Meet our Youth Essay Contest Winners

ACLU Youth Essay Contest 2018
Photo of Gracie AndersonPhoto of Iris Peng

Congratulations to the two winners of the 2018 ACLU of Washington Youth Essay Contest. Both of these inspiring young activists will win a trip to the ACLU Nationwide Membership Conference in Washington D. C. in June. We are thrilled to have them join hundreds of activists from across the country to strategize on how to advance and protect justice, equity, fairness, and liberty.

We asked applicants age 16-23 to answer the following essay question: What do you think is the most important civil liberties or civil rights issue your generation faces? Why? How will you work toward a solution?
The views expressed in these essays are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the ACLU-WA.

Gracie Anderson
Age 18
Student, Pacific Lutheran University

Why I want to attend:
“Last year, I started an ACLU club at my high school in Olympia. Since learning more about my civil rights and civil liberties, I have more deeply understood that our country and our democracy depends on all of our voices.”

Excerpt from essay:
“Descended into Madness”: Our Mass Incarceration System and How Young People are Going to Fix It”
“Our rights are trampled upon when mandatory minimum sentences impede judges’ opportunity to give just mercy to a child who is at the hands of the school-to-prison pipeline. When they are required to incarcerate offenders for life due to a third violent crime, infringing on the rights our system is principled upon. When prosecutors are empowered to bully defendants into forfeiting their constitutional protections and guaranteed due process rights for the sake of a plea bargain. Our criminal justice system has morphed into something un-American, something that does not value the liberties of the accused, a racially-disproportionate method of control over the American people.”  Read the complete essay

Iris Peng
Age 16
High School Student, Bellevue, WA

Why I want to attend:
My passion for social justice is limitless. From an early age, society taught me that I should not speak out—that Asian-American womxn were meant to be quiet and studious, not someone who is “disruptive.” Attending the conference and listening to persons of color and womxn activists will enable me to find new ways of empowerment, to prove to others and myself that Asian-American womxn can and should engage in politics and fight for social justice.

Excerpt from essay:                                                                                                    
“The key issue that our public education system encounters currently is the drawing of district lines, which contributes to a subtle but significant form of de-facto segregation. The origins of this problem arose from the 1974 Milliken v. Bradley Supreme Court case, which ruled on a 5-4 decision that school districts were not obligated to desegregate unless proven that the district lines were purposefully drawn with racist intent…
Ultimately, the fight towards true equality will not be an easy one. American society was founded on centuries of institutional barriers and ingrained racism, which will likewise take decades to deconstruct. But now is not the time to give up. We are only halfway to our goal; we have only partially broken down the walls of oppression.” Read the complete essay