ACLU Club Empowers Students to Explore Issues of Social Justice


Protest signs used by a few members of the ACLU club during Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.

Claire Guttormson, Writer

Since the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was founded in 1920, millions of Americans have joined ACLU’s fight for social justice. Included in those millions is a group of students at Wauwatosa West High School who make up the ACLU club.

“Having conversations relating to social justice on a peer level is so important because it allows you to see the direct effect society has on young people,” says Wauwatosa West freshman and ACLU club member Zoe Flint.

In a meeting held on Jan. 25, the conversation was focused on women’s rights. In a student-led presentation, points such as the 19th amendment, reproductive rights, and the Me Too movement were brought up for discussion. The group then spoke on their own experiences, articles, and studies they have read or any observations they had. Many questions were asked and answered but the biggest one, which hung over the entire discussion was ‘What can we do?”.

“The younger generation has the most energy, the access to the resources and the passion to make change and revolution, for longevity,” Wauwatosa West teacher and ACLU club advisor Nellie Gehrig says.

This energy and passion is seen very clearly when young people fill the streets at protests, organize online, and find ways to make their voices heard and get involved in politics.

But that passion and energy is not infinite and the notion of grappling with issues that have been building for decades before this generation was even born, can feel overwhelming.

“Not that it should be their responsibility, but it just ends up landing on the shoulders of younger generations, of demonstrating what is the standard and changing what’s expected,” Gehrig continues.

Having dialogues like those had in meetings, not only educate but also help participants understand and work through events that occur in the world.

“Having this space is so important to me because of how overwhelming today’s society can feel. Even when the world seems to be crumbling around us with conflict, there is always this discussion space to process things in,” Zoe Flint reflects.

And they’re not alone. A big portion of the presentation given in the meeting on Jan. 25 was summarizing the history of the women’s rights movement. To sit and hear about a fight that has been happening for centuries and still has not fully been won, leads the listener to feel equal parts frustrated and sad. But when the floor is open for discussion, while that feeling does not go away, there comes a burst of inspiration.

“There is also this sense of hope which I walk out of our meetings with because hearing my classmates and friends come together to have a civil, thoughtful conversation makes me optimistic for our country’s future,” said Flint.

Movements begin because of dialogues that occur between individuals dedicated to a better future, and young people are always going to have a special interest in those dialogues because the future is theirs. Wauwatosa West High School’s ACLU club, and spaces like it, give students the opportunity to explore issues of social justice and express their opinions and the role it fills in students’ lives is an important and powerful one.

Flint concludes, “Even when the world seems to be crumbling around us with conflict, there is always this discussion space to process things in.”