June 4, 2020


I spent today and yesterday working on an END POLICE BRUTALITY installation in my front yard with the help of my mom and dad. I believe that it forces onlookers to face reality. Since it’s been put up, neighbors have discussed it, brisk walkers have ignored it, and delivery men have cherished it. What’s important is that it starts a conversation in a neighborhood where the topic is usually avoided. A quote of Martin Luther King Jr's comes to mind:
"the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice" 
--Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from Birmingham Jail

The sign says END POLICE BRUTALITY, and it is surrounded by  an non-comprehensive list of black and brown victims since Eric Garner. In small text, it asks, "do you prefer the absence of tension or the presence of justice?" And on the right: "how much longer can we remain complicit?" It also has a sticker that says: "Don't be racist. Thank you!" 

Since yesterday, we have disassembled and reinforced the installation. Now, instead of a piece of cardboard in the middle, there is a five foot wide sheet of plywood that loudly, bluntly proclaims: NO MORE. That's all I think it has to say. We have, unfortunately, had to add Tony McDade, a transgender black man, to the banner since it was first installed. 

Our next door neighbor, as we were setting up mark 2 of the sign, laughed as he remarked that he would burn down some houses and smash some windows "like the bad parts of Black Lives Matter do". As if chaos within a group of angry citizens can even compare to chaos within an organized system of government. As if a smashed window of a multi-billion dollar corporation can even compare to a system that promotes fear and only condemns injustice when doing so becomes convenient. 

Property is not more valuable than life. And the absence of tension is nothing compared to the presence of justice. 

Though I get if it sounds like I'm whining, I'm not-- I'm actually very grateful for how much progress we've made. Still, I want us, the human race, to stand up for black and brown people across the country. We have cowered for too long. Changing the whole tide starts with a single stroke. We'll have to get a whole lot done, but I think this list is a good start:

  1. End solitary confinement. The solution lies in psychiatry, not isolation. 
  2. Phase out juvenile detention. It is ineffective and causes lifelong criminal behavior.
  3. End the death penalty in all states. It is deeply ingrained in the racism of our past, and more importantly: the state has no right to kill civilians that pose no threat to society. Here's what the United Nation Human Rights council has to say about capital punishment.
  4. Make a national database of police brutality and use of excessive force. The Guardian's count of deaths at the hands of police is currently more accurate than the US government's (source). Data suppression makes it impossible for change to occur. 
  5. Make the acquisition and implementation of new police technologies subject to civilian oversight. Read my letter to the sheriff in support of a CCOPS bill here.
  6. Keep a national record of all police misconduct. This way, if an officer is fired for misconduct, they can't  get another job at a neighboring city or county.
  7. Lengthen police training, and include more extensive racial bias and mental health training sessions. Make these sessions regular.
  8. Establish some form of the "Marcus Alert" everywhere in the US (inspired by the killing of Marcus D. Peters). No one should be shot because police cannot handle a mental health situation properly.
  9. Create programs in low-income high schools to get more black and brown people on the force.
  10. End the "I feared for my life" clause (more commonly known as Stand Your Ground). Moreover, punish "bystander cops" in all instances of misconduct. Legalize victimless crimes like recreational drug use in order to keep harmless people out of the prison cycle. While we're at it, end private prisons and fix the cash bail system.

"We don't see no riot here, why are you in riot gear?"
But until we can get all of these done, and more, we have to stay vigilant. I want to remind everybody to vote in every election, including ones for positions that are seemingly insignificant. That's where a lot of the power is hidden, right under our noses. Take an effort to be actively against racism, and to know when it's right to speak out, and when to just listen. If the former seems right, create art. A million voices create static, a million brushes create beauty. (Shameless plug; click Tuckahoe) And, if you decide it's the latter, I highly recommend Chelsea Higgs Wise's Race Capital podcast.

Donate to good causes like Richmond for All, Rise for Youth, and the RVA Bail Fund. If you can't donate, watch videos like this one, where all of the ad revenue goes to relevant charities. Read books by black authors, and, for the love of God, stop listening to what I have to say. Other voices are much more important right now. 

