As a sophomore in high school, Anabelle Lombard didn’t have any organizing skills or policy knowledge, but she did have a passion for social issues and a love of art.
Along with four other friends, Lombard, now 19, founded Generation Ratify, a youth-led nonprofit to advocate for constitutional gender equality through the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and other legislation promoting gender equality. The grassroots organization has over 13,000 youth involved across all 50 states.
As creative director of Generation Ratify, Lombard uses her artistic background for making “art as protest”, generating signs, zines and web designs to convey the organization’s message.
The Arlington native, who now attends School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was honored on June 28 with the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, a national recognition of Jewish young people “tackling big challenges in their communities and having tremendous impact.” Each awardee received a prize of $36,000.
Why prioritize gender equality among the many issues that young activists today are tackling?
The gender equality fight is a very long one, and it’s a huge undertaking, but that’s actually the reason why we focus on the ERA, is because it’s so intersectional and how it would expand protections. For example, queer people, LGBTQ+ people would be protected. It would provide, for example, a strong legal defense against rollback of significant advances in women’s rights, reproductive health care and bodily autonomy. It would fight against sexual harassment and assult, inequities in education, and promote equitable access to menstrual products, which is a huge issue. And it also, of course, strengthens our economy through equal pay.
So it really covers a lot of the bases, which is why we think it’s so important in the fight for gender equality.
When was the first time you considered yourself an activist?
As young people, you feel like you can’t hold powerful spaces and call yourself an activist. You feel like people won’t take [you] seriously. I don’t think that I realized what I was getting into when it started, because I was so young and I didn’t realize that I had all this power and that we could really fight for something and make an impact.
And I didn’t have any formal experience with activism, but I do think that, for me personally, living in such proximity to D.C. and all of the opportunities to get involved with protests and everything, and to even speak to lawmakers themselves that’s something that I had access to and exposure to that a lot of young people across the country don’t have.
As creative director of Generation Ratify, how do you use creativity and your background in the arts to spread your message?
I love making art, for my own personal exploration of creativity and just as a personal passion of mine. I also come from an artistic family, which is something I feel is so essentially Jewish; all of my Jewish family comes from a background of music or art or creativity in some form. And that is definitely a way to connect to my Jewish identity for me.
Then realizing that the art I made doesn’t have to just be for me — it can be for other people, and it can be something that empowers more than one person. It’s not like a personal empowerment to create something meaningful. You can really have a huge effect when you teach people these skills.
It’s also just, I think, very underutilized in activism. Visual strategy, it brings people in; it just has such an amazing ability to create community and sort of break down tensions and have people work on something that ends up being beautiful and big and impactful together.
How has your Judaism informed your organizing work?
Art is so Jewish to me. It’s like so intrinsically Jewish. And so that itself has compelled me to use those skills.
I feel like I have such a privilege to be able to feel comfortable in my Jewish identity, and I don’t want anybody to ever feel like they can’t be comfortable in their own identity, whatever that may be. And so it’s my job to fight for people to feel comfortable and safe and empowered in their identity. You have the power within you to embrace your identity and fight for others with that — that’s so meaningful.
Why is it important for young people to be the face of social movements?
Our generation is so diverse and vocal. We have the most to lose and the most to gain from this fight. So it’s so important to have young people at the forefront of this movement. It’s sort of like, if we don’t teach people that they have power from a young age, then they don’t realize that they can have this incredible effect on each other and on others.