2008 Youth Scholar - Daniel Williams, Albuquerque High School, Albuquerque, NM
"I have never met a more committed individual with the skills and talents that Daniel possesses at such a young age. He gives all of us at the ACLU of New Mexico, and anyone he comes in contact with, hope for the future of this country."
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Daniel Williams of Albuquerque, NM is a leader in educating the youth of New Mexico about their civil liberties. Two and a half years ago, Daniel founded the ACLU of New Mexico's Youth Advisory, Activism, & Advocacy Board, and he remains the president today. With this group, Daniel created several events to open civil liberties dialogues among his peers, including: the state's first Bill of Rights Mock Trial Competition, an annual series of screenings of civil liberties-themed films, and a free-press seminar for student journalists called, "Know Your Writes!" Daniel also reports on youth issues to the ACLU of New Mexico's Board of Directors, where his proposals have been voted on and enacted.
Daniel's Scholarship Essay
In 1990, 4.16 million children were born in the US – more than in any year since the peak of the baby boom in the late 50s. I was one of them. Next year, we will be turning eighteen and the Millenial Generation – those of us born between 1977 and 1997 – will make up a quarter of the electorate. By 2015 – only three presidential elections from now – we will make up a third of all eligible voters. My generation and I can make a huge difference, but for their great potential to be tapped, we as civil libertarians must speak to them about our issues.
A person's political identity is largely forged during their youth. The political leanings of a young person aren't as established in their early youth as in later years. If a young voter votes for the same party three times in a row, they are overwhelmingly likely to vote for that party in every election for the rest of their life. That loyalty can be harnessed for issue causes just as it can for partisan causes.
I became involved in ACLU because, like so many other ACLU members, I was concerned. Since then, I've come to envision a generation of voters whose first political identity isn't their party registration but, rather, their values. I imagine a time when people assess politics through the lens, not of partisanship, but of civil liberties concerns. I hope to see a future in which Americans think of themselves primarily as civil libertarians, not as Greens or Republicans or Independents or Democrats or anything else. I hope that people ask themselves, "Will this candidate stop the abuse of power? Will this ballot initiative help keep American safe and free? What will this mean for LGBT issues? For choice issues? For privacy? For habeas? Or for any of the other issues we face everyday as ACLU members?" Think of what a change that will mean for how we function as a nation.
Of course there's a long way to go before that happens. A whole generation – let alone the entire population – isn't going to wake up one morning and say, "You know what? I am going to assess politics in terms of civil liberties!" We all know that's not going to happen and it doesn't make sense to talk about how much we want that to happen without doing something to make it happen. Before anyone comes to consider something as a major value, they have to spend some time thinking about it. One of the best things we can do to help get that ball rolling is to talk with them about the issues.
That's where the YAB and I come in. In the past two-and-a-half years, we've done a lot of things that fall under a lot of categories, but almost always the work we're doing has something to do with raising awareness about the important civil liberties issues that the ACLU addresses. We're organized around the central concepts that young people can and will make a positive difference for civil liberties and that the best way to bring that about is to engage them in dialogue. Whether we're screening and discussing a movie or organizing a mock trial competition, it's our goal to get high schoolers thinking about important issues and, hopefully, turn that into a desire to take action.
With the YAB, I've had tremendous opportunities. I have gone to Santa Fe twice to lobby our state legislature, and am planning to go again this winter. I took the lead in developing the Bill of Rights Mock Trial Competition – the first of its kind in New Mexico. I have for two years in a row organized a series of screenings of civil liberties-themed films, including Boys Don't Cry, Dirty Pictures, and If These Walls Could Talk. I attended the Biennial Conference this summer in Seattle. I regularly report to the ACLU-NM Board of Directors on the progress of the YAB and provide the Board with a youth perspective.
High school is coming to close for me, which also means an end of my direct involvement with ACLU-NM and the YAB. But that's not going to be the end of my involvement with civil liberties issues. One of my prime criteria for selecting a college is whether or not they have a student body committed to political progress and activism. In researching schools, I also research the ACLU affiliates in their states. In college, I intend to study Political Science and Communications, always with the goal in mind of dedicating my career to advancing civil liberties. I'll grow older and my circumstances will change, but one thing will almost certainly stay the same: I will always be a civil liberties activist.