Students, from left, Anna Seamen, Audrey Keeley, Lindsey Williams and Jadyn Lewis lead a rally for reproductive rights in at the Colorado Capitol in Denver, March 4, 2023. (Kevin Mohatt for Colorado Newsline)
Dozens of Denver high school students and supporters marched around the Colorado state Capitol and Civic Center Park to fight for reproductive rights Saturday.
With the support of New Era Colorado and other local advocacy organizations, the group of students from Denver East High School, George Washington High School and Northfield High School organized the march to make sure their generations’ voices are heard by those making decisions impacting their lives and futures.
“Two hundred fifty-three days ago, people with the capacity for pregnancy had to wonder what their futures would look like; 253 days ago, part of our control was stripped away from us,” said Sarita Patel, a George Washington student who led the efforts to organize the march. “The world is on fire. My world is on fire. My generation lives in fear. Our bodies, the one thing that we’re supposed to have control of, is being stripped away from us. I don’t see liberty in that. What I choose to do with my body should be my choice.”
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Patel said that just because it’s been some time since the Supreme Court decided to overturn a constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade doesn’t mean those who care about access to abortion will stop fighting, as the decision still impacts people with uteruses across the country. This is what inspired her to bring together people from across multiple Denver high schools to plan the march — she said they just want to be heard.
“I look around me and I see how many individuals and students are hurt by these decisions that are being made for them, and I was tired of just watching all of my friends and my classmates and the people around me get angry about these decisions and not be able to do anything about it,” Patel said.
Patel talked about how overwhelmed she felt by a prompt she had in English class asking “to what extent does individual responsibility matter in the face of huge systemic problems?” as she never felt able to properly answer the question.
“The truth is that standing in front of huge systemic issues is terrifying. It seems hopeless. I mean, what can a 5-4 — 5-4 and a half if we’re pushing it — 17-year-old biracial female girl do in the face of huge systemic issues that might have even the slightest impact?” Patel said. “I don’t know. But I’m done waiting. I’m done waiting for these decisions to be made for me, about me right now.”
On the west steps of the Capitol before the march began, multiple students and supporters, including Democratic state representative and Denver mayoral candidate Leslie Herod, shared stories about the history of reproductive rights, poems and performances. Herod said too many states are still seeing bills and legislation criminalizing those who perform the abortions, those seeking abortions and those who help others access an abortion.
“Right now, I have my colleagues in other states who are fighting to protect reproductive justice for all people, but unfortunately, they are losing that battle,” Herod said.
Luna Olin and Tatum Lezzote, students at George Washington, shared a performance they created for their school’s speech and debate program. The skit shows the difficulties a 17-year-old living in Missouri has trying to get an abortion, leading the two friends to travel across state lines so they can receive the care they need without going through their parents.
Olin said they wanted to pick a topic that could be an educational opportunity for others since the speech and debate program is “very privileged and very white.” The duo typically performs the piece at different schools and speech and debate tournaments, and Olin said they never expected to bring it to an event like the march.
“I think it’s nice because it feels more like directly making an impact versus being at a random school with parent volunteers,” Olin said.
Camila Navarrette, New Era’a communications director, said that because the organization works with high school students regularly, they were eager to help when the students organizing the march asked for support. She said it’s important for young people to show that they care and are paying attention to decisions that impact them.
“We’re all about engaging young people in the political process, and as you can see today, that starts young — that’s not just voting,” Navarrette said. “This is just important for students to proactively show that ‘We are here, we are voting, we are engaged and we’re gonna vote on this.’”
Other organizations supporting the student march included Planned Parenthood, Cobalt, Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Soul 2 Soul Sisters, Elephant Circle, ProgressNow and the ACLU of Colorado.
Colorado Democrats are planning to bring forward a package of reproductive rights measures in the Legislature in the coming weeks to further expand access to reproductive health care. Abortion remains legal in Colorado.
“Adults who can vote have more power and they have more ability to voice their opinions, but these laws are affecting us and we have no way to express or vote on these decisions even though they directly impact our demographic,” Patel said. “So what other choice do we have than to show that we still care about these issues if we can’t vote.”
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