April 20, 2020

Writing Cards for Imprisoned Youth

The Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Facility experienced a coronavirus outbreak recently (read more here). These folks are kids, a lot of them my age, and I didn't want them to feel neglected during these hard times. So I reached out to Mya, a volunteer that worked with the Boys Jubilee Choir at the facility. She gave me the names of 17 prisoners, each of whom I addressed a letter to. I wanted something heartfelt, but nothing too serious, so I beefed them up with stickers and a "greetings from the resistance" postcard on the back. I wrote reassurances like "we're here for you" and "you're in our hearts."

Inside the envelope I also included a selection of poems: Redemption Song, Invictus, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, and Let America Be America Again. After that, it was time to seal them and send them to Bon Air! I know it's not much in the grand scheme of things, but I believe that these letters can make all the difference for folks in prison. 

To take action in the fight against excessive imprisonment (especially for minors), in exchange for more effective alternatives, visit and support Rise for Youth

To learn everything you need to know about the School to Prison Pipeline (the underlying issue that my cards didn't begin to address), read this article from the Justice Policy Institute. 

EDIT: since writing this, the outbreak has been contained-- at the expense of the prisoners' sanity. Activities have been restricted, and prisoners are mostly confined to their tiny rooms. The point is: we must remember that coronavirus is hardly the issue. If your roof is leaking, should you blame the rain or the shoddy patchwork?

March 14, 2020

Community Control Over Police Surveillance-- Letter to Sheriff Gregory

(For context, CCOPS is a bill I hope to get passed in Henrico County. This letter was sent along with a petition to the Henrico County Sheriff and a copy of the bill in it's entirety.)

Partner Logos

Dear Sheriff Gregory,

My name is Henry Haggard, and I’m a student at Freeman High School. I am writing to you because I support the human right to privacy, and judging by the looks of it, you do as well. In this letter, you will find the Community Control Over Police Surveillance bill that I plan to introduce to the Board of Supervisors. I have also included my summary of the topic, and a petition I’ve compiled of Virginia residents who support the ordinance.

Too often, we hear stories about unwarranted surveillance and opaque policy-making. Take Baltimore, for example. Military grade surveillance drones had been flying overhead for years, but the people were not told about it. A contract had been signed with a tech company and the local police department without public input or even a city council vote. The equipment was used to track crime-- particularly in lower-income areas-- and send any footage deemed relevant back to the police. Not only was it a costly and unethical venture, it wasn’t very effective, either. There was no justification for this blatant violation of human rights.

A few years before the story finally broke, 18 human rights organizations (mainly the ACLU, EFF, and NAACP) sponsored a bill named Community Control Over Police Surveillance. CCOPS legislation makes sure that everything related to police surveillance is kept under close watch, and that all departments responsible for its application and use are held accountable.

The bill has been passed in 13 cities and counties across the country-- Seattle, San Francisco, and Nashville, to name a few. In every principality where CCOPS has passed, communities have been taken off the backburner and given a say in their future. Although Henrico is nowhere near as Orwellian as the bigger cities, we still deserve the same protections.

The bill was written with eight guiding principles in mind. If you agree with these, chances are you will support CCOPS as a whole.

  1. Surveillance technologies should not be funded, acquired, or used without express city council approval.
  2. Local communities should play a significant and meaningful role in determining if and how surveillance technologies are funded, acquired, or used.
  3. The process for considering the use of these technologies should be transparent and well-informed. 
  4. The use of surveillance technologies should not be approved generally; approvals, if provided, should be for specific technologies and specific, limited uses. 
  5. Surveillance technologies should not be funded, acquired, or used without addressing their potential impact on civil rights and liberties.
  6. Surveillance technologies should not be funded, acquired, or used without considering their financial impact.
  7. To verify legal compliance, surveillance technology use and deployment data should be reported publicly on an annual basis.
  8. City council approval should be required for all surveillance technologies and uses; there should be no “grandfathering” for technologies already in use. 

“Surveillance technology” as used here means data collecting resources such as cell-site simulators (stingrays), facial recognition devices, social media monitoring software, etc. All of these help the community by promoting security, but when they’re in the wrong hands-- or simply unaccounted for-- they can do more harm than good. I firmly believe that if today’s technology existed in 1787, the founding fathers would have included something similar to CCOPS in the constitution.

Moreover, in areas without the ordinance in place, the lower class is impacted the most. This is why principle five calls for just and equitable use of these technologies. This is made especially clear in the bill itself; it calls for an annual report of the utilized surveillance, including the demographics of the districts in which the technologies are deployed. Section 6-3-b of CCOPS states, “if the demographics are far from [Henrico’s] average, a breach of the First or Fourteenth Amendment is probable.”

