We the People: Isabel Young

Being with and working among community keeps Isabel going. Change is not something that can happen alone.

As a queer person, advocacy and community have always been something that Isabel Young sought out and participated in. Even as a young child, Isabel always considered herself a progressive feminist. But it wasn’t until about 2016 when Bernie Sanders ran for president that she became politically active. 

“His message of real change for fixing income inequality and critiques of the U.S.’s highly capitalized structures struck a chord with me,” she said, “and I was drawn to learning more about these ideas and movements.” 

So, Isabel started getting involved, first with her high school’s Young Democrats club and later with Spectrum, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance at the University of South Dakota, where she served as president and then a student adviser.

Being with and working among community keeps Isabel going. Change is not something that can happen alone. “It’s one thing to advocate on your own, but when there are friends and allies there supporting each other, it’s a hopeful atmosphere,” she said. 

When did you first hear about the ACLU?

I’m not 100% sure, because It’s been so long, but if I had to say, it was probably when I was in middle school, most likely after the death of Trayvon Martin. To this day, his death and the injustices his family went through by the hands of the state have stuck with me, and still evoke a strong emotional reaction – especially since I know little has changed, even after the death of George Floyd.

Which of the ACLU’s issue areas are you particularly passionate about and why?

It’s hard to put one above the other, as they’re all important, but LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit equality tops the list. I am genuinely scared of the amount of hate and violent rhetoric we are seeing directed toward the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit community, especially the trans community, with real legislation that restricts people’s freedoms and autonomy. I genuinely fear that because of legislation like House Bill 1178 that is directly targeting the events that Spectrum puts on our campus, specifically drag shows, that we may end up being the targets of violence. Honestly, it’s really hard to live with that fear and know that your legislature doesn’t care and wants us to feel like this.

During the legislative session, you attended a letter writing party in Vermillion. How was that experience for you and what did you take away from it?

This was not my first letter writing party, and it surely won’t be my last. I think the biggest thing I took from it was a great sense of community, with everyone coming together to make our voices heard and do something. 

Do you consider yourself a changemaker?

I’d like to say so, but I’m not sure. I’m studying in university and working within organizations to learn and to get things accomplished, but I don’t think I’m all that good at networking, which is important when it comes to getting your objectives done. My goals are to get better at that as well as gain more knowledge and accreditation so that someday my words and actions may have more weight behind them.

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

Every community has organizations that make decisions that affect people in real ways and can shape political views and structures, so I implore people to get involved with their neighbors and community. When one person alone has a problem, it is hard to accomplish anything, but when a group together with a shared vision gets together, anything can be accomplished with the right actions.

Which of the Constitution’s amendments are most important to you and why?

Of course, the First Amendment is very important to me because it is a fundamental part of democracy for people to be able to petition the government to work in their favor. This part of democracy, though, I feel like we’ve lost some touch with over the years with increased political apathy and inequality, which I believe is tied to a structure that disempowers working-class people from looking at the real roots of their problems and from being able to properly advocate for themselves.

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

It’s hard for Isabel to narrow it down to just one issue. From immigration to education to raising the minimum wage, Isabel sees the importance in many issues for South Dakotans. 

  • On immigration: “We need to have real investment in immigration. This ‘war at the border’ is just creeping the nation closer to violence and division while enforcing white-supremacist narratives, which is a bigger issue that we need to grapple with."
  • On education: “I think South Dakota should invest more in our public schools and family programs, especially when you consider the funding states around us have for their education and our abysmal graduation rates. These efforts should be focused on areas of the state that are more rural and tribal lands with less opportunities in their area for children, both before and after school.”
  • On the minimum wage:I also think the minimum wage in South Dakota being lifted to only $11.20 is pathetic, and it should be at least $15 to account for the rising costs of living, especially rent.”
  • On our elected officials: “I think we need to see more people run for office who aren’t caught up in austerity and ‘culture war’ nonsense and who will use their time in the legislature wisely.”