Here are some thoughts from ACLU of Nevada friend and client Emmily Bristol, who participated in our recent lawsuit challenging the "personhood" ballot initiative in Nevada:
Why do I support the ACLU?
I keep a post card above my desk that has a picture of a pencil on it and reads, “This machine kills fascists.” Indeed, I can’t think of a more important freedom than that of free speech. The free exchange of ideas – even when we disagree – is the backbone of America.
Think about it: The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights is one of the most amazing and American rights we have and one I hold very dear as a writer. You don’t have to search very hard to find examples of people who do not have the right to speak their own thoughts publicly, write them down or share them with others openly. And this is not a long-ago plight but one of modern times in countries near and far. And yes, even in our own backyard sometimes.
This is why I support the ACLU. This is why the ACLU is one of the most patriotic, fundamentally American organizations in our great country.
Being an American and having these freedoms is not easy. We have to participate in our own freedom. We have to be knowledgeable. We have to fight with each other at times. It’s messy! But these freedoms are worth the messy, amazing struggle.
If you think of the Bill of Rights as the Bible of our uniquely American freedoms – which is not such a far-out analogy considering that there have been many interpretations and arguments over the meaning of those rights over the years – then the ACLU are guardians of those rights.
One of the reasons why I respect the ACLU is because they fight the good fight for everyone. Their agenda is singular: Defend American rights. They don’t pick sides in controversial debates. They represent equally the First Amendment rights of the drama department at Green Valley High School, white supremacist groups, brothel workers and union protestors. It is a mighty thing to set aside your own personal opinions to fight for the rights of all Americans.
And perhaps that’s the greatest lesson that the ACLU can still give us all – to lead by example. We didn’t get these freedoms easily. And when we stop paying attention, they can be all too easily chipped away. It’s good to know that there is an organization like the ACLU who will always be keeping watch and reminding us to pay attention.
Emmily Bristol is a journalist, activist, and the voice behind an awesome blog of her own, The Sin City Siren. Check it out!
To most members of the general public, the word “lobby” conjures up images of corporate greed, outrageous levels of campaign donations, and unsolicited “gifts” of Caribbean vacations to elected officials. But the lobbying work done by the ACLU involves anything but the aforementioned activities. In our case, lobbying never includes donating to a campaign or supporting a candidate for public office. Instead, it means testifying against bills that would trample on the Constitution and speaking out in favor of bills that protect people’s fundamental rights. For example, we advocated against a statewide network of highway cameras at the 2010 Special Session, and lobbied hard (and successfully!) for a Domestic Partnership bill in 2009 that provided many legal protections for couples who cannot or choose not to marry.
In its most general sense, lobbying is an attempt to influence the votes of members of a legislative body (although in the state of Nevada, lobbying has a more specific definition). While we are strictly nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, there are still many ways to effectively lobby legislative bodies. For us, lobbying includes a lot of research, preparation, writing, and honing of arguments for or against specific legislative measures. Once we’ve solidified our position on a specific piece of proposed legislation, we reach out to bill sponsors and other committee members to share with them our position. Often, we reach out to the public and our members to alert you of the consequences (and sometimes unintended consequences) of the measure—and urge you to let legislators know that Nevadans care about Constitutional principles.
Our lobbying style is unique for many reasons. Primarily, we don’t compromise-- there is no horse-trading when the Constitution is involved. When we believe a portion of a bill violates constitutional principles, we will not look the other way in order to garner a vote on another issue. And while many lobbyists would rather wait in the lobby, the ACLU of Nevada actually prefers to enter remarks on the public record in front of legislative bodies. We make it a point to testify publicly as much as possible for two reasons: 1) it is the transparent thing to do; and 2) it helps build a record of legislative intent.
My work lobbying for the ACLU of Nevada is intense and rewarding. I’ve been a part of many ACLU lobbying victories, both during the 2009 legislative sessionand the most recent 2010 special legislative session. But you don’t have to be a registered lobbyist to influence members of a legislature how to vote-- there are many other ways. Here in Nevada, one of the best ways to stay updated on legislative issues related to civil liberties is by joining us on Facebook or Twitter. We’d certainly be honored if you would help us lobby in the future!
Rebecca Gasca is the Public Advocate for the ACLU of Nevada. She was awarded the “Pro Bono Piggy Award” for Best Public Interest Lobbyist by her fellow lobbyists at the 2009 Nevada Legislature.