I hope you’ll be interested in discussing this further. If so, you can contact me with any questions or concerns, and hopefully we can meet in your office some time to go over it in person. Your support would do a great deal for the good of Henrico-- so even if you are skeptical, any input from you before I go to the Board of Supervisors would be much appreciated.


Henry Haggard (and some other Greater-Richmonders)

(The petition is attached here-- If you live in the greater Richmond area and wish to add your name please contact me at sterlinghaggard at gmail dot com)

September 29, 2019

The Activist Notebook has LAUNCHED!

The Activist Notebook launch party has been in the works for months-- and it finally happened. I was blown away by the turnout, and am so proud to be able to say that most of the books sold. The buyers could decide which charity the proceeds went to, and I'm glad to be able to do both a fundraiser and a reading all in one.

There was also music, snacks, and some light-hearted rebellion. Big thanks to Life in 10 Minutes for helping make this happen.


March 23, 2019

Youth Peace Summit Workshop | The Art and Science of Activism

Ruby, Greta, Gus, Stephanie and I have been working on this workshop for ages, and I must admit, I'm sad to see it behind me. Either way, we made some great connections with active young people and helped get people involved in making politically-conscious art-- like protest signs and postcards. The outcome was incredible, but I think only photos can do it justice.

November 17, 2018

My TEDx Talk

I am so proud to have to opportunity to speak at this wonderful event. In doing so, I've met new people, learned new skills, and began to fully understand the power of voice.

At this event, I stress ate 4 packets of hummus, a lot of cheese, a cupcake, and a chicken salad sandwich.

July 24, 2018

The Art and Science of Activism | Attending the ACLU National Convention

"Make a sticky note of your civil-liberties dream of the future"
The last workshop at the American Civil Liberties Union national conference was coming to a close. After hearing Harvard public policy professor Marshall Ganz speak about leadership, organizing, and the ACLU, I had only one question. I nervously walked to the microphone stand, reviewing my note one last time. After waiting a few minutes or so for the others to ask their questions, I asked: “What is your take on the arts and philosophies versus the sciences and data of activism?” Looking back, I can see that everything I have done politically inside and outside of the conference could be brought back to that single distinction.
Almost a year ago, I was tired of sitting around, uselessly arguing on the internet, waiting for something to happen, so I organized three ACLU of Virginia fundraisers and started a People Power campaign in my city, gaining almost three thousand dollars, and attention from the statewide ACLU staff. Just a few weeks ago, I was granted three VIP passes to the national ACLU conference in DC. Last month, my family and I checked in and began our three-day journey, starting with initial training workshops. I attended “Turn Up the Volume by Building a Local Activism Machine,” where Pete Hackeman, Jessica Ayoub, and Nicholas Pressley discussed why and how we recruit volunteers. For the most part, like all “why’s,” this class was philosophical and artistic, but much of the “how” used activist-related science. Most of this workshop had the general theme of more is done with more people. “What we can do as an individual is not enough, but what we can do as a group, as a team, as a movement is something else,” Hackeman said. This idea lives comfortably in the center of the Venn diagram between political arts and sciences: the numerical advantage being the science, and the teamwork philosophy being the art.
Out of the speeches and discussions that followed, many focused on the science, or the “what” of politics. Some of the “what's” included DC congressional representation, redefining the criminal justice system, Puerto Rican statehood, fair wait-staff minimum wages, rescinding voter disenfranchisement, enforcing a stricter rule of law, and maintaining the free press. All of these would be useless in mobilization or campaign without the “why,” and vice versa. The science cannot exist without the art to defend it, and the art without the science has no legs to stand on. The arts that stuck with me most were primarily from author and civil rights lawyer, Bryan Stevenson. The most important of those arts was about proximity to the people you serve or disagree with. “It is in proximity,” he said, “that we begin to understand the world.” With more arts, he rightly noted, the world dramatically benefits when we fix the broken rather than destroy them. He continued to speak about changing narratives, having hopefulness, and understanding the necessity of discomfort. Later that night, I witnessed a live Fake the Nation podcast, where the members discussed serious “what” topics, such as Puerto Rico, Israel-Palestine, and artificial wellness, and added the art of humor to create an equilibrium. This equilibrium, while noticed in many other sections, stood out the most in this. Imagine how little ground this podcast would make if it dully attempted to convince people to fight for the rights of Puerto Ricans. But with the science and the art, with this perfect activist equilibrium, their advocacy has taken off. In between the workshops, plenaries, and meals, the leadership lounge was open for any other chosen attendees to participate. A casual leadership and criminal justice discussion by Bill Cobb led to some exciting mixes of the arts and science. “There’s a king and a fool in everyone; whoever you talk to will reply.” Cobb used this example of the arts to better explain the sciences of mass incarceration. If you invest in schools, you will get scholars, and if you invest in prisons, you will get prisoners.
More arts and sciences came from first transgender Virginia Delegate Danica Roem, in the workshop “Advocacy Secrets from Inside the Capitol.” I entered somewhat late due to the leadership lounge, but I experienced enough to know that the “how,” which consists of both science and art, was the general priority of this meeting.
The Art of this workshop was based around a simple philosophy: the less powerful an official is, the more likely they are to listen to you. Power, in this case, doesn’t necessarily mean wealth or government level, but how many people speak to you about issues they care about. The sheriff, although he controls more jurisdiction, is spoken to less than a delegate or board member. And even though I did not learn it at this conference, the philosophy “think globally, act locally” came to mind. Both of these philosophies, while carrying out or just in general, must have science to work. A more idealistic thought came into play when Roem began speaking about student forums. Amidst a round of applause, she proclaimed, “You’re never too young to learn, and never too young to teach!”

