Blog of Rights

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

By Joel Engardio, ACLU at 2:15pm

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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