Heroes of the Week: ACLU of Wisconsin Members and Staff
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has worked to advance civil liberties and civil rights since its foundation in 1920. Free speech, freedom of religion and freedom from discriminations are some key issues the ACLU defends in courts, in Congress, state legislatures and local government. The ACLU has an affiliate in every state and the Milwaukee-based ACLU of Wisconsin is particularly active.
“The ACLU of Wisconsin's work includes an ongoing challenge to Wisconsin's voter ID law, which has kept tens of thousands of otherwise eligible voters from the polls,” executive director Christopher Ott explains. “We have sued Milwaukee police, demanding an end to racially discriminatory police practices, such as stop-and-frisk searches against people of color with no reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. We have sued the State of Wisconsin to end the terrible treatment of children in detention at state facilities in Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, and we have sued the state for its denial of health care coverage to transgender state employees.”
In nearly 90 years of existence, the ACLU of Wisconsin has obtained several resounding victories, such as the 2014 victory over Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
The organization has known failure as well, for lack of support or resources. ”A lawsuit we brought during the 1990s against voucher schools did not succeed,” Ott says. “Unfortunately, the years since then have borne out our concern that voucher schools take public money from public schools and direct it to religious institutions instead.”
Due to the nature of the fights the ACLU leads, the organization’s membership in Wisconsin has quadrupled since last November’s election, from 6,000 last October to more than 24,000 members today. “We can't discuss details about upcoming lawsuits and other measures,” Ott says. “But we have increased our budget by 25 percent this year and are expanding our staff to do even more of the kinds of work that we've always done.”
Under the Trump administration, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin focuses particularly on the rights of immigrants, endangered by initiatives such as the Muslim ban. Wisconsinites are encouraged to join the ACLU for as little as $20 a year, or giving a tax-deductible gift to support their actions.
For more information, call the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin at (414) 272-4032 or visit www.aclu-wi.org.