“Is our democracy at risk? If so, what is the greatest threat? What should we do about it?”
In a local environment where books are banned, students are silenced or suspended for advocating for their rights, anti-democratic extremists are excused or exalted, voting-suppression is on the rise and duly conducted elections are challenged on fabricated grounds, the questions are as current as they are urgent.
If you’re a high school student in Flagler or Volusia counties, here’s your chance to answer in an original essay of up to 2,000 words and participate in the ACLU of Florida Volusia/Flagler Chapter’s first Annual “Cary Ragsdale Future Voter’s Essay Contest.” (Email essays with Subject Heading of “Student Essay” to [email protected]
by April 4.)
The question–“Is our democracy at risk”–is broadly posed and may address or connect local, state and national issues–as long as the arguments are well argued, soundly sourced and elegantly written. Members of the ACLU will form the judges’ panel.
Three finalists will be selected. The first place winner will have a cash prize of $500, second place will receive $250, and third place will receive $100. FlaglerLive is sponsoring the cash prizes.
Each finalist will receive two complimentary tickets to the Volusia/Flagler ACLU’s 2022 Annual Meeting and Banquet at the Halifax River Yacht Club at 6 p.m. on April 24. All submitted essays will be on display, all the finalists will be recognized, and of course the winners will be announced. The winners will be invited to read their essays to the audience that evening. The three top winners’ essays will be published in FlaglerLive.
The keynote speaker at the annual meeting and banquet will be Daniel Tilley, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. The organization is non-partisan, famously defending the rights of dissenters all the way back to the Palmer raids of 1920 in the first Red Scare under the Wilson Administration, defending science in the Scopes trial of 1925, fighting against the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, protecting student speech as fervently as the ACLUY protected the rights of the neo-Nazis to march (in a 1978 case), opposing police-state surveillance tactics since the start of the drug war in 1973 and intensifying since 9/11, helping LGBTQ Americans serve in the armed forces openly, fighting the Trump administration’s Muslim ban in 2017, and today fighting against a return of voter-suppression laws, a crackdown on reproductive rights, and Florida’s censoring of protected speech in classrooms and the workplace, among many cases.
The contest is named for Cary Ragsdale, the writer, teacher, Vietnam veteran and advocate for felons seeking to re-enter society, the poor and the homeless. He joined the ACLU and challenged local ordinances that further marginalized or criminalized the homeless. In a book he wrote near the end of his life he all but described himself: “He can choose to be kind and compassionate, or he can choose an alternative course. He can choose to come to the aid of others in distress, or he can ignore their troubles and think only of himself. He can choose to ignore bullying behavior when he encounters it, or he can choose to take a clear moral stand against that kind of conduct.”
To participate in the Volusia/Flagler ACLU Essay Contest, you must be a high school student in either of the two counties. Email essays with Subject Heading of “Student Essay” to [email protected] by April 4.
Note: this piece was originally published on March 4. It is being re-published ahead of the contest deadline.