Sonoma teen attends ACLU summer seminar

Ainsley Anderson discussed civil liberties with Edward Snowden, and like-minded peers.|

Sonoma Valley teen Ainsley Anderson, currently a rising senior at Shawnigan Lake School in Canada, last week finished up the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Advocacy Institute’s High School Program. The program is held annually in Washington, D.C. and it expected to celebrate its 100th anniversary this year. Instead, it was held remotely.

The program brings together around 1,000 high school students (ages 15-18) from across the United States to participate in a week-long learning experience for the next generation of social justice advocates.

Anderson said that she learned of the program when she was researching summer programs that focused on diplomacy, debate, policy and politics.

“The ACLU appealed to me specifically because it has a history of preserving the civil liberties of protesters,” she said, adding that she had also read about it in her favorite book, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole.

Anderson said that it came as a huge disappointment to learn that the program was converting to online and that she wouldn't be going to D.C.

“It was the 100th anniversary of the ACLU this year, and the program would have included high-level speakers and a gala,” she said.

Anderson said that her favorite part of the program was connecting with like-minded individuals.

“The ACLU Summer Institute's goal is to select applicants who already have passion projects and make them more effective advocates for their causes,” said Anderson. “My peers were inspiring and many, if not all, had their own projects that they developed, such as protest organizing groups, charities funding women in politics, Title IX protection agencies and, my personal favorite, feeding cows seaweed to eliminate methane emissions.”

Anderson’s own project is called Kids in Care and deals with protecting the human rights of children in institutionalized care worldwide, particularly orphans in so-called “Third World” countries.

“Every seminar I attended was amazing,” she said, naming some of her favorite speakers as Michelle Alexander, W. Kamau Bell, and Kerry Washington. Her favorite was Edward Snowden, and she asked him a question about extradition treaties.

Anderson said that the seminar most applicable to her project was the female reproductive rights seminar, which discusses in depth the women's rights that have been stripped from immigrants in America —specifically the Jane Doe v. Trump Administration case, which seeks to block the Trump Administration from banning transgender people from the military.

Anderson said that as someone who wants to go into journalism and political communication, the seminars that spoke to her the most were the ones that were not only informative but also put what they learned into practice.

“As part of our three-part organization training, we practiced cold-call phone banking for political causes,” she said. She also attended a seminar on how to have respectful conversations about politics with those around us.

“I have so many established views that when they are challenged, I used to resort to my natural emotional response,” she said. “Through this seminar, I learned how to understand and thus be more respectful of dissent. I think that as someone who wants to go into a public arena, I learned that understanding is the most important thing to carry with me.”

After attending Presentation School, Anderson chose boarding school for her high school education. Shawnigan Lake School is located on Vancouver Island, and while it currently plans to welcome students back for classes in person, Anderson awaits final word and, at the least, will be required to quarantine in Canada for two weeks before going to school.

“We all live together and go to school together and play sports together without people coming and going, so the school's overall exposure to heavy viral loads is exponentially decreased,” she said. “Canada has also taken measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and, in my province, there are fewer new cases every day. I will be safer there than here in America.”

The ACLU summer program cost was $250 in 2020 and scholarship opportunities are available for students who qualify. In years where the program is held in D.C, the cost is higher as it includes room and board.

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