When word broke that the draft of the pending decision of Roe v. Wade by the United States Supreme Court, Sophia Weiner, a sophomore at Marblehead High School, was on hiatus. She immediately texted her close friend and fellow sophomore and member of the swim team, Bella Takata. By the time the two met for lunch, more and more information was pouring in and the young women were beginning to get alarmed.
Weiner had followed the aspect of the right to choose abortions in the United States, but was unprepared for the harshness of the prospective decision or the acerbic and condescending approach of Judge Samuel Alito at its conclusion. She was looking for answers and interpretations. As a participant in the Marblehead Young Democrats Club, not a school-sponsored program but an outside Marblehead High School opportunity to be with like-minded students, Weiner turned to her friends and peers to seek explanations and express concerns.
Takata was new to the Democrat Club but instinctively knew that this blow to defeat Roe v. Wade was a turning point in women’s rights and freedom. She absorbed the details and together with Weiner decided on the spot that something had to be done. These two bright and courageous young women of 16 have taken action. By mutual agreement, they could not address a faculty member. Instead, they worked with their adviser, Rene Kearney, outgoing chairman of the Marblehead Democrats and a volunteer mentor for young people who want to be involved and active.
The sophomores contacted the police department to ensure they were following protocol and chose Saturday May 14 to hold a rally outside the Marblehead Community Center. Weiner is the club’s social media manager and she made sure their intentions were publicized on Instagram and through flyers, which they aren’t allowed to post in high school but have put up throughout. the city. They contacted friends and asked for help. They went to see their parents to make sure they were on board and are very proud to report that they have received tremendous support.
The Democratic Town Committees of Marblehead and Swampscott offered great encouragement and tactical advice. The young woman contacted the Marblehead League of Women Voters and through contacts and word of mouth, these novices gathered nearly 85 people with signs and declarations on this sunny day. They did it in less than a week. And, they’re not even old enough to vote.
Weiner is descended from a well-known activist, her great-grandfather Manny Weiner. The elder Weiner was a labor organizer and an early advocate for the rights of the elderly. He was president of the Massachusetts Action Council, an advocacy group that believed in direct action in creating projects for the elderly. Using the principles of labor action, he coordinated the labor movement of the 1930s and the civil rights efforts of the 1960s. Weiner was the force behind “guerrilla theater” in 1988, which staged at the State House “Dr. Greed” and “Nurse Goodlaw” to expose the failure of health care and well-being for Massachusetts seniors.
Weiner’s father went door to door when President Obama ran for office.
Takata told me about her trip with her mom, a true liberal, who took her to the Women’s March in Washington, DC, in 2016. Takata was 11 and thought it was “the coolest thing that is”. She learned from her mother and imbued herself with a thirst for knowledge and a desire to be an activist.
Recently, Takata has been thinking a lot about when people of Japanese ancestry, even if they were American citizens, were transported to internment camps during World War II. This is a story that is not well covered in schools or in the public domain. Takata feels a strong need to do some research and maybe create a program one day.
Speaking with these two organizers, I was deeply moved by the hope for a better future for our country, which I was beginning to despair of. They may have been nervous about what they were doing, but they weren’t afraid. This kind of commitment to act in response to a disturbing civic event that affects us all takes brains, heart and guts. They understand the importance of the moment and realize that we are protesting against an erosion of rights, an inherent disrespect for women and the politicization of free choice. They are truly leaders. Let’s keep an eye on them.
All the experience and the privilege of getting to know them gives me another field of reflection. Why don’t public schools allow for discussion and educator-led instruction around issues of constitutionality and individual rights. We’ll explore this in a later column, but the missing piece of free exchange in schools is sobering.
We know of nearly 26 states that have passed some type of legislation prohibiting any reference to gender identification, sexuality, race, slavery, etc. It is the antechamber of repression. Neither young woman said anything about it, but as an educator and advocate with years of experience in social work, I left with a hollow feeling. Two so smart, curious and brave 16 year olds who have to fend for themselves in terms of talking and exploring at school. They love their teachers and their school; it’s clear. But I didn’t hear anything exciting or challenging.
These exceptional teenagers are planning another rally. Let’s show them that we appreciate their advocacy in protecting our republic.
—Ina Resnikoff writes her column, Ina’s Insights, for Wicked Local.