Tuesday, June 17, 2003

I was at the AAUP and ACLU annual meetings last week.
The NPR report on the ACLU meeting intrigued me, since I think it was completely off base. Reporter Alison Aubrey claimed, "There were definitely contingents of traditional liberals promoting gay rights and racial equality, but they seemed out of step with many of the young conference-goers." I think the meeting, esp. the youth, was full of traditional liberals, with a handful of libertarians concerned about gun rights. The only conflict I saw was that the youth leadership was a little more concerned about racial equality than most of the youth participants, who were most interested about civil liberties issues. It is true that Romero and the ACLU leaders are trying to appeal to conservatives with nuts like Bob Barr and some clever PR, but they aren't sacrificing their progressive causes to focus exclusively on the Patriot Act.

(oddly, the one issue where I oppose the ACLU for being too conservative, on campaign finance reform [bribery as free speech], never once was mentioned by anyone at the meeting).

John Wilson collegefreedom.org

National Public Radio (NPR)
SHOW: Weekend All Things Considered (8:00 PM ET) - NPR
June 15, 2003 Sunday
LENGTH: 600 words
HEADLINE: Changing membership and missions of the ACLU [DP]

Since September 11th membership in the American Civil Liberties Union has soared. One hundred thousand people have signed up; that's a 33 percent jump. This weekend more than a thousand members gathered in Washington; among them, hundreds of young people. As NPR's Alison Aubrey reports, many of them don't fit the usual ACLU mold.

ALISON AUBREY reporting:

The conference was billed as a watershed event in the fight against the USA Patriot Act. That's the post-9/11 law that expands the power of federal law enforcement. But many of the youngest participants seemed mostly interested in sounding off on what they view as some personal loss of liberty. Seventeen-year-old Jonathan McClure(ph) joined the ACLU last fall. The very tall, pale-skinned, high school senior from Minot, North Dakota, made the decision after a string of irritating, albeit minor run-ins with US Customs. He explains he and his friends make frequent trips into nearby Canada. He says there's no problem leaving the US.

JONATHAN McCLURE (17; Resident, Minot, North Dakota): But when I come back, they always ask questions and search things. It's kind of unsettling when you can go somewhere else and they welcome you with open arms, but you come back to your home country and they're suspicious of you.

AUBREY: McClure says his parents, who he describes as conservative and pro life, are not thrilled about his affiliation with the ACLU. Young members seem to note little of the organization's traditional labels or old baggage. McClure was only two when George Bush Sr. made the crack about rival presidential candidate Michael Dukakis being a card-carrying member. Instead, McClure knows the ACLU through its heightened presence in the post-9/11 world.

So it didn't seem at all strange bedfellowish to McClure that Bob Barr, the former congressman from Georgia, spoke at the convention. Barr, a conservative Republican who led the effort to impeach President Clinton, is now a consultant to the ACLU. He touts the organization's new message: the importance of rolling back big government, of reining in the feds' new power to wiretap, surveil and detain.

McCLURE: To me, oh, what it was saying with him being up there on the stage is that no matter where you are in the political spectrum, the ACLU is defending your rights.

AUBREY: It's this message the ACLU wants to spread. In recent months it's formed coalitions with the American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform. It's a repositioning that was clear at the convention. There were definitely contingents of traditional liberals promoting gay rights and racial equality, but they seemed out of step with many of the young conference-goers.

Judson Richardson, a 24-year-old from Dallas, did join the ACLU because of its long-held commitment to gay rights. When he heard another more conservative member of the conference talking not too politely about gays, he had to remind himself of the organization's mission.

Mr. JUDSON RICHARDSON (ACLU): I believe it's very true what our leadership has been talking about throughout this conference, that we can't have a double standard; that even if it's something we don't agree with, even when it's free speech that we don't agree with, that it's important that we protect that, too.

AUBREY: The ACLU is going out of its way to make room for everyone these days. This fall they'll capitalize on their new momentum with a cross-country tour to campuses, where they hope to recruit college students of all stripes. Alison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.

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