In the summer of 1942, Oakland resident Fred Korematsu was arrested and thrown in jail. His only crime was being a Japanese American citizen who refused to be sent to an internment camp. A few days after his arrest, Ernest Besig, the founder of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, visited Korematsu and asked him whether he would be willing to challenge the government’s exclusion and detention laws in court. Korematsu said yes.
On Nov. 9, the morning after Election Day, I stood in front of our staff and reflected on that act of bravery. Our conference room is graced with a mural that illustrates decades of critical battles for civil rights and civil liberties. The faces of many of our courageous clients watch over every meeting we have.
This country has elected a candidate whose campaign promises, should they be enacted, will be plainly unlawful and unconstitutional. In July, the ACLU released the “Trump Memos,” which analyzed the campaign promises Donald Trump had made. We found that his proposals violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
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But Americans have faced down grave threats to our civil liberties before. We will do it again. We will hold Trump accountable every single day of his presidency, and when he leaves the Oval Office, we will do the same with his successor.
When I think about the history of the ACLU, the principled advocacy of our organizational partners and the perseverance of everyday people who have taken a stand in difficult times, I know we are ready to take this on.
From Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who was arrested for selling the groundbreaking book “Howl” in City Lights bookstore in the 1950s; to Dick Criley, who defied Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee; to Binyam Mohamed, a political asylum seeker in the United Kingdom who was captured and tortured under President George W. Bush’s extraordinary rendition policies; to Ruth Montaño, a mother of three who has tirelessly fought against unlawful detention and deportation across California; to Ashton Lee, a California teen from the Central Valley who spoke up for education rights for transgender students – the ACLU of Northern California has been proud to stand beside those who must fight against government overreach and oppression.
We must take Trump’s campaign promises seriously. We must resist any attempt to create a dragnet deportation force. We must obstruct any effort to defund reproductive health service providers or deny reproductive rights. We must prevent “stop-and-frisk” policies from being adopted in our cities. And we must oppose any ban levied against Muslims for entry into the United States or discrimination against Muslims in the United States.
Here in California, we have an opportunity and a responsibility. We have the opportunity to strengthen our local and state laws to further protect our civil rights in our state. But our responsibility is to go further. As individuals and in the organizations and companies we work for and lead, we must also speak up in defense of our fellow Americans outside this state.
Every Californian has a role to play in protecting the civil liberties and civil rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. It’s going to take all of us. Please know that the ACLU has your back.
Abdi Soltani is the executive director of the ACLU of Northern California. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.