When Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, asked a throng of young girls and women if this was their first trip to the State Capitol, a frenzy of hands shot into the air.
This is something the Minnesota Women’s Consortium wants to change.
In honor of the annual Women and Girls at the Capitol Day, nearly 300 girls and young women gathered in St. Paul on Monday to learn about the government and voice their concerns.
“We want women to know they need to call their legislators and talk to those who make public policies and voice their opinions,” said consortium co-coordinator DeDe Wolfson.
Andrea Kottas, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore, came as a volunteer for the YWCA.
She brought approximately 50 participants to show them the importance of getting involved in the political sphere.
“People are intimidated by this sort of thing,” Kottas said. “Coming to the Capitol makes you feel less intimidated, and it’s great to get young people involved.”
Kottas comes from a politically oriented family but said she wasn’t interested in the process until a few years ago.
“I wish I had gotten involved in politics sooner,” she said. “But it’s better late than never.”
For some girls, the day involved a glimpse at legislators they had only heard about. For others – such as Colette Gouldin, a sophomore at Avalon High School – the event only reinforced what they already knew. Gouldin’s goal is to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
“I feel that as a person of color and as a woman there are lots of things that need to be changed,” Gouldin said. “I want to help in that.”
Gouldin said she hopes to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., when she graduates from high school and later wants to go to law school.
She has always had an interest in politics and said the most important issue she wants her representatives to deal with is equality between men and women.
“I want to see women succeed in the world just as much as men, if not more,” Gouldin said.
Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, took time to talk to the girls and show her support for their causes.
“This is an extremely important part of bringing women into the process of making decisions,” Lourey said. “By coming here, they know they can participate. By watching other women, it gives them a concept of what they can do when they get older.”
The Minnesota Women’s Consortium, a coalition of 165 women’s organizations, is in its 18th year sponsoring Women and Girls at the Capitol Day.
Linnea House, a frequent volunteer for the event, said she enjoys the variety of females who show up for the day. She describes the people who come as ranging from businesswomen to Girl Scouts.
“This day makes (the Legislature) more accessible,” House said. “It shows that this is not outside their realm of possibilities.”
Along with speaking to their legislators, attendees participated in break-out sessions. While elementary school students learned how to take action politically, high school and college students focused on anti-smoking campaigns and reproductive health.
Kottas said the most important part of the day for her was getting the young girls involved in a legislative process that has a large influence on their lives.
“It’s important to get people motivated and involved,” she said. “In the long run all people will be affected by the government.”
Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the state Legislature and welcomes comments at [email protected]