LOS ANGELES, Calif. – ACLU/SC Executive Director Ramona Ripston, for decades one of the region’s most respected and outspoken voices on civil rights and civil liberties issues ranging from education and police reform to privacy, freedom of speech, and the rights of immigrants and homeless people, announced today that she will step down from the post she has held for 38 years.
“This organization has not only been my work but also my life for a long time, so a decision like this one certainly comes with mixed emotions,” Ripston said. “And I must tell you, it came after much deliberation. I just feel that it’s the right time for me to announce that I will move on, and for someone new to bring fresh ideas to this tremendously important organization and steer it into the new century.
“Although I’m retiring, I still feel enormously productive, and I intend to spend a portion of my time working on the issues that have always been important to me, such as economic rights, justice and equality. I also look forward to doing more traveling and to studying Spanish.”
Ripston’s retirement will become effective Feb. 15, 2011.
“Ramona Ripston has been a rock for the ACLU during an amazing time in America’s history,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the national ACLU. “She was the first woman to assume a leadership role in the organization during a time of enormous change in the country. Some of her many accomplishments include ending segregationist policies at the Los Angeles Unified School District, spurring meaningful reform at the notoriously hard-headed LAPD, fighting successfully for voting rights for Latinos, and providing leadership in battles for equal rights for the disabled, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and the homeless. She extended the impact and reach of the ACLU in Southern California even as she played a key role in helping us grow into an effective and truly national organization. Her acute political instincts and fierce passion for civil rights and civil liberties will be deeply missed.”
“Ramona Ripston has spent her entire career giving a voice to the voiceless,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. “With the ACLU of Southern California as her megaphone, she worked tirelessly to protect the constitutional rights of the poor, disabled, homeless, and gays and lesbians, among many others. I was proud to appoint her to and work with her on the Homeless Services Authority Commission. Her decades of experience advancing civil rights and liberties have had an immeasurable impact on the City of Los Angeles, our region, and beyond. We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her years of selfless service advancing social justice and equality.”
Stephen Rohde, chair of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, said that “in every important struggle for justice and equality over the last four decades, Ramona’s leadership and humanity have left an indelible mark because she has proven highly adept at building coalitions and communicating complex constitutional issues in clear and compelling terms that everyone can understand.”
Ripston was the first woman to head a major ACLU affiliate when she took over in 1972, and she has guided the ACLU/SC from a six-person group with offices above a wig shop to a 50-person legal powerhouse that has not only had a profound impact on Southern California’s institutions but also touched the lives of virtually all its diverse residents. Among countless other accomplishments, the ACLU/SC under her leadership successfully litigated an end to segregationist policies at the Los Angeles Unified School District that denied thousands of minority children their right to equal educational opportunities under the state constitution; took a lead role in a voting-rights lawsuit that paved the way for the election of the county’s first Latina county supervisor; helped overturn the anti-immigrant Prop. 187; and won the right for community groups to have a voice in shaping reform at the Los Angeles Police Department through the federal consent decree.
At the same time the ACLU/SC was winning these and many other legal victories, Ripston was expanding an outstanding legal staff and building a multi-faceted nonprofit corporation with communications and field organizing departments. In 2005, the ACLU/SC opened an Orange County office that has been tremendously successful in expanding and protecting civil rights in
communities in that region. That same year, Ripston was appointed to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Commission by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and in 2006, the Los Angeles Times named Ripston as one of the 100 Most Powerful People in Southern California. In 2008 the ACLU/SC moved into a new headquarters building in downtown Los Angeles that the affiliate purchased outright and extensively renovated. That building was dedicated on Oct. 15, 2008 as the Ramona Ripston Center for Civil Liberties and Civil Rights.
The announcement that she is retiring will have repercussions in Southern California’s political, legal and civil-rights communities for months to come. Ripston has been an influential figure for decades in these circles, determining where, when and to what issues the ACLU/SC lends its name and support.
Ripston will continue to direct the ACLU/SC in the coming year. A committee — composed of members of the boards of the ACLU/SC Foundation and its separate Union — has been appointed to oversee a national search for her replacement. Once her retirement becomes effective on Feb. 15 of next year, Ripston will become executive director emeritus of the ACLU/SC, and will assist the organization in fundraising, among other areas.