Having just returned from the ACLU Nationwide Staff Conference in Orlando, Florida, I am energized and looking forward to our annual meeting in March, and to National Executive Director Anthony Romero’s visit in April.  One of the things we talked a lot about at the conference was the ACLU’s shift toward becoming more “political.” While that shift has generated excitement, it has also led to some confusion:  What does it mean for the ACLU to be political?  Can we do so without risking becoming partisan?  As National Political Director Karin Johanson put it at the conference, “Being more political means being more powerful.”  It means using the tools of political engagement, in addition to the time-honored ACLU tool of litigation, to defend and promote civil liberties.  It means being active not only in courtrooms but in the legislature, at city councils, and on ballot measures.  It means amplifying our work by communicating effectively with the public.  And, most importantly, when we use of all of these tools in a coordinated fashion to advance carefully chosen strategic priorities, we can be especially powerful.

The ACLU-MT staff have been hard at work assessing all of the ACLU-MT’s work in preparation for the board of directors’ adoption of a new strategic plan in June of this year.  The staff and board are looking to maximize the ACLU-MT’s influence by directing our resources toward the areas where we can make the most difference, using integrated strategies that combine advocacy, public communications, and litigation. No matter what we do, though, the ACLU will always maintain its commitment to being nonpartisan.  Indeed, being nonpartisan is critical to being powerful, because we need to maintain the credibility to criticize or work with people regardless of their political affiliation.

One way to be politically powerful, while maintaining our nonpartisan stance, is to educate and engage our members on civil liberties issues.  An informed and active membership puts muscle behind the ACLU-MT’s work.  When we advocate on an issue, government officials and legislators know that our members stand behind us.  (Are you a member?  You’ll see some of the reasons our members joined in this newsletter.)  Our annual meeting in Missoula offers members and the general public an opportunity to participate in roundtable discussions, moderated by ACLU staff and other experts, on civil liberties topics.  To register, go to www.aclumontana.org/events.

Another way the ACLU-MT can be politically powerful is to empower voters by advancing political discourse and offering education about the candidates running for office.  I’m excited about our Montana Supreme Court Candidate Forum, which will take place on March 5 immediately after the annual meeting.  This event will allow the public to hear from each of the candidates currently running for the Court. 

Finally, if you are interested in learning about the ways in which the ACLU is flexing its political muscle across the United States, come hear National Executive Director Anthony Romero when he speaks in Missoula and Bozeman in April.  For more information on Anthony’s visit, please visit www.aclumontana.org/events