In 2013, Fort Worth Democratic state legislator Wendy Davis filibustered the Texas Senate for 13 hours to prevent a bill that would place draconian restrictions on Texas women’s right to have an abortion.
Clara Gibbs, a Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble senior, was at the capitol that night. She had almost made it inside the Senate chamber when police started taking away feminine products from protesters. Something about the pointlessness apprehending harmless hygiene products clicked for Clara and she realized clearly for the first time that women truly are treated differently than men. That night and that realization set off a passion for advocacy for Clara that has continued since: this summer saw her interning at the capitol, lobbying in DC, and looking forward to a future of service.
It’s been a journey for the teen.
Cut to her sophomore year in high school years after the filibuster. That summer she received a reading list for the upcoming school year focusing on the theme of “identity.” As she looked at books on the list, she saw that they were all written by people she didn’t identify with: “dead, straight, white men.” Instead of quietly reading the words and exploring the worldviews of those dead, straight, white men, she lobbied her teacher and the school to create a more inclusive list. When they refused, she created her own list featuring authors of color, women, and LGBT writers. The scenario would go on to inspire a few lines in the student-created Changing Lives sketch performed at our Big Hair Country Fair fundraiser earlier this year.
Clara wasn’t deterred when her teacher essentially ignored her reading list. “It just empowered me more,” she says.
She sought to learn more about the women writers missing from her school’s curriculum by attending a program at Tulane that focused on those writers’ absence from the canon.
It was that program that led to her regular summer stint at camps and programs on social justice issues, where she learned to expand her feminism beyond her own white experience, and to become more inclusive to a wide range of lived experiences. Changing Lives, and exposure to childhoods different than her own, also made her aware of her own privilege as a white teen at a magnet school. In fact the continued summer programming and involvement in Changing Lives inspired Clara to create curriculum for her school that expanded on privilege and inclusive feminism. The program, called Real Talk, is modeled after Changing Lives but focuses its content on teens Clara’s age.
This summer, she had the chance to put some of that inclusivity to work as she lobbied at the nation’s capitol for the end of family separation at the border as a part of an ACLU program.
She also interned with Representative Gina Hinojosa, returning to the site of the 2015 filibuster to help the House member make phone calls and work on the March for our Lives initiative, which is powered by teenagers just like her.
Now as she enters her senior and final year of high school and of Changing Lives, she is thinking about what she wants to do next. She thinks of her peers, many of whom are 18, but are still not interested in voting, and hopes to be involved in activating people like her fellow students to care about issues like the ones she’s been consumed by since she was first made aware of inequity. She hopes to go into social work, either by helping incarcerated women achieve reproductive justice directly, or by helping them through lobbying and legislation.
When expanding on the frustrations of women-excluding reading lists or peers who’d prefer to stay in their prestigious bubble, she says, “I just want to learn about people that aren’t like me.” She can’t understand why that’s not the case for everyone.