We the People is a blog series that features the stories of members, supporters, volunteers, and allies of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota. Together we are accomplishing critical work in our state to protect and advance civil liberties across the Midwest and beyond.
Janna Farley is a writer, reader, runner, cookie eater, and mom of the year.
That’s how she describes herself on her social media platforms, at least. But it’s an apt description. As the communications director for the ACLU of North Dakota, Janna spends a lot of time writing. Outside of work, she loves mysteries, rom-com novels, and chocolate chip cookies. She runs because she loves chocolate chip cookies. And mom of the year?
“Oh, I totally gave myself that title,” she says. “Just like I renamed myself ‘Best Mom Ever’ in my kids’ phones. But neither of them have changed it, so I’m just going to believe they think that, too, and that’s all that matters.”
Self-awarded honor or not, being a mom is why Janna cares so much about the issues the ACLU fights for in the courts, in the legislature, and in the community.
“I know it’s cliché to say it, but I really want to make the world a better place for my kids, to ensure they’re living in a community that’s free from government overreach and abuse,” she says. “But more than that, I want them to understand how important it is for them to make their community a more fair and equitable place for everyone.”
Which of the ACLU’s issue areas are you particularly passionate about and why?
If we truly want to live in a state that values freedom, we need to put our First Amendment rights first. That’s why I’m so disheartened when our elected officials are trying to pass laws restricting what our students are learning in their classrooms or the books found in their school libraries.
Education is a tool of empowerment put to its highest use when teachers and students are given the full scope of their constitutional rights to engage in comprehensive, meaningful and sometimes difficult conversations. Instead, some of our elected leaders want to censor academic discussions about American history and race and sex in North Dakota public school classrooms or prohibit books written about topics they disfavor.
The First Amendment protects academic freedom and the right to share ideas, including the right of individuals to receive information and knowledge. Let’s keep it that way!
Abortion rights are very important to me, too. Unfortunately, the last year has been pretty devastating when it comes to our personal privacy and reproductive rights. We saw the end of the protections from Roe v. Wade and politicians across the country are restricting access to birth control and medication abortion.
Politicians shouldn't be in the business of controlling our bodies or our futures. We’ve got to get our elected leaders out of our hospitals and clinics! Medical decisions should be made between patients and their doctors – not politicians.
Do you consider yourself a changemaker? Why?
I think I’m a behind-the-scenes changemaker. I’m not out there leading rallies or anything like that. That’s not my style. But I am trying to do my part to effect change in the state and hopefully, by my example, inspiring others to do the same.
One person really can make a difference if you just get started.
Why do you think it’s important for people to be involved in their communities?
Small, incremental changes made at the local level have the most impact on our daily lives. What our local school board or city council members are doing might not be super exciting – their work is surely not going to get the same attention as what our national elected figures do – but what these elected officials are doing has the potential to affect each of us every day.
Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in getting more politically involved in their community?
Getting more politically involved in your community can mean different things to different people. It might be doing something big like volunteering for a campaign, registering people to vote, or running for office. But it also might mean calling your legislators or writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. The key is to find something you’re comfortable with and start with that. Don’t want to call your legislators? Write them. Every little bit helps!
Which of the Constitution’s amendments are most important to you and why?
As a former journalist, the First Amendment is near and dear to my heart. Freedom of the press protects the right of journalists to gather and report news and information without government interference and is critical to a democracy that’s accountable to the people.
But beyond that, the First Amendment gives each of us the freedom to set our own values, to express ourselves openly, and to make our own views known. I can’t imagine living in a country where we didn’t have this.
What issues do you think are most important for North Dakotans to pay attention to?
Thanks to a trigger law that’s been on the books since 2007, abortion became a criminal act in North Dakota when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year (though the law – and another that was passed during the 2023 legislative session – is currently tied up in court.) And just this year, state lawmakers banned gender affirming care for transgender youth.
Unfortunately, we know these attacks won’t stop with abortion and gender-affirming care. The same extremists who support forced pregnancy and restricting medical rights for trans youth are also coming for our rights around birth control, IVF, marriage equality, the right to vote and more. All of our rights, to make decisions about our bodies, families, and health, are at stake right now, and it’s crucial that we’re all paying attention.