First-Ever ACLU Membership Conference Mobilizes Activists to Fight Civil Liberties Losses Since 9/11

June 11, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Nearly 1,500 “”card-carrying”” members of the American Civil Liberties Union are converging on the nation’s capital today for the organization’s first-ever membership conference, an event the ACLU called a national rallying cry against the government’s determination to cut back on civil liberties in the name of national security.

“”We’ve come to Washington to mobilize ACLU members to insure that Congress and elected officials at all levels hear that the American public does not want the government to trade off our freedoms for security,”” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “”Once energized in Washington, we anticipate that this small army of ACLU members will return to their hometowns prepared to take their activism to the next level and work hard to mobilize their family, friends and neighbors to protect the Constitution.””

From the reservations of South Dakota to the green mountains of Vermont, ACLU members of all backgrounds and ages traveled by the busload to attend the first national gathering of an organization whose ranks have swelled to 400,000 — an unprecedented 33 percent jump — since the attacks of September 11.

“”There is a reason our membership has grown so dramatically, and it is the same reason lawmakers from across the political spectrum have come together: they oppose recent security measures that go beyond combating terrorism, infringe on civil liberties and are of questionable effectiveness in meeting the threats facing a post-9/11 America,”” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.

“”Our members know that the ACLU will work tirelessly so that our safety can be guaranteed simultaneously with our right to say what we want, befriend whoever we want, worship however we want and be who we are without fear that our lawful actions will land us on the government’s radar screen,”” Murphy added.

The conference opens today at noon and runs through Saturday night. At least 30 percent of conference attendees are between the ages of 16 and 27.

About 1,000 conference attendees have signed up for a “”lobbying day”” tomorrow that will include visits with key legislators as well as drop-ins on the offices of presidential hopefuls.

The day will culminate in a reception with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and actor Dennis Haysbert, who plays President David Palmer on the hit FOX television series “”24.”” Haysbert, joined by comedian David Chappelle, will also present the first-ever ACLU Muhammad Ali Champion of Liberty Award to Ali himself — the first recipient and a former ACLU client — at a special ceremony on Thursday night.

The presentation to Ali, as well as keynote addresses by Romero and ACLU President Nadine Strossen, will be webcast live at

In addition to lobbying Congress, during the intensive four-day conference ACLU members will attend workshops on the ACLU’s agenda with Washington legislative and legal staffs; question top federal officials and other Washington insiders about where they stand; and enjoy entertainment by top performers. Other conference highlights include:

  • Wednesday, 9:00 a.m.: Welcome by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; Keynote address by ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero: “”Stand Up for Freedom””;
  • Thursday, 8:30 a.m. ACLU Washington Legislative Office Director Laura W. Murphy speaks on “”The Challenge to Congress;”” ACLU President Nadine Strossen speaks on “”Forcing a Debate: The Meaning of Patriotism””
  • Friday, 12:30 p.m.: Youth Summit Part I: a discussion on activism and coordination to promote civil liberties; Part II of Summit takes place at 5:00 p.m.
  • Friday, 3:30 p.m.: FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III will deliver a speech on “”The New FBI”” and take questions from ACLU members
  • Friday, 7:00 p.m.: Journalist Anthony Lewis presented with Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award; Entertainment by Standup Comics for Freedom: Kate Clinton, Judy Gold and Paula Poundstone
  • Saturday, 9:00 a.m.: Panel on “”A Nation of Immigrants”” with former INS Commissioners Doris Meissner and James W. Ziglar, who served under the Clinton and Bush Administrations, respectively
  • Saturday, 10:30 a.m.: A session on “”The First Amendment and War”” moderated by ABC News correspondent Michel Martin
  • Saturday, 8:30 p.m.: “”Tomorrow’s ACLU: Next Generation Celebration”” featuring performances by members of the Tony-Award winning Broadway show Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam and musical entertainment by recording artists Eric Hilton and Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation.

The ACLU is the nation’s premier guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Headquartered in New York City, the ACLU has 53 staffed affiliates in major cities, more than 300 chapters nationwide, and a legislative office in Washington. The ACLU Foundation (ACLUF) is the national tax-deductible, 501(c)(3) arm of the ACLU. Its combined annual budget is approximately $50 million.

Anthony D. Romero has been Executive Director of the national ACLU since 2001; Nadine Strossen was elected president of the National Board in 1991. Founded in 1920 by Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, Albert DeSilver, Jane Addams, Felix Frankfurter, Helen Keller and Arthur Garfield Hayes, the ACLU celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2000.

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