Somewhere in my insufficient free time, I managed to make it to an action center’s People Power leaders’ discussion. I created the People Power Facebook account for Richmond a long time ago, and it hasn’t gained much traction. This discussion though was of philosophy and data. The philosophical art was focused on getting others involved in your cause through motivation, along with the science of the call team, text team, and translation team. I know first hand that the call team, just like all activism, is useless without the art of the grassroots volunteers, and equally meaningless without the miles and miles of a data-filled spreadsheet. Back at the last workshop, waiting to hear from Marshall Ganz, I thought about going back to my seat. That’s when Ganz told me that I’d asked a fantastic question and that he would answer it first when going through his list. I could say that the other people in the room, especially my parents, were equally astounded. He spoke about the head and the heart, how they depend on each other, without one, the other collapses. Then he said a few simple words that inspired me to write this post and will be the basis of all my future activism: “It takes the head and the heart to move the hands.” Note: the article can be found here.

June 4, 2018

Standardized Tests are Absolute Rubbish (Opinion)-- RVA Mag

A Student Perspective on our Education System


Taken right before model UN with a "Get a Warrant" computer sticker

Over the past two weeks, the Virginia Board of Education has been in the process of forcing students and teachers to suffer through the yearly unbearable task of standardized testing. Standards of Learning, or SOLs, decide whether or not a student is smart enough or intellectually worthy. To be completely honest, it would take some time for me to think of something that could have any worse of an effect on students, the education system, and the community as a whole.

I understand the concept of an across-the-board system of measuring intelligence, but only on paper, figuratively. The current mandated system generates no creativity, insight, forethought, or real life skills. This system forces schools to favor certain types of inane education over what’s important. On the contrary, the International Baccalaureate Program attempts to create a real learning environment that will help students become better learners and people, but even here, the teachers and school must spend weeks to cram in content that, to put it simply, is absolute crap.

If schools taught how to learn more than what to learn, society would greatly benefit. I remember when an inspirational speaker at an SCA convention told me the jobs that people in my age group will have don’t exist yet. This has merit, and pretending memorization leads to actual learning is lunacy.

I have witnessed everything firsthand, and know how much of a crutch these tests are for students, teachers, administrators, and the general betterment of societal functions. The pressure and stress of administrators are passed down to the teachers, and from there to the students. So much intensity and pressure to pass these tests can break students, and if a subject is not your strong suit, you are done for.

Teachers and staff practically turn into mindless robots weeks before, days before, moments before, and during the testing. They aren’t even allowed to give out mints to the students because it benefits brain functionality. We are treated as lab rats required to meet an arbitrary standard of intellectuality.

Schuyler VanValkenburg, a teacher and Virginia Delegate, wrote, “Over the last decade, we’ve had tests that assess facts rather than skills and that analyze a school on an arbitrary cut-off score rather than on student growth.”

