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.)

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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-- and for obvious reasons, I have made the online copy anonymous.)

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.

No photo description available.


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.

November 5, 2018

Voting in Schools-- Opinion

This piece of mine is fairly simple, but I would like to make a point, even if for nothing more than allowing every one of us to ask ourselves a question: why are all schools closed on election day? 

A follow up to that is: why aren't businesses closed? Why isn't election day a national holiday? And these last two are very important questions brought up and considered by many different people, but the first of the three has gotten less attention, if any.

So, the obvious answer to it is for the polling centers, duh. But why not libraries, or even other government buildings like the post office, library, or DMV? Why do we close schools on election day, but keep businesses open?

The answer to why I don't want to have to miss school tomorrow lies in, not to sugarcoat it, a sly attempt at systematic oppression. Let me elaborate:

Our first understanding, hopefully acceptable by all, is that poor people have to work more to stay outside (or even just not at the bottom) of poverty. So an adult working one, or two, or three jobs, spanning their entire day wouldn't have time to vote. That is the first, and most obvious effort to slash out voting from poor demographics.

The next, relating to schools, is a little more hidden inside the cracks and crevices of the mask declaring us a fully functional democracy.

Many working adults have children, and all of those children go to school. School is a way for an adult to not have to be primary caretaker for at least several hours, but when school is cancelled one day of every year, they must adapt.

Some can adapt, like by hiring a baby-sitter, taking time off of work, or something of the sort, but others aren't so privileged. No matter how they go about solving the problem thrown at them, poorer adults and parents are now even more constrained from voting.

All of this isn't coincidence, it is by design. But this year we can rip up the blueprints, the foundation of this corruption. We can recognize our privilege and that of the people around us, and we can use it to lift others up and #getoutandvote.

But it doesn't end there. We can't just vote and say that we are done, whether or not the change we strive for (whatever it is) is achieved. Corruption isn't the face of Republicans or Democrats or Moderates alike, it is the face of power, no matter what that happens to be. So keep working, keep fighting, and as always, keep resisting.

September 20, 2018

Broadening my Perspective on Technology by Debating AI- RVA Mag


About nine months ago, I was applying for a scholarship to Capitol Debate’s American University residential program. I didn’t know what to expect, but was interested in the central goal–to encourage public speaking and debate.

In a fortunate coincidence, though, I spent time this summer researching a topic that would be central to my experience in the program, artificial intelligence. I looked at it as part of a rough podcast I recorded on my phone, titled Technology: Good or Bad?, which I uploaded to my new website.

From a clumsy unpacking to a few mold-related room swaps, followed by unpacking, waiting, and goodbyes, my time at camp began.

I went through my first real daily routine the next day: games, icebreakers, and a lab group assignment based on age and level. From my garbled notes, an average day went something like this: wake up, go to lab group, go to breakfast with group, go to assembly room with everyone, listen to a leadership lecture, go back to lab and work on stuff there, go to lunch, continue working with lab, residential (play) time, and then back to dorm.

The very first leadership lesson wasn’t a lesson, but instead, an introduction to the topic of Artificial Intelligence. I was ecstatic because not only had I researched technology and considered its effects before, I had also brought a Foreign Affairs AI article, a book about DARPA, and a copy of George Orwell’s “1984.”

Lab work, on the other hand, wasn’t a great experience for me. My teacher didn’t understand electronics, manifesting both in their computer presentations and their knowledge of AI itself, and the class was below my level and not very engaging. If nothing else, I felt like I was wasting my time.

My dad, probably quoting someone, told me once, “If you’re the smartest man in the room you’re in the wrong room.” I took that advice to heart, knowing that experience doesn’t equal intelligence. I was afraid to broach the topic, but knew that I had to go to the camp director and ask to be moved up a level.

Although I’d been nervous, my attempt paid off, and it was agreed that my dorm mate Leo and I could go into a lab for older kids. Here, I was challenged and made good use of my time; we learned the debate format, and crucially, how it always ends with weighing impacts.

Impacts can be measured by time frame, probability, and magnitude, a set of criteria which, for instance, would allow one to effectively argue that guns have a greater impact than nuclear weapons.

