We the People: Keatyn Wede

Keatyn Wede is going to change the world someday. Strike that. She’s already making change.

Keatyn Wede is going to change the world someday.

Strike that. She’s already making change.

“I have never agreed with the argument ‘but this is how it’s always been,” Keatyn said. “I am a firm believer in shifting that mindset to ‘but it doesn’t have to be this way.’ The moment we are able to switch that mindset is the moment we will start seeing the changes we are advocating for truly take effect.”

For Keatyn, a junior at Mitchell High School, that means questioning the status quo as a member of her school’s student council or on the James River Region Student Council, where she serves as president. Or it means advocating for her fellow competitive swimmers (she’s been swimming with the Dakota Riptide swim team for 10 years) as the student representative on the South Dakota Swimming board of directors.

This summer, Keatyn honed her advocacy skills at the 2021 ACLU National Advocacy Institute. As one of more than 1,000 students from across the country – and the only student from South Dakota – Keatyn learned strategies for grassroots organizing and explored social justice and civil liberties issues facing the country today while making plans for future community action.

Those future plans? They start right now.

“It doesn’t take anything especially grand or extraordinary to create change in the communities around us,” Keatyn said. “Question things, question them aloud, and you’ll create change in the minds of those around you.”

Q: When did you first hear about the ACLU?

A: The first time I was really introduced to the ACLU was the first time I watched the movie “On the Basis of Sex” in 2018. I’ve always been obsessed with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When I found out she worked with the ACLU, I immediately decided I, too, wanted to work for the ACLU someday. That night I followed the ACLU on every single social media platform, and I did some research on a few of their major cases.

Q: What is the biggest takeaway from your week at the Advocacy Institute?

A: The Institute not only gave me a week full of learning and growing, it gave me lifelong friendships. I met an amazing group of kids that are passionate about the same social issues I am. The biggest lesson that I learned, however, was to create more space than I am taking up. A huge part of advocacy is amplifying other voices and making sure everyone’s thoughts are shared.

Q: Which of the Constitution’s amendments are most important to you?

A: I am going to have to go with the 19th Amendment. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Millions of women around the country were given the energy to feel as if they could defy the social standards. We can still feel that energy today. Every time we hear of someone breaking the glass ceiling we are reminded of this energy. Thanks to the 19th Amendment, we are given the mindset that we can do anything our male peers can do. This amendment is important to me along with the millions of other women across the United States because it gives us a chance. It gives us a chance to break our own glass ceilings.

Q: Which of the ACLU’s issue areas are you particularly passionate about?

A: I am the most passionate about the rights to abortion access here in the U.S. My views have always been pro-choice, but what is also important to mention is that I have always been a Christian. In our state especially it is really common for Christians to immediately take the side of pro-life, so I’m going to do a little explaining to my take on abortion rights. As a Christian, I would never get an abortion. However, that would never give me the right to tell someone else they cannot. I know plenty of people who do not identify with the Christian faith, so why would I expect them to believe the same things I believe? The idea that we can try to explain ourselves using a religion that not everyone follows makes zero sense. There will never be a logical argument against behind abortions that begins with “But the Bible says...”

Q: What issues do you think are most important for South Dakotans to pay attention to?

A: I don’t know if I can exactly pick one that would be most important, just because everyone has different things that affect them differently. However, something we could all be paying more attention to is the state of Indigenous history and culture in our South Dakota school districts. It is important for us to learn about the history of where we live. For our state that is rooted in Native American history and traditions.

Q: Why do you think it’s important for young people to be involved in their communities?

A: When adults are making decisions I think it can be easy for them to only look at it from their generation's perspective. It can be easy for them to not see how their choices will affect the younger generations' future. It’s important for us – the younger generation – to get involved so that the adults don’t forget about us. We need to make sure our voices, opinions, and worries are heard and to make sure our futures are not overlooked.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in getting more politically involved in their community?

A: Pay attention to things that you are passionate about and/or things that could affect your future. Surround yourself with people who have the same goals as you. This will help you stay focused. I would also say that it is important to give yourself grace. You can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You are not at fault if things don’t go your way. You are not at fault if leaders don’t make the right decisions.