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.

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