More research for contentions and arguments, especially argument structure, led me to believe that AI had a beneficial lean, with healthcare benefits, and that job losses could be quickly countered by new jobs both at the low and high-end of experience and training.

One factor that weighed on me was the social obligations of spending more and more time with people. Not only could I not handle so much extrovertedness, but also I met many people with whom I disagreed. Some of them I could have a civil conversation with, and some I couldn’t. I still ended up becoming kind of friends with a lot of people, and learned about living “on my own” for a period of time that felt long.

The tournament came and went, and after all the build-up, we won three out of five while debating in the advanced league.

In the end, the camp deepened my thoughts on AI and technology. In contrast to the binary my podcast posed, I realized that it’s not inherently good or bad; it just is, and it’s coming. We can either prepare for the negative impacts through public education and action or, we can run away in fear, claiming that technology is inherently bad. I know my choice.

August 23, 2018

Activism + Perfectionism =

I've tried to write this post three times, all deleted before the first paragraph was finished. I've known I was a perfectionist for a long time, through schoolwork, skateboarding, and now, activism. Debate has shown me impact as the most important thing- whether it be positive or negative- as long as its quantifiable. But activism isn't. You see the start, and eventually the results, but your left wondering what the hell happened in between.

I've labeled activism as a science and an art. The perfectionist side of me likes the science, because my "worth" is easy to calculate. Imagine you introduced a bill to congress- you campaigned for it, you gained support, and finally (after all the bureaucracy stuff I forgot after sixth grade), it was voted on*. Let's say congress voted yes. Congrats! A quantifiable ending makes it a lot easier to figure out what you did right or wrong throughout the process. The perfectionist side of me likes this the most. Even when the results aren't great, at least I can still measure them (and then myself).

The art of it, which honestly makes up a vast majority, is a little tougher. Writing articles without trying to make an argument, interacting with opposition, becoming proximate to the people you wish to represent, making the personal the political, or simply making art to spread a message.

I'm beginning to appreciate the art more and more, even if its harder for me to understand. The scientific results (monetary, legally, etc) are useless without a movement and connection between people. Looking back, I can't believe I didn't come to understand this sooner- So many things from the past that I thought I understood make so much more sense seeing now.

"Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no Constitution, no law, and no court can save it" -Learned Hand

"Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has" -Margaret Mead

"It is in proximity that we begin to understand the world" -Bryan Stevenson

All activism, art especially, revolves around people. The perfectionist in me can't seem to grasp that almost all advocacy has no measurable impact, so the aftermath of everything I do is pretty crappy and un-motivating for me. Take Constitution Day (an ACLU event I hosted), for example. Not many people showed up and I lost a lot of hope. I thought it had to be equal to or better than my last event to even be worthwhile, rather than understanding that the people who showed up and all those who couldn't still cared, and no matter what, everyone would learn.

I get a high from any activism I do -writing a new piece or hosting an event- but afterwords, I always find a way to put all my focus on what went wrong, not what went right, or what really matters- the people. 

Putting all my focus on impact, not people, has definitely stunted my growth and my impact as well. I tried to get a bigger impact by trying to get my newest article somewhere bigger, better- more impact, I thought. I had already declined an offer because I thought the other people I wrote would write back, but when no one did, I was crushed. I had failed, the perfectionist in me would never forget it. But the non-perfectionist side took control- it learned to focus on people, not impact, even if this realization took a few months.

The point is- focus on people, understand some things can't be measured, and appreciate your mistakes. My mistake is that, for the past year, I maintained focus on impact, and I have been doing everything from the sidelines, not being proximate to who I need to be. But understanding this gives me an opportunity to spread my message and add it to the movement, a whole of parts which adds to an immeasurable effect.

July 24, 2018

The Art and Science of Activism-- Attending the ACLU National Convention (Published by ACLU VA)

"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.

May 1, 2018

Leadership in Hell-- RVA Mag



A few weeks ago, I joined my fellow representatives of the Tuckahoe Middle School Student Council at the Virginia Student Council Association convention in Virginia Beach and it completely changed my thinking about the world around me.

