Loud Light and working with other organizations in the Kansas Youth Power Coalition, he was able to hone in on his passion.

Donnavan Dillon

“Coalition work is a lot of my favorite work because it takes so much to accomplish these big goals when you have other people on your side, and I think it’s especially important that these nonprofits and organizations are hiring younger people to make sure there are fresh voices in the space and train the next generation of activists and leaders in the movement,” Dillon said.

Last fall, he was a part of the Loud Light student power campaign. Members worked to fight back against Kansas legislation that tightened voting restrictions, which he said in turn suppressed college voters. He is continuing as a Loud Light fellow this summer.

Dillon is heading into his sophomore year at the University of Kansas double majoring in political science and sociology. During his time at Lawrence High, before graduating in 2021, he was involved in a range of extracurriculars, making an impact on many levels. He was student body president, gymnastics team manager, involved in orchestra and choir, and more.

That involvement continued to mold Dillon’s sense of community, which he said is a staple in his life. He credits past, present and future young folks for mobilizing in the wake of human rights issues.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without young people who stood up and vocalized what they cared about, and I’m pretty sure a lot of people can relate to that with how stagnant our society has become.

“With any major movement you can see a group of youth activists who are on the ground using their energy and their voices. I think it’s instrumental to society changing,” Dillon said. 

Adriana Cazares, Lawrence high school walkouts

As a passionate youth activist, Adriana Cazares is not allowing her ineligibility to vote hold her back. By utilizing social media to reach her peers at both Lawrence high schools, she was able to organize walkouts in protest of Kansas’ political state at both Lawrence high schools on May 17.

Adriana Cazares

Cazares, who is an incoming junior at Free State, used her Instagram account to communicate with everyone about plans. She coordinated students at Free State to meet on the sidewalk at Sixth Street and Bauer Farm Drive near the school so that more people could see them and their signs, rather than staying on campus. 

“I know that we have 18-year-olds who are eligible to vote and then there’s those such as myself who are underage where we can educate those on why it’s important to vote,” Cazares said. “Reproductive rights affect everybody — not just women, but also our nonbinary people, trans people, our youth, and their futures that we need to protect.”

She also said she communicated with a Lawrence High student, who helped make sure they were on board. Lawrence High students marched to Louisiana and 23rd streets with their signs. Both high schools conducted their walkouts at 11 a.m. that day, and hundreds of students participated.

Cazares is continuing to use her Instagram account to share impactful information and resources.

She believes banning abortion will give way to more bans, and she expressed her concerns of what is to come for marginalized communities.

Given Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion, in which he suggested that other rights based on the 14th Amendment — such as same-sex marriage and access to birth control — be next on the chopping block, the possibilities are very real.

Of Kansas’ proposed constitutional amendment, Cazares said, “If this passes, I feel like it would be a domino effect of what’s to come next after that. What rights would be taken away then?”

How to support their efforts

Other groups in the area have been contributing to reproductive justice, too. Honor Moon is a group led by teenagers in Lawrence with the goal of ending period poverty. Last year, it became the first organization in town focused on free and inclusive access to menstrual products. 

According to the Honor Moon Instagram account, the group will restock its period pantry, which is located at 512 E. Ninth Street in Lawrence and free for anyone to take products from, every Saturday this summer. Anyone interested in donating supplies can drop them off at the pantry location. Email honormoonlfk@gmail.com or message their Instagram page for more information.

Alongside Vote Neigh, Loud Light and URGE, as mentioned above, other members of the Kansas Youth Power Coalition are working toward the same goals. Those groups include BE SEEN, Climate + Energy Project’s Kansas Environmental Youth Network, Destination Innovation, Loud Light Civic Action, New Frontiers Project, Progeny Kansas, Root The Power, and Sunrise Movement Lawrence.

Leading up to the Aug. 2 vote, organizers encourage everyone to get involved in events, which are happening every day and listed at this link, or by donating to the Kansas Abortion Fund. Each individual organization has resources and contact information on their websites and social media accounts, linked above.

All registered Kansas voters are able to vote in the upcoming primary, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof. Learn more about the Aug. 2 election at this link. Register to vote, double-check your registration and/or request a mail ballot at KSVotes.org.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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