Personally, I love learning, and I am one of the few who knows it. I say this because, at heart, every single individual has a yearning for learning, but school, rather than engaging it, depletes it. This would not be the case if there weren’t any standardized tests. When schools have freedom, actual learning and a heart for it goes to the students. How can we learn if the government is actively tying us and our schools down? Without irrational limitations, schools could teach and cater for every intelligence method, type, and level. To quote Delegate Debra Rodman, “SOLs have long been a part of school curriculum, but standardized tests are not always a clear indicator of student and school performance.” Not only are the tests obsolete, they are also inaccurate towards measuring actual learning ability.

Why don’t we have an art SOL? Or a drama and musical one? Does philosophy or critical thinking even come into play? The government seems to get to decide what matters for us.

To raise another question, who benefits from these? Obviously not students, not teachers, not parents, not staff, not the workforce, and not the community. The remainder is at the top, consisting of big business and high-level government. Rather than asking how to strengthen the community, they ask if they are raising a factory workforce better than those before them?

If standardized tests are the basis of our education system, our education system is based upon the demolishment of individuality and true knowledge. True knowledge and individuality cannot be separated without disaster, especially in the present day, and more and more people are beginning to realize it.

If anyone can still look me in the eye and tell me that schools must continue to make students memorize the same thing that they have for decades, and what to learn is far more important than how to learn, I will commend them for their steadfast and courageous ignorance and blindness towards reality.

March 15, 2018

Tuckahoe School Walkout: Anger with a Purpose-- RVA Mag


Wednesday morning I woke up angry. Yes, angry that I had to wake up at 6:30 am, that I had to edit my Model UN position paper, do my Spanish homework, and prepare for my algebra test. But mostly I was angry because I had to do a walkout. Any form of protest is wonderful, especially a school walkout, but the fact that this one is necessary is infuriating.

I was angry that no legislature in America had passed serious gun reform laws, even in Florida, where the Parkland shooting survivors started walkouts and the nationwide march for our lives movement. The NRA, which started out as a perfectly fine organization for hunters and gun owners, has become an organization that corrupts the government and promotes fear in our country. If I have not made it clear already, I walked out of class in the #NEVERAGAIN movement.

We are doing this not to take your guns, but to promote common sense.

The rights to self-defense shall not be infringed, but gun regulation alone doesn’t come close to infringing. Regulation is not taking your guns, it is making sure guns stay away from the people who shouldn’t have them. Regardless of party, most Americans agree that some people shouldn’t own guns, such as undocumented immigrants, people suffering from serious mental health problems, domestic abusers or people with felony convictions, and anyone with the means, motive, and opportunity for a mass shooting, or any shooting for that matter.

For the past few weeks, in both Student Council and IB Summit, Tuckahoe Middle School Principal Ann Greene led student discussions around the walkout and gun discussion while making it clear that the administration could neither endorse nor oppose a protest. Her goal was to maintain a safe environment. The end result was a school-authorized, but student-led walkout. My parents signed the online form a week or so before giving me permission to participate.

It was a poor decision of the school board to issue passes for this protest, as it was meant to be student-led and against school rules. This would have shown the legislature that middle school children were willing to suffer the consequences for standing up for gun reform–something that grown men in Congress have proven unwilling to do.

Today though, in Spanish class, we had a substitute who didn’t understand exactly what was happening with the walkout, so after some confusion, I figured out that I would get a wristband in block six when we were to leave class.

When the clock struck 10, I walked out with a handful of students from my class. We were among the first. Staff directed us to the football field as others came out in clumps, wearing the same wristbands, all headed the same way, until the section of the field we were in was full.

I snatched a few pictures and a video before an administrator announced over a megaphone that pictures and phones were forbidden. I took some more anyway. I asked some students for their thoughts on the event and gun regulation, and they wrote them down in my little notebook. Some students didn’t want to use their name, and I’ve redacted the last names of the rest in the interest of privacy as all are minors.

“I’m glad I took place in my first protest and I was glad to see how many people joined us,” an anonymous student wrote.

“It is nice to see Democrats and Republicans unite out here,” Charlie C. wrote, referring to a few conservative classmates who joined us.

“Sure, use [guns] for self-defense, but don’t let mentally disturbed people have them,” another anonymous student shared.

“I don’t think everyone knew what a silent march meant,” Emmett B. said about our chatty classmates.