The convention was based around the theme “lighting the fire of leadership”, and at it, four to five hundred middle and high school students assembled to learn how to be leaders in their schools and communities. We had energetic activities such as pep rallies, elections, and parties, along with more serious things such as speeches, charity work, and resolution debates. The pep rallies practically shattered my eardrums, and I was somehow in charge of cleanup at the parties, but to quote an anonymous participant, “It was lit.” On the serious side of the convention, things managed to be just as fun.

We all learned a lot about Student Council, and more specifically, we learned a lot about leadership. And even in the personal and governmental hell of the Trump era, I made many realizations that have changed my ways of being a leader, both in and out of school.

My favorite activity was the presenting of resolutions, which was a time for me to give a speech. Basically, three voting members from each school were required to participate and vote, and everyone else had optional participation with no ability to vote. I was not one of the voting members, yet I still came so I could convince people to vote one way or another on one resolution. The resolutions came from the House of Delegates, and if the voting delegates passed it, a statement would be added at the bottom that is something along the lines of “The Virginia State Student Council Association approves this resolution to be passed.” I gave my speech in hopes to prevent unfair discrimination in schools, and to my surprise, I received an extended applause.

Not only did my speech help the resolution pass through VSCA, it also gave me confidence, which I have found can sometimes outweigh skill. This confidence, just like the confidence I got after winning election as student treasurer, helped me in the future.

Convention helped me learn to prioritize my own mental health over schoolwork and everything else. I had so much fun and learned so much in that low-stress situation, I realized that could be the same with everything I do. I think I have found the perfect balance of caring too much about everything and caring too little. I also learned to care about the present and future more than the past.

Anyone can lead others, but I think it’s something special to be able to lead yourself.

Students in SCA had a variety of perspectives on Convention and leadership. Council executive Nate N described it as a great time, “SCA is a load of fun. There is never a dull day and the trip to VA beach is exciting and interesting.”

Another student leader, Monze, described it as intellectually beneficial in addition to fun, saying, “SCA is a really great way for people to express their thoughts, as well as we have lots of fun thinking of ideas for a better school.” Emmett used his comment to highlight the social value he finds at SCA. “It’s amazing that there’s a place I can go to discuss and talk to like-minded individuals. Everyone in SCA brings something new to the table, making every day more interesting than the last.”

Tuckahoe SCA President Maddie Cassidy spoke to the importance of student council in her remarks, saying, “Student council is a great way to help our school and see our impact as we go around handing out treats, planning events and doing any tasks needed. The SCA is such a positive environment where I feel welcome to share my ideas and have a pick me up whenever I go to the class. This positive environment is even more strongly represented at the state student council convention where we can collaborate with other schools and come back with better ideas and ways to help our school. SCA is one of my favorite times of the day and I am so glad to be a part of it.”

But SCA doesn’t define leadership. Anyone outside of SCA needs to know that lighting the fire of leadership for them and others still matters, and failing to do so is okay, but not trying in the first place is outright stupid. It’s never too early, and it’s never too late to be the change you want to see in the world, even in our current time of Hell.

People may say that my generation is that of snowflakes and wimps, but I’d argue the opposite. Our generation has fought tooth and bone against the oppression and populism that is once again rising in our nation and around the world. Our generation is still battling a failing economy, a corrupt government, climate change, outdated laws, racial injustice, and the nazism and hatred that prevails in our community to this day. I’d say that the fear mongers and bigots are attempting to take back our nation, while we are the ones redefining it. This truly is leadership in Hell.

Image By: Vivienne Lee

April 23, 2018

WRIR Podcast Interview

A while back, my mom Valley Haggard was invited for a WRIR Radio Station interview about her writing through her company Life in 10 Minutes. They then found out about me on Facebook (through my mom), and they invited me to do a joint-interview with her. We were both asked to read an excerpt from a book of our choice and one of our writings, so I chose Common Sense, and a work-in-progress project of mine called Apt Reasoning.

The full recording is here.

