This editorial was originally published by the Kansas Reflector on January 3, 2024.

Earlier this past summer, in the ACLU of Kansas’ report about the historical and social significance of the Quindaro settlement, we talked about the aspirational Kansas we fear too many residents here have forgotten.

Kansas formed partly as a haven for people seeking freedom, as well as for those wanting to protect the very notion of freedom from the horrors of slavery. As enslaved people fled Missouri to Kansas, they helped form a multicultural democracy at Quindaro, with Wyandot Indians and white Massachusetts abolitionists.

But Bleeding Kansas’s history is a tale of opposing forces. And it’s difficult not to see last year’s work at the ACLU of Kansas with our partners and community as pivotal in that story: the end of unconstitutional highway patrol practices, the defense against veiled and not-so-veiled attacks on trans kids, and the numerous local efforts to protect democracy and ensure voters across the state can make their voices heard.

In our win challenging the Kansas Highway Patrol tactics that, as a federal judge said in her order, had troopers “waging war on motorists,” we secured an important victory for fundamental Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures for every driver that might travel the highways in our state. We don’t know exactly how many drivers were affected by the Highway Patrol’s practice of detaining out-of-state drivers based on their travel plans to and from Colorado or who were subjected to the infamous tactic known as the “Kansas two-step” — but we do know the effects on our individual clients from their experiences were lasting and traumatizing.

Outside of the courts, we’ve marched forward for a better Kansas in the Legislature as well, playing defense against an onslaught of odious and discriminatory bills aimed at trans children, trans Kansans, and the people who love them, and uplifting the voices of those most impacted.

We strongly opposed Senate Bill 180, a bill suspiciously framed as “a women’s rights bill” that attempted to codify outdated, inaccurate, and underinclusive definitions of sex and families while also trying to absolve the state of its responsibility to not discriminate against transgender people. SB 180 embodied the ongoing effort by extremists to remove any trace of trans people from public life, including from athletics, restrooms, locker rooms, domestic violence shelters and other necessary and safety net places and spaces, and did so in a vague, overbroad way without defining any specific enforcement or mechanism.

The law, which ultimately passed, illustrates how extremists have used a deeply ingrained and misogynistic paternalism to weaponize women’s rights against trans people in Kansas and across the country. And when a law is vague and overbroad, extremists will furnish it accordingly.

But there is so much room for hope. We also saw growing interest across the state and partnered with more Kansans working toward the meaningfully inclusive democracy in their communities: those in Wyandotte County seeking language access in election materials, residents of Hays and Ellis County pushing for a more accessible polling location on the Fort Hays State University campus, Johnson Countians who support implementing a vote-from-jail program and expanded language access, and voters of Sedgwick County who rely on mail ballots.

As we say here at the ACLU, “Eternal vigilance is the price for liberty.” This is a price we gladly pay.

Throughout our 100-plus-year existence, we have joined arms with everyday Americans to pursue the enduring promise of what we might someday become: the multi-racial democracy we are still striving to build and perfect.

Dr. Micah W. Kubic has served as the executive director of the ACLU of Kansas since January 2022. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.