“Instead of banning guns, [we should] prevent certain people from gaining them because if you have a mentally unstable person and give them a rifle, they will shoot 20 people. How is giving them a pistol going to change that?” Joseph M. said.

“I think people should have been more respectful because I heard a lot of people talking while we were commemorating people who were killed,” Gus D. wrote, echoing Emmett’s sentiments.

“I think it was disrespectful to the people who were trotting around aimlessly, but okay for the people talking about how gun regulation could have prevented this tragedy,” said another anonymous student, trying to draw a distinction between classmates who were passionate about the issue and others who were just having normal banter.

“I think that most people left because they wanted to miss class. This was a serious tragedy and I don’t that it’s fair to ditch so that you can miss class,” said another anonymous student.

“We should have walked out the whole day,” said another.

After that, I went up to Officer Medina, the resource officer assigned to our school. He wore either a taser or a pistol by his side but seemed nice. Medina, taking a positive view, said the protest, “shows that regardless of the tragedy we experience in life, we will always remain united.”

In the end, I’m still angry, but now, I’m angry with a purpose. We can change this. If we sulk around all day because of congressional disregard of the tens of thousands of people dying yearly, what will change? Now, we are walking out, marching, protesting, using our voice, and fighting tooth and bone for action. The current student-led resistance is more than my classmates and I could have ever hoped for, and more than an inactive Congress could have ever feared.

February 24, 2018

One Nation, Under God

Published on the ACLU of Virginia Website:
February 24, 2018
“Tell me, whether you can hereafter love, honour, and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land?” - Thomas Paine

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, began kneeling in protest during the National Anthem, causing a lot of controversy. His act of protest started to build momentum when other players followed his lead. He and his followers continued to kneel as a protest for injustice, but some believe these players have crossed a line.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said. Are the football players being reasonable? Is this worth it? Is it an issue of free speech or patriotism? What must we do to get our ideas heard or make a difference?

I am a seventh grader at Tuckahoe Middle school, and I have noticed many of the injustices in the world. As a result, I sit for the pledge in protest. Some names I’ve been called for doing so include: idiot, retarded, autistic, communist, commie, and socialist. Some of these names have been said straight to my face, others behind my back. Some of my classmates say I am disrespectful to the troops, but does the flag represent the troops, or does it represent the people as a whole? I believe the latter, and if the people aren’t treated fairly, I will protest.

It is a well known fact that every morning public schools across the country recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which says: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I feel this is too similar to times in the past when schoolchildren were made to recite the Bible in prayer before class. Students should have the individual right to pray in school, but including God in the morning pledge does not seem an apt separation of church and state, and it may be threatening to polytheists or atheists.

From a purely constitutional standpoint, the American Civil Liberties Union has something to say on the issue of free speech. ACLU national Deputy Legal Director Jeffery Robinson stated, “Respect and love for America doesn’t require blindness to America’s failure to honor its promise of racial justice and equality [...] Kaepernick silently knelt, making no attempt to disrupt the singing of the anthem. He did not try to prevent anyone from standing. This textbook nonviolent protest is totally American.”

Many organizations stand with the ACLU in this sense. What does seem un-American though, are President Donald Trump’s numerous threats to Kaepernick’s free speech. No matter how empty the president’s threat is, no one, especially a governmental figure, can obstruct these freedoms.

Some have mentioned in Kaepernick's favor that forced patriotism is not true patriotism, as referenced in the ACLU’s slogan, “Dissent is patriotic.” Many believe that America should work to become the country that everyone wants and chooses to stand for, not that of the oppressors who force it.

In essence, Colin Kaepernick has definitely caused some controversy. Some people believe that his form of protest is disrespectful and should be stopped; some believe that it is the highest form of respect; some believe free speech is the top priority whether or not it’s respectful, and for others it’s a combination.

Whatever you think about Kaepernick and the pledge, and however you choose to demonstrate your beliefs, we the people, united as a country, must fight the ongoing injustice - not only racist individuals, but subtly racist fundamental laws make minorities so disadvantaged. Learn the truth and how to take action to stop inequality with these resources:

Police Practices Reform Advocacy Toolkit
Voting Rights Advocacy Toolkit
Justice in Prosecutions Advocacy Toolkit
Fundraising and Events Advocacy Toolkit

This guest blog reflects the writer's views and not necessarily those of the ACLU of Virginia.