Legislative Lobbying is conducted by the ACLU of Nevada, Inc., a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization. For a description of the differences between the two branches of our organization, click here.
We all have to make them. As you read this, Congress is pondering whether or not it will pass sweeping health insurance reform. A complex decision, indeed. In the midst of their debate, though, legislators shouldn’t forget a far more fundamental decision that individual Americans must make every day—the personal choice of deciding whether and when to have children.
While the ACLU does not take any position on the broader health care debate, we believe that any discussion about reform should originate from a place of respect for the freedom of choice that belongs to everyone in our country. Each of us should be able to decide what is best for our health and our family. Politicians should not intrude on personal private decisions—including reproductive health services.
No woman expects to hear that the baby she’s been looking forward to holding will likely not survive the pregnancy. No woman wants to hear that carrying her pregnancy to term will seriously threaten her own health. But these are realities, and these are the moments in life when choices—free from government intervention—must be made.
Any version of health care reform must respect the right of women and their families to deal with personal decisions in the way they see fit. Unfortunately, some in Congress have tried to remove these considerations from the debate altogether, amending the legislation to exclude abortion coverage from publicly-subsidized health care plans. The creation of exclusionary or overly-complicated procedures that remove public funding for abortion services could lead to a system where insurance companies decide to drop such coverage altogether. That’s unacceptable. A system that prevents access to reproductive health care for millions of American women would undermine the right of free choice that is inherent in our values as a free society and guaranteed by our Constitution.
These issues are still very much in play as the debate on insurance reform is nearing a close. Each of us must decide whether we’ll stand up and advocate for a system that respects individual freedom by providing women access to the full range of reproductive health care options.
That, at least, should be an easy choice to make.
For more information about our work on women’s health care, and what you can do, click here.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Today we celebrate the strides women have made in the ongoing struggle for equality here in the United States and around the world, but it’s also a time to make note of the many battles yet to be won.
For example, do you remember a little piece of legislation called SB207? Passed at the 2009 Nevada Legislature, the bill added sexual orientation to the list of protected groups who cannot be discriminated against in places of “public accommodation”—which includes most private businesses and other buildings open to the general public.
A great step forward, yes. But the crazy part? Nevada’s laws STILL don’t offer protection for gender identity or even sex. Yes, you read that right. In Nevada it is perfectly legal to discriminate in a hotel, a casino, a restaurant, and a million other such places based on whether you are male or female, not to mention being a transgender individual.
This is clearly a problem. As is so often the case with civil rights, we as a society rise and fall together—unless everyone’s rights are protected, then nobody’s rights are unassailable.
Consider this: if a lesbian couple were visiting Las Vegas and trying to get into a nightclub, they could not, under the law, be turned away for being a same-sex couple, but they could be kept out simply because they are female. It is nonsensical, and it’s wrong.
Nevada prides itself on being a place where government does not stand in the way of individual freedom. In this case, however, our reality falls short of our ideals. Until all of us—men or women—are guaranteed protection from discrimination, there is still work to be done.
So, in honor of International Women’s Day, try this: forward this blog post to as many folks as you can and let them know that Nevada’s laws aren’t necessarily protecting women (or men) in some cases. It needs to change, but it won’t unless we demand it.
This week we're bidding farewell to a fabulous volunteer in the Las Vegas office, Bryn Esplin. Before she departs, we asked Bryn to tell us: what's your reason for supporting the ACLU?
As an ACLU volunteer, I have a confession: My motive is purely egotistical. I find myself a member of many disparate groups, each with precarious associations, but discrimination and civil liberty infringement affects everyone, directly or indirectly.
I’m also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a devout liberal, which means, amongst other things, I’m well versed at reckoning seemingly opposed positions.
Las Vegas itself is vulnerable to such contradictions: At times overwhelmingly conservative, while brash and lewd at others, protecting our civil liberties takes a vigilant and multiplicitous approach.
From attempted censorship of school play content, stripper-mobiles on the boulevard, homelessness and second amendment rights, the ACLU of Nevada runs the gamut.
I couldn’t ask for better or more diverse volunteer experience, and in this city of wins and losses, I consider myself a lucky lady.
Bryn Esplin is a graduate of UC Berkeley and is currently contemplating a law career of her own.