Frequently asked questions
Answered by our Co-Founders, Rabbi Sandy Sasso & Jennifer Nelson Williams
+ What motivated you to start Women4Change Indiana?
Jennifer: On November 9, I awoke with an incredible sense of despair and grief. I did some deep soul-searching and decided I needed to be the change I wished to see in the world. After conversing with my friend, rabbi and mentor, Sandy Sasso, we decided to form Women4Change Indiana. What I have learned over the last month is that women’s voices in Indiana are hardly heard. Only 20 percent of elected officials in Indiana are women, yet we are 50 percent of the population. This saddened me. I want better for my daughter. I want her to feel represented.
Sandy: After the election, women were grieving. We gathered in a mortuary, but we were not there to mourn. We were together to resurrect those values which we cherished. We had one paramount purpose — to organize and to find effective ways to move forward and protect the rights and freedoms we held dear. We believed we could get past the deep sense of loss, and find others who would want to create a movement to respond to the fears we all had.
+ What makes this movement unique and uniquely needed?
Sandy: We came not as Democrats or Republicans or Independents, but as Americans — especially American women. We made a commitment to be non-partisan, to listen to each other and join together to address concerns. We see ourselves as an umbrella group supporting the efforts of existing organizations, creating new opportunities for engagement, and mobilizing women to act.
Jennifer: We are a non-partisan voice, speaking for all women in a state that has not let women’s voices be heard. Only one-fifth of elected officials are women in Indiana. This should be of major concern to everyone. Due to overwhelming support (2400 members in the first two months), it is obvious many women share my concern. I was merely the initiator. Together, we will all be the change.
+ What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Jennifer: Our short-term goals are simple: for each member of the group to feel that they have a voice in the organization, and that they are given concrete action items to immediately begin fighting for women’s rights in Indiana. For the future, we have many ideas, but these will change and mature based on national and world events. We will lend our support and voices where they are needed. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Women4Change Indiana.
Sandy: In the long term, we would like to help counter the animosity to Planned Parenthood, which provides essential health service to underserved women, to add our voices to those who speak on behalf of LGBTQ rights, and to work with others in fighting against racism and xenophobia. Too often it is the voices of hate that are the loudest and most organized. We plan to be outspoken and to organize effectively to counter those voices. If one person can change the world, imagine what thousands of individuals working together can do?
+ How will you define success?
Sandy: For me it will be several things: more women running for office and engaging in the political process; an end to gerrymandering; increased women’s advocacy; a statewide civility campaign; increased education about democracy; and higher rates of voting.
Jennifer: I will feel I have been successful in this mission when I see an increase in the percentage of women in local and state government positions. I will feel I have accomplished something when our mentoring academy —only a dream now — is up and running and training women to seek and achieve community positions. I will be satisfied that my daughter understands that one person can make the change by standing up and doing something.
+ Which issue do you feel most strongly about?
Jennifer: One of my personal goals is to form a mentoring academy that will train and groom women to become active in all levels of government. This is the issue on which I hope to focus much of my time.
Sandy: Underlying all the issues important to me — reproductive health, LGBTQ rights, racism, xenophobia and voting rights — is the lack of civility in our country. We do not know how to listen to one another; we do not know how to argue without demeaning each other. We only listen to the news that we agree with. Facts do not seem to matter anymore. We need to find ways to look seriously at the issues, and learn how to engage one another respectfully and to be open to changing our minds.
+ Why are women uniquely powerful to be agents for change?
Sandy: Women felt personally attached by the rhetoric of this election. Misogyny, sexual harassment, and looking at women as objects were being given legitimacy.
Jennifer: In my opinion, women look at the world differently. Obviously, that’s a generalization, but I truly believe women are wired to think first about the repercussions of action to those in their care; and once that’s synthesized, they then formulate an action plan. In my opinion, women tend to be less combative. This makes them good leaders. Women are our caregivers, not our destroyers.
+ Personally, what drives you to work so hard for this cause?
Sandy: My mother died in December. I reread an interview I did with her about the 1940’s. She felt that her opportunities were so limited because she was a woman. My grandparents came to America escaping persecution and intolerance and seeking freedom. I do this to honor their memory. Personally, I fought for women’s rights in the 1970’s. A woman becoming a rabbi faced ridicule and opposition. But so much was accomplished over a few decades. Now it seems we might erase all those advances. I do this for my daughter’s sake and for future generations.
Jennifer: My father ran for Congress in the 6th district in the ‘60s. It was before I was born, but growing up we were very involved in politics. We stuffed bags with literature to pass out door-to-door and at the polls. It was very inspiring. Somewhere along the way, I lost touch with that hands-on action. This election reminded me that I have a duty to my country. I can’t leave it to someone else and then complain about the results. I won’t let that ever happen again. I will model good citizenship for my children.
+ What’s surprised you since founding Women4Change Indiana?
Jennifer: I am surprised at how easy it has been to move things along. The idea of starting a not-for-profit sounded daunting at first, but I have moved ahead one step at a time. It’s been exhilarating to watch the progress unfold. I have met amazing women who inspire me daily.
Sandy: We expected a couple hundred people at our first meeting, but the announcement went viral. There were 500 women in the building, and some 400 who could not get in. The energy in the room was astounding. The number of members continues to increase, as do the offers to volunteer. This is what hope looks like.
+ What’s been difficult?
Jennifer: The difficulties are truly insignificant. I just force myself to push ahead and stay the course — and lo and behold, things work out. I know my children are learning a valuable lesson from watching me tackle this project. I can tell they are proud of me and that makes it all worthwhile.
Sandy: Everyone wants something to happen immediately. The difficulty is working fast enough to make something happen.
+ How has this grassroots effort changed you?
Sandy: I was disheartened by the increasing polarization of the election, the hateful speech, the demeaning of immigrants, minorities and women. I felt pessimistic about the future, but the large gathering of women gave me hope. I never thought of myself as a grassroots organizer. And, at my age, I did not imagine I would begin a new venture. So, I learned that, no matter what your age, you can do something new — something that can make an impact.
Jennifer: I feel like a completely different woman than I was prior to November 9, 2016. Leading up to the election, I was afraid and disillusioned, because of all the negative rhetoric surrounding the campaigns. Since co-founding Women4Change Indiana, Inc., I feel inspired and excited about the future. My priorities have shifted. I focus on the positive vision I see for the state and my Carmel community. I feel empowered. If someone would have said to me a year ago, that I would be a grassroots organizer, I would have laughed at them, not believing it. Yet, here I am, right in the center of things and I would not have it any other way.
+ What do you say when women ask, “What can I do?”
Jennifer: My first thought is read! Become informed about an issue of interest. Educate yourself on both sides of the argument. Know the issue inside and out. Form a concise position. Then go to town hall meetings. Talk to elected officials about your position. Set a goal and work towards it. It doesn’t have to be world-changing — it could be a garden in a neighborhood. Just set the goal and take action.
Sandy: The only way to go up hill is to start to climb. Yes, it is difficult, but it is not impossible. Join an organization that represents your values. Join Women4Change Indiana. Make your voices heard. Call your representative. Write letters to the editor. Stay informed.