October 10, 2017

Dawn Adams, A Candidate for the Community-- RVA Mag


Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dawn Adams over the phone. Adams is the Democratic candidate for the 2017 Virginia House of Delegates election in the 68th district, which includes parts of Chesterfield, Henrico, and Richmond. Adams has spent over 20 years working in the Richmond area as a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, access to care researcher, and health advocate. She’s also the Director of the Office of Integrated Health for VA’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. She won the Old Dominion University Nursing Scholar award for her research project based around reducing healthcare cost.

I’m a 12-year-old activist for the ACLU of Virginia. I want to be an ACLU lawyer when I grow up. When Adams was my age, she wanted to become a surgeon. Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, however, she decided to run for state delegate. When I asked how she handles so many jobs at once, she told me she gets a lot less sleep. Adams’ favorite place to go in Virginia is anywhere with water, so part of her campaign is to keep the James River free from pollution.

Adams believes the ACLU is a critical organization for protecting constitutional rights throughout the nation – the First and Fourteenth amendments are critical to her. The First, she says, makes America a democracy and allows people to fight back when they believe something is wrong. She strongly supports freedom of speech, religious freedom, and freedom of assembly. Adams also believes the 14th amendment, which prevents most discrimination, hasn’t been expanded widely enough. In her opinion, if people used this amendment to its full potential, America would be a better place.

She says the issue of Confederate monuments is complex, and the mayor was wise to form a committee to discuss it. In her opinion, communities themselves should decide the monuments’ fates. “It’s not a win-win situation,” she explains. I asked for her thoughts on the ACLU defending KKK members’ rights in Charlottesville. She says you can’t deny someone the right to assemble. She wasn’t there, but she knows they had the right to assemble until the moment they became violent.

She also thinks if someone is born in the country, they deserve citizenship. Also, Adams told me that Trump has provided a false meaning of religious liberty. She knows it means anyone can practice any religion, not that one religion can be used to discriminate against other people.

Adams told me the best part of campaigning is talking to people in the community. If she wins she’ll work on quality education and affordable healthcare. She’s part of the LGBTQ community and believes everybody should have equal pay in the workplace.

I asked Adams why she thinks she deserves the community vote. “I have the knowledge, skills, ability, and heart to provide our district the inclusive and decisive leadership we have been lacking for years,” she told me. “I am unafraid to reach across the aisle and vote in the best interest of our citizens.”

She is very kind and cares about the input of her constituents.

When I asked if she had any advice for young people, she said, “You should be the one giving advice, not me. Kids listen to kids.”

At her request, I will give some advice to people my age. Obviously, you can’t vote, and money isn’t exactly abundant in a 12-year-old’s bank account. There are three easy things we can do, though. Firstly, we can host fundraisers. Even the smallest fundraiser can go a long way. Secondly, petitions; whether signing them or creating them, petitions are crucial to our democracy. Lastly, social media. Post to spread the word about the cause. 

“The best ways for citizens to empower themselves starts with education,” she said when I asked how the average citizen could resist and fight back. “Understanding that each citizen has the power to change what they do not like in government. Voting far outweighs all others if you’re 18 and eligible – every vote really does count. Be relentless, be polite, be calm, but always persist. Make your leaders aware of your positions and why – be factual, concise, and clear.”

Remember to register to vote by October 16, because voting day is on November 7. Vote to make sure your candidate can become the delegate for the community. Even if you are not in the 68th district, that’s okay, because she supports Ralph Northam for governor and many other Virginian candidates.

Remember, keep calm and elect a nurse practitioner.

*Valley Haggard helped contribute to this piece. Photos from Dawn Adams for VA Delegate 68th District

September 28, 2017

Meet the 12-Year-Old Who's Fighting Against Unlawful Police Surveillance in Richmond

Article by DAVID STREEVER | SEPTEMBER 28, 2017

Henry Haggard began volunteering with the ACLU after an online fight. Bored on a long summer day, the middle schooler was browsing YouTube, looking for videos to challenge his political views. Instead, he found a group of online bullies who responded to his detailed points with cruelty and name-calling.

“They called me autistic,” he tells us when we see him at Constitution Day, an event he organized for the ACLU to celebrate the US Constitution. He didn’t dwell on it. “I realized they would never see my point. I told them I was going to do something a lot bigger than argue on YouTube.”