In the Prose & Cons blog, they said "It’s not often that you meet a 13-year-old who has already accomplished more than a studio full of radio hosts in their mid-20s combined… but Henry Haggard is no ordinary lad! He’s organized rallies, written columns, and been involved with some of the heaviest-hitting non-profits around. Henry Haggard is my hero. Henry wants to spread the good word about Love 146, an international organization dedicated to stopping child trafficking and exploitation. He also wants you–yes, you–to vote! This young man gives me hope for the future."

March 15, 2018

Gun Violence Walkout-- 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-- ACLU of Virginia


FEBRUARY 24, 2018
By Henry Haggard, seventh grader, Tuckahoe Middle School

“Tell me, whether you can hereafter love, honour, and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land?” - Thomas Paine, Common Sense

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.

February 20, 2018

LA for a Day (Legislative Assistant)-- RVA Mag



Last Friday, I had the experience of a lifetime. I visited the Virginia General Assembly as a legislative assistant for Del. Dawn Adams of the 68th District, working with her assistant – Maureen Hains. I first met Adams during a phone interview last year, which actually ended up becoming an article for RVA Mag. A few weeks later, she won her delegate seat and my family was invited to the swearing-in ceremony. After the main event, she talked to me about the Legislative Aide for a Day program.

I was intrigued, so of course, I said yes. After pages of forms, I was finally ready to skip school last Friday so I could work at the Capitol during the morning session. Right away, I was put right to work – starting with converting the long list of sign-ins from the guest book to an excel spreadsheet. This was interesting but tedious. As you can imagine, it was extremely difficult to read some people’s handwriting, abbreviations, smudges, and messy cursive. On the other hand, it was cool to learn how delegates in the General Assembly actually care about their constituents and visitors; enough to spend hours writing thank you’s and messages to the people.

I can’t think of any other political office that does that. After being paid in chocolate, juice, soda, and chips, it was time for session, which started at 10:00 am. We went to the General Assembly Delegate building, and while everyone was waiting for session to start, I started flipping through the schedule to look at the bills and voting schedule. Apparently, the delegates read through and discuss bills three times before they vote. Unfortunately, this was only the second reading, which was a bummer because I wanted to see the voting process in action. The speaker eventually banged the gavel, which happened to be much bigger than the gavels we use at Model UN – and then the session would start – or so I thought.

We started with the Pledge of Allegiance. At school, I sit during the pledge to protest institutionalized racism on the basis of economic disparity, gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement and restrictions, monopolized industry of pharmaceuticals, and the threat of congressionally-assisted gun massacres. I was fine standing this time despite my anger over the “Under God” section. Anyway, I thought that would be the only sketchy part of the day, but afterward, we were introduced to a priest.

"Head Down, Hard at Work."

This was a little strange for me especially when the priest started leading everyone in prayer. It wasn’t even subtle; he specifically mentioned following Jesus Christ to lead a successful and fulfilling life.

Some lines cannot be crossed, especially when it is a constitutional violation to merge religious beliefs and the people’s government. Taking the constitution out of my pocket, I quietly asked Hains how this was legal. Apparently, the courts ruled that it was, despite the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” After that disquieting event, the delegates proceeded into session.

The delegates were very down to earth. They were all visibly grateful that it was Friday and everyone cheered when the motion to close session passed. They were, contrary to what most expect, very polite and nice to the colleagues that they disagree with. Popular belief suggests that political debate is chaotic and immature. While this is true in some cases, our state legislature rises above those expectations.

Other than doing a couple votes to reschedule debates and committee meetings, there were a few speeches. Before the speeches, a delegate made an announcement that the delegate next to him just had his tenth grandchild, to which everyone cheered. The speeches reminded me of Model UN – more specifically when someone you didn’t expect to speak walks up with a few messy notes and gives a speech that leaves the opposers stunned. This happened with an anti-expanded Medicaid speech and a speech about the people who should be commemorated for their outstanding work in the Civil Rights Movement during Black History Month.

Although I dislike the idea of not expanding Medicaid, I could respect the work put into the research, notes, and public speaking. The delegate who gave the speech had enough decent ideas about politics to be in office, and it showed in his work. This kind of respectful opposition and debate is what I like about politics. Politics, if not respectful and well-articulated, does not belong in any office, especially in a time where ad-hominem fallacies, or personal attacks, are thrown around like cats and dogs.

