As ACLU activists protecting civil liberties in Florida, I know several of us often feel like we are always on the defense; our guard is always up. I am sure this is a sentiment shared by other ACLU members in the less civil-liberties-friendly regions across the country. The ACLU Membership Conference offers an oasis for ACLU members to congregate and feel supported simply for being a protector of the Constitution. Not to mention the fact that ACLU Members are just plain interesting and a blast to hang out with.
At the last Membership Conference (2006 — Washington, D.C.), I met and had a great conversation with an ACLU board member from Alaska. It was incredibly fascinating to hear about the civil liberties battles the ACLU of Alaska is facing and realize how remarkably familiar they sounded to our own issues in Florida. Where else would an ACLU member from Miami, Florida get to meet an ACLU member from Juneau, Alaska?
The other really motivating thing about the ACLU Membership Conference is how it brings together people from across generational lines. We — as a society — often talk about how we wish more young people were engaged and active in civic life. Some adults make comments about how it seems like young people these days pay more attention to the latest iPod and Facebook mini-feeds than to what the Senate Judiciary Committee discussed at this week’s hearing. And there are plenty of young people who do just that — just like there are plenty of adults who are not active in civic life as well. The ACLU Membership Conference is a chance for adults to meet and interact with young people who are active in their community.
This year’s conference will provide the opportunity for cross-generational interaction again! For the 2004 Membership Conference in San Francisco, the ACLU of Florida brought 10 young activists. In 2006, we sponsored 17 young activists to attend. This year, we are chartering two buses to take 100+ Florida young activists on an 18-hour bus ride to the ACLU Membership Conference.
Did you know that ACLU luminaries like founder Roger Baldwin and plaintiff Mary Beth Tinker, only a junior high school student when she wore a black armband to school to express her protest of a government policy, were young activists when they stood up to protect civil liberties? The Florida youth who will attend this year’s Membership Conference may not have the legal degrees or the monetary finances to contribute to the work of the ACLU, but it is undeniable the effect that they will have when making persuasive, impassioned presentations to Capital Hill staff has on impending legislation.
If you haven’t registered to attend the Membership Conference yet, it’s not too late. Just visit www.aclu.org/conference