Henry and guests at Constitution Day

Constitution Day was his second event since the argument and included a guest speaker, ACLU Director of Communications Bill Farrar. Supporters gathered at Richmond Young Writers, which is run by Henry’s mom, Valley, and then listened to Farrar speak on the history of the Constitution and an assortment of contemporary issues.

At the door were Henry’s friends from school, who share his interest in the Constitution and politics. They were collecting emails and petition signatures and selling raffle tickets for ACLU swag.

Constitution Day built on his success with Write For Your Rights, an ACLU-supported letter-writing event which he planned in early August, shortly after the YouTube debate. That event had 40 guests, despite one setback–Facebook found and deleted his profile because Henry was 3 months shy of his 13th birthday.

Before losing his account, Henry created a group on Facebook that has nearly 200 members, called ACLU People Power – Richmond. He’s still active there, via Valley’s Facebook account, and is planning a return under his own identity this October when he turns 13. He uses the group to plan future events and let supporters know about his activism.

His next move was a petition against police surveillance, supporting the Community Control Over Police Surveillance law in his own community of Henrico. It’s an issue he’s spoken about at events and in videos on Facebook, driven by a concern for the privacy rights of minorities in America, who face disproportionate surveillance.

He’s already run for office and won, serving as the student council treasurer at his middle school, and his career ambitions have shifted. “I wanted to be an aerospace engineer for NASA, but now I want to be a lawyer for the ACLU,” he told us, mentioning that his interests run from science to skateboards to law.

Between attending and organizing events, he’s also met with Democratic candidates like Dawn Adams, hoping to build support for the CCOPS law he advocates for, and is writing a series of blog posts for the ACLU. To learn more or volunteer with him, you can join his Facebook group, ACLU People Power – Richmond.

*Photos by Allison MacEwen, cover photo by Valley Haggard
Note: This was put on Top Political Such and Such of RVA Mag

August 17, 2017

Write for Your Rights-- Article by Karen Newton

A Tuckahoe Middle School Student Is Holding a Benefit to Help the ACLU Sue the Trump Administration


AUG 17, 2017

When Henry Haggard returns to middle school in the fall, writing a paper on how he spent summer vacation should be a snap: He was busy online fighting for what he believes in.

It was while the 12-year old was arguing a point on a YouTube comment thread and being called “autistic” and “a crazy liberal” for his views that he realized the futility of virtual arguments. Before leaving the thread, he posted a final thought.

“Our job right now is to participate in protests or petitions for whatever you believe in. Personally, I will be fighting for equality for all, therefore, the investigation of Donald Trump. I suggest that we all get off of our screen and do something. I am not leaving this argument to avoid replies, I am leaving to do something bigger, something important. Good luck to everyone and their political views."

Haggard’s first step was going to the American Civil Liberties Union website, only to discover there were no events scheduled in the Richmond area. He immediately hit “host an event” and created “Write for Your Rights,” an opportunity for participants to write letters telling their legislators what matters to them. During a conference call with the ACLU, Haggard was told to create a Facebook group in order to be listed on the ACLU’s official spreadsheet. The result was ACLU People Power Richmond, VA on both Facebook and Instagram.

“What gave me the confidence for doing this was running for student council treasurer at Tuckahoe Middle School,” he explains. Because of his interest in math and finances, his slogan was “Money matters, vote Haggard” and he won handily.

Only after he’d created the event did the young activist tell his mother what he’d been up to and she helped by securing the venue, the Richmond Young Writers workshop space near Carytown. In anticipation of the event, Haggard has printed a list of names and addresses for the president, vice-president and cabinet members, along with Virginia state representatives, as well as a breakdown of the Bill of Rights and current legislative acts which participants may want to address in their correspondence.

The math lover also is planning a financial component to his event. Two buckets will solicit donations for the ACLU: “The donation bucket proceeds will be helpful to sue the Trump administration,” he notes, with donors being asked to vote with their cash as to who’s worse, Trump or Pence.

“When I grow up, I want to be an aerospace engineer,” says the kid who attended NASA space camp last summer. “But with the state of our country, I might have to become a politician.”

Editor's note: FB suspended Henry's FB account because he is three months shy of 13-- their age requirement. Here is a link to the actual ACLU event page.

Henry's Note: I am not personally suing Trump, nor giving any legal support to an unnamed lawsuit. This fundraiser was donated to the ACLU of Virginia to help this legal charity to do legal charity things, such as lawsuits.