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.”
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