Can We Talk? Making Sense of the ACLU's Many Voices

Producing a short video that captures the many voices of the ACLU at this year’s membership conference wasn’t a simple task. It’s what I imagine the old cliché “herding cats” must be like — nearly impossible and all over the place. Our ACLU members are more than happy to share their thoughts: proudly, defiantly, loudly and often in rambling form.

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So how do you make one coherent compilation of a million different opinions?

The answer is to shoot first (video that is) and edit later. Ruthlessly edit. This is in everyone’s best interest. The members look better for it, and viewers get to enjoy a pithier, more succinct smorgasbord of commentary. Still, there are so many topics and even more to say. Where do I begin in compiling the “Voices of the ACLU?” At the start. I was curious about our members’ first time: The first time they head about or experienced the ACLU. Often, as many do, they heard about us in a negative or stereotypical light. It was interesting to see how some looked past the stereotype and became part of an ACLU that spoke to them. Now, as “card-carrying” members, these folks who look like anyone in middle America debunk the ACLU stereotype every day.

I was also curious about what draws our members to the ACLU. And for fun, I wondered how they would respond if they could only pick two rights in the Constitution to live under. I organized the video in sections, where you see a series of members answer the same question. What impressed me most about the 2008 Membership Conference was the incredible number of young people (teens and 20s) who attended. There was even a caravan of buses filled with youth that made the trek to Washington, D.C., from Florida.

One of my favorite interviews was with an 18-year-old who just graduated from high school. He told me that he came from a very conservative, Christian family in Florida (not what you’d expect as the typical ACLU membership base). The young man said his parents often spoke ill of the ACLU. But he couldn’t pass up a trip to see the nation’s Capitol and to see for himself what the ACLU was really about. He worried that his devout Catholic faith and belief in Jesus (“J.C. all the way!” he shouted into my camera) would make him an outcast among ACLU members. But he experienced just the opposite. He was excited to learn the ACLU even has a Freedom of Religion and Belief Project. This young man left the conference energized that he could be a part of a group that promises to respect and protect everyone’s rights. He said it showed him what America is supposed to be about. A real-life lesson he was able to learn at the ACLU membership conference, between visits to the monuments and museums of our nation’s founding.

Perhaps the answer to the impossible task of capturing the many voices of the ACLU is listening to this young man. He says it all.

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When/where are the rest of the podcasts that you all recorded going to be posted?

Suzanne Ito, ACLU

Pike: Next week. We promise.

Poel in Montana

Now that USSC (Heller) has disposed of the collective rights fiction regarding the Second Amendment, and asserted not only the individual right to keep and bear arms, but the right to self defense, can we expect the ACLU will now also recognize these fundamental civil liberties and work to protect them?


The ACLU interprets the Second Amendment as a collective right. Therefore, we disagree with the Supreme Court's decision in D.C. v. Heller. While the decision is a significant and historic reinterpretation of the right to keep and bear arms, the decision leaves many important questions unanswered that will have to be resolved in future litigation, including what regulations are permissible, and which weapons are embraced by the Second Amendment right that the Court has now recognized.


So the ACLU only supports freedom when it fits into what they believe.

The Second amendment was never reinterpreted, anyone that says it was is a total idiot.

Ken in Illinois

The Bill of Rights isn't a buffet, you can't just pick and choose what Amendments you like and don't like.

Sorry, ACLU - you just lost my renewal and any future chance for funding from my family.


>The ACLU interprets the Second Amendment as a collective right.

lol wut

Red in FL

But, your interpretation of the Second Amendment is legally incorrect subsequent to Heller. In other SCOTUSdecisions, notably Roe v. Wade, the ACLU has not recognized dissenting opinions, so, why, in this case, is the ACLU refusing to accept a clear SCOTUS decision on civil liberties?

Mike in MO

So the ACLU is now going to treat the BOR as a buffet that they can pick and choose from? Saying that they disagree with the SC and will not support a right that has been affirmed sounds remarkably the Bush administration.


While SCOTUS was split 5-4 on the extent of the right and its application to three very narrow laws of limited jurisdiction, the judges were unanimous that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right. With that part of the decision being 9-0, the ACLU is hard-pressed to viably disagree.


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