After that, we went back to the Pocahontas Building to do some extra constituent data work. I put the information I could read into a site that tracked what district people live in. Then, it was almost noon and time for my legislative aid session to end.

As I was leaving, Adams introduced me to other delegates. I met Schuyler Vanvalkenburg, Deborah Rodman, and a few other delegates who took some pictures with me. I had seen a couple in the halls, but didn’t know that they were delegates. I wondered how many delegates, senators, or other important people I had bumped into in the elevator or the halls without knowing it. Once again, I saw how down to earth these people were. I told them about my petition to demand police transparency, and Vanvalkenburg asked me when I would rule the world, right before another delegate gave me his card telling me to hire him when I’m older.

Maybe next time I’m there I’ll be a page, a Legislative Assistant, or a representative.

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 30, 2017

Protecting Constitutional Rights-- Preteen Style (by Gretchen Gales)

Interview by Gretchen Gales

​Henry Haggard didn’t have an average summer vacation. At the time of the interview, Henry was 12 years and 9 months old. That’s why Facebook temporarily suspended his account shortly after starting “ACLU People Power”, a grassroots campaign group advocating for the right to have Constitutional rights. He had been spreading the word there about his letter writing and donation campaign “Write for Your Rights”.

Though having all of his posts removed made him sad, Henry has been unstoppable, already being featured in Style Weekly and RVA Magazine (two local publications) to spread awareness about his events and persistent activism to make the community and world a little bit better.

His mother Valley, who was with him at the time of the interview, was there supplying supplemental information and showing support for her son. She told me that even before he decided to support the ACLU, he had already been fighting against the Trump administration.

“He had been commenting and debating on pro-Trump Youtube videos before all of this,” she told me.

Henry nodded. “They were calling me autistic, a wimp, and crazy. I decided to not reply anymore, not because I was wimping out or trying not to answer their arguments. I tried showing them psychological research about confirmation bias, but they wouldn’t listen. I told them they should get off of the internet and actually do something.”

Did any of the internet trolls actually follow Henry’s advice? Doesn’t matter. Henry quickly sprung into action all by himself.

“Really and truly, it was all him,” Valley said, proud of her son’s activism. “He just started all of this [by himself]. He’s emailing representatives and senators all of the time.”

“Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of adult stuff lately,” he said. Henry squished his face and made enthusiastic duck noises to properly balance his serious adulting while being a preteen. “That’s better,” he said smiling.

We had a short Q&A about what Henry has been up to and how others can follow his lead:

What gave you the idea to hold a “Write for Your Rights” event?

There was a lot of anger over the Trump election, so that was a good reason. I saw that the ACLU filed a lawsuit immediately after the Muslim Ban. I figured the ACLU would be a great organization to support because they were doing a great job. My original thought was to go to an ACLU-hosted protest, but there weren’t any at the time. On the website, it asks you what kind of event you want to host. One of them was letter writing. Since my mom is a professional writer and writing teacher, I decided to do a letter-writing campaign.

What was the turnout for the "Write for Your Rights" event?

84 letters were written and 130-something dollars were contributed in cash alone to the ACLU of Virginia. We had two jars with a sign that said, “Who least aligns with the Constitution: Trump or Pence?” People could donate money in either jar depending on their answer.

What other events are you planning to keep the momentum going?

We had Constitution Day on September 17th! For that event, we asked for donations of $5 (that went directly to the ACLU of Virginia) to attend and we wrote letters again. I have also had a chance to interview local candidates running for office, I attended an ACLU panel on police reform, and I will also be returning to Facebook once I officially turn 13.

Why is it important for young people to get involved in advocating for their rights?

Well, I’m going to be honest. Many of the letters people write aren’t going to be read by [their recipients]. But if you can’t vote, it’s one of the most direct ways to make an impact [along with] raising money for organizations that defend your constitutional rights, just like the ACLU.

September 28, 2017

CCOPS and Constitution Day-- Article by David Streever



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
Henry's Note: This was put on Top Political Such and Such of RVA Mag

August 17, 2017

Write for Your Writes-- 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.