Students assembled on the north stage of the ASU Memorial Union on Wednesday to collect signatures for a petition targeting Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. The petition gave students a platform to voice their opinions about the recent “global gag rule” executive order, which defunded international organizations that offered abortion information.
Ivana Benjaran, the campus organizer for the #Fight4Her campaign, led the event. On the stage was a large banner of President Donald Trump signing the executive order surrounded by a group of the executive order’s key supporters — all of them male. Participating students stood in front of the banner for a photo opportunity.
“We know we’re not going to get the global gag rule out,” Benjaran said. “Right now we are raising awareness about the global gag rule, but it is still going to be an executive order.”
The real goal of the event, she said, was to empower students, so when other bills and executive orders surrounding women’s reproductive rights and health care were brought to the forefront, their voices would be heard and hopefully, “get Sen. Flake to maybe abstain from a vote.”
The organizers said they sent the message to Sen. Flake specifically because he's up for re-election next year.
“We know he’s not going to be a champion for women’s rights, he’s a pretty conservative guy,” Benjaran said. “But if we pressure him in the right way, we can get him to at least abstain from a vote. He’s up for re-election in 2018 and he needs people. If there was ever a time, this is the time.”
The campaign in Tempe was aimed at Sen. Flake, but the students were joined by others on campuses around the country, gathering signatures to petition the executive order. The Fight4Her organization was joined by two other ASU student organizations as well.
Sustainability freshman Logan Miller tabled for one of these groups, Voices for Planned Parenthood, also known as VOX. He said the important thing was to stay active when these issues come up.
“I think it’s really important for students to stay involved, to get involved in the political process even though it seems slow,” he said. “It’s definitely demotivating, but it’ll be worth it in the long term, which is hard to understand, but it’ll be worth it.”
He added the event was a way to draw attention to an issue that could lead to greater consequences for women’s health care down the line.
“I think it’s the first step of many, to strip women of much needed health care,” Miller said. “Not just women, but all people. First comes the global gag rule, then they’re going to try and repeal the Affordable Care Act, and from there you’ll see health care start to diminish in accessibility. That’s a huge problem.”
VOX Vice President Kelly Bowker, a marketing junior, said recent political events like the gag order have encouraged students to speak up against policies they view as unfair.
“It’s about double the support of (previous events,)” she said. “A lot of people have said they’ve always been kind of interested in it, but this is really what made them realize they need to step up and take some action about what’s going on.”
ASU alumna Tamsyn Stonebarger is the founder of I am that Girl, a women’s empowerment group that also tabled at the event.
“It’s a vital time for women to come together and build one another up and encourage each other to have a voice in this ... political climate,” she said.
Stonebarger said the best way to create change was to speak out.
“We live in this culture of not speaking up,” she said. “More than anything, in this strenuous political and social climate, it’s important that we really empower one another. I think it’s super important to be active."
For some of the students signing the petition, the matter is personal.
Ryan Taylor, a sustainability undergraduate, said the executive order didn’t seem right to him, especially after speaking about women’s reproductive rights with his sister.
“I didn’t know how to feel about women’s rights, or the social issue of abortion, until I talked to my sister about it,” he said. “She has strong views, and she has the right to her strong views. She’s pro-choice.”
Taylor said looking at the global gag order, and who signed it, makes him feel the need to say something.
“If you take a look at their banner, with eight men in the oval office, making decisions for women about their rights, it makes me feel, as a male, sort of obligated to represent women,” he said.