ACLU founder Roger Baldwin said, “So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy.” We have been fortunate this year to stand with many people willing to fight for their rights, and to stand up for the principles of liberty, justice, and equality on which our democracy is built.
Novelist Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” One of this year’s more prominent questions appeared on the cover of TIME magazine: Is the Constitution still relevant? You don’t need to consult an expert to answer this question; the people we advocated for this past year can tell you how much constitutional rights still do matter.
To say that this has been an eventful year for the ACLU of Southern California would be an understatement. When Ramona announced that she will step down next February after leading our organization to unprecedented growth, innovation and success for 38 years, we all needed a moment to catch our breath. It truly means that an era is ending and a time of transition has begun.
For all of us who believe passionately in civil liberties and civil rights, this has been a momentous as well as an arduous year. Excitement over the election of our nation’s first-ever African American commander in chief has given way to sober resolve: we will pressure President Obama when we must to address Bush-era mistakes and deliver on the promise of a better America.
In its waning months, the Bush administration‘s failed policies and abuses of power have continued unabated, and it’s clear that most of the country is ready for change. It could have been discouraging, but as we look back over our work the past year we were struck by the fact that with your help our members and donors we were able to remain an assertive, credible force directly confronting the administration and its agencies. The ACLU was able to fight for change on both a national and local level.
The seeds sown by the Bush administration‘s unprecedented abuse of power found fertile soil in Southern California, and our staff faced some of the greatest challenges to constitutional rights and civil liberties in the nation: National Security Agency spying, indefinite detention, unfair immigration policies, challenges to abortion rights and threats to religious freedom.
On nearly every front, this has been one of the ACLU of Southern California’s most difficult years in our duty to protect civil rights and civil liberties. Our scope of work this year — from protecting bedrock human rights of detainees here and abroad to guarding First Amendment protections throughout the region — has required monumental effort and unprecedented levels of action.
Guided by principles, not polls, we do the hard, unglamorous work of protecting those who are suffering injustice or whom the system has failed. One of the largest ACLU affiliates in the country, we are fortunate to have a diligent legal and policy staff who fulfill our mission every day in courtrooms and communities across California.
We envision a society that invests in very individual by providing all children with a good education and other necessities for success. No society can neglect such an investment without reaping the terrible fruit of exclusion: division, despair, and fear.
Since September 11, 2001, our government has embarked on a wholesale revision of our basic rights: discrimination against immigrants, detentions, domestic spying, and government secrecy have been carried out in the name of security. But the ACLU has fought at each step and continues to fight for a vision of American security that includes preserving our freedom, our democratic institutions, and our fundamental rights.
Mindful of the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty, which reads in part, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door,” we seek to open the door of opportunity ever wider by linking civil liberties to social justice.