By Kerry Baumann Summer Intern

For a majority of the American population, there is a “before” and an “after.”

These are the people who can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. But there also exists another significant portion of the American population for whom there is no turning point, no separation between then and now. I was only two years old when the events of that day unfolded, so, obviously, I do not remember anything from before then.

Why is this generational distinction important? Well, those who are old enough to remember 9/11 are probably also old enough to recognize the extent to which the subsequent upheaval in national security transformed not only our foreign policy, but also our daily lives as Americans at home.

There is no doubt that following the worst terror attack in U.S. history, it was necessary for the United States to take substantial steps toward combatting this new threat. Even today, as the War on Terror continues to rage on, it is important to remain vigilant. Nevertheless, efforts to combat terrorism should not interfere with our constitutional rights as Americans.

For everyone my age and younger, we have only ever known a post-9/11 world. As such, the deterioration of individual rights that this country has witnessed over the past 15 years in response to the threat of terrorism is not nearly as alarming to my generation as it to our parents or grandparents; in fact, the contempt for civil liberties and privacy is normal for us.

The expansion of government surveillance and the debasement of due process, the militarization of police, the increase in prejudice and discrimination toward Muslims and other minorities, the illegal and inhumane torture and the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo (and the government’s concealment of such practices) ... my generation has grown up with all of this.

From personal experience, I can say that only relatively recently have I begun to fully understand why topics like the Patriot Act and NSA surveillance are so controversial, even though I have known about them for quite some time. Issues such as warrantless searches and ICE detainer requests, civil asset forfeiture, automatic license plate readers and drone use by law enforcement are fairly new to me. And, I have rarely thought about why local police need tanks and military-grade weapons to serve their communities.

Yet, I am also unique in that I am interning for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, and I am a student in a program which focuses on government and law. If these threats to civil liberties are unfamiliar to me, they are most likely completely meaningless for the vast majority of people my age and younger.

If we are to continue fighting to restore and preserve the constitutional rights of Americans, it is important that we educate the next generation about civil liberties – what they are, why they are important, and why they need to be protected. After all, our commitment to liberty and justice is the ultimate protection against hatred and violence.
Join the ACLU of Virginia and the Richmond Peace Education Center for “Reclaiming Our Democracy: 15 Years After 9/11,” a one-day conference in Richmond exploring how the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and policy decisions in its aftermath have altered the definition of liberty. This event will feature national and local speakers. Our media sponsor is The Community Idea Stations. This event is also supported by the Peace Development Fund, September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs and Virginia Organizing. For more information and to register, click the event graphic above.