By James Wright, Special to the AFROjwright@afro.com

The ACLU held its 2018 Membership Conference in the District of Columbia from June 10-12 at the Marriott Marquis hotel and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and President Trump and the actions of his administration were on everyone’s mind.

“This is a chance for all of us, civil libertarians from red, blue and purple states alike, to find new strength and new allies,” Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, said. “While the current administration will be remembered as one that attempted to unravel hard-won progress on every civil liberties issue, the 2016 election also ushered in a new era of activism in America.”

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a former ACLU attorney, spoke about the need to counter the Trump administrations actions. (Courtesy Photo)

The ACLU was founded in 1920 and focuses on Americans’ civil liberties. According to its website, the organization “works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

Civil liberties can be defined as the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the right to equal treatment under the law. While most civil libertarians embrace civil rights, there have been times when the ACLU has defended the free speech of White supremacists, as did Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, as an ACLU lawyer in 1968 before the U.S. Supreme Court that she won.

“I continue to value the indispensable work of the ACLU, particularly as a member of Congress,” Norton said at the opening ceremony on June 10. “Those fighting to defend civil liberties and freedom in the face of ongoing attacks continue to look to the leadership of the ACLU.”

Romero said since the Trump administration came to power, its membership has jumped from 400,000 to 1.8 million.

Trump’s influence on the rule of law was discussed by a panel of lawyers on June 11 and the consensus was that the president had a cavalier attitude toward complying with rules and regulations.

“No one is above the law,” Joyce Vance, a visiting legal scholar at the University of Alabama, said. “That includes the president of the United States.” Trump has floated the idea of pardoning himself should he be charged with a federal crime.

There were workshops on a wide variety of civil liberties topics. One dealt with the restoration of voting rights for felons and Julie Ebenstein, the senior staff attorney for the Voting Rights Project, said Blacks are the population most affected by this disenfranchisement.

“There are 6.1 million felons who cannot vote because of their conviction and the overwhelmingly majority of those are Black,” Ebenstein said. “States still have the right to disenfranchise a citizen based on their criminal record. The primary purpose of these methods is to stop African Americans from voting.”

There were workshops on the Trump administration’s hostile attitude toward the media, its nonchalant stance on the re-segregation of public schools, and proactive measures such as effective lobbying of lawmakers on the state and federal levels. However, in his closing address, Romero made it clear what must be done to reverse Trumpism.

“We need everyone to go to the polls in November and vote,” he said. “That is what will make a difference.”