Monday, March 30, 2009

Legal Observer Training: April 3, Madison

This free workshop is for anyone who wants to defend free speech and assembly by becoming a volunteer legal observer for the ACLU of Wisconsin. The workshop will be offered to prepare volunteers for protests in Madison this spring (antiwar, 4/4; workers rights, 5/1). Bilingual (English/Spanish) volunteers are especially encouraged to get involved.

Friday, April 3rd – 5:00 – 7:00 pm

UW Madison Student Activity Center
4th floor Caucus Room
333 E Campus Mall

RSVP to or call (608) 469-5540 if you plan on attending the workshop. Please forward this announcement to friends who are also interested in supporting everyone’s right (even if not always the content) to free speech, assembly and protest.

For more on the ACLU of Wisconsin’s legal observer program and for pictures of observers in action, visit the Cap City Liberty blog reports on legal observers in Milwaukee and at last year’s antiwar protest in Madison.

What are Legal Observers?
Legal Observers are trained volunteers who are legal witnesses to political demonstrations and who document the events of public protests, including any incidents of police misconduct or violations of the rights of protesters. Legal Observers are committed to defending free speech in a way that is as objective as possible so that their documentation can be used as evidence if police misconduct or obstructions to Constitutionally-protected free speech are challenged in court. As Legal Observers, volunteers can commit to being among others who are free speech defenders, but aren’t expected to be a every rally – volunteers pick which protests to observe with neutrality and can choose not to volunteer at protests where they wish to be participants.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ensure the future of the ACLU: the Legacy Challenge

Did you know that by making the ACLU a part of your future giving now, your money can work harder than ever?

We would like to introduce you to the Legacy Challenge.

From now through May 31, 2009, the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust matches new bequest provisions to the ACLU with an immediate cash donation, equal to 10% of the bequest’s estimated value, up to $10,000. This means that by naming the ACLU now as a beneficiary of your will or trust, you do your part to ensure a strong future for the ACLU while generating hundreds or thousands of dollars for ACLU programs nationally and in Wisconsin today!

This month, Tracy Malloy-Curtis, a gift planning officer with the American Civil Liberties Union, visited Wisconsin to talk to some of our loyal supporters about legacy giving. Meeting with board members, volunteers and other supporters is a part of her work to connect donors with the ACLU.

“It’s great to meet with people who are really passionate about this organization,” said Curtis. “Planned giving can be for everybody, not just the wealthiest in our community.”

Trends in planned giving are showing that younger people and families are thinking about their favorite charities when they make their wills.

“People can start planning their legacy when they are quite young, for example, when they begin a family or start their careers,” said Tracy. “I’ve talked to teachers and nurses who might not be able to write a huge check when they are in their thirties, but who do want to name charities as beneficiaries, after their family members, in their wills, or as beneficiaries of their retirement plans.”

“We have many new and enthusiastic supporters and leaders who joined the ACLU after 2001 and were appalled by the Patriot Act and violation of civil liberties during the War on Terror. Despite the sense of hope and change they feel now, they also understand that the struggle to protect liberty is ongoing, regardless of political leadership.

Legacy gifts are always heartfelt expressions of support from individuals to the ACLU. Now, legacy gifts planned with generosity and foresight decades ago are playing a role sustaining our current work in a challenging economic environment. These investments are now supporting programs that secure the rights of individuals in the courts, in our schools and in our communities.

The Legacy Challenge ends on May 31, 2009 – anyone who is thinking about a charitable donation in their will or trust can take advantage of this excellent opportunity to invest in the future of the ACLU.

You can find more information on the Legacy Challenge on the web or contact Tracy Malloy-Curtis at (877) 867-1025.

Monday, March 23, 2009

ACLU voting rights film and action night: Wednesday, March 25

Madison-area ACLU members and friends!

Join the ACLU of Wisconsin for a voting rights film and an update on current topics in Wisconsin civil liberties

When: Wednesday, March 25, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Where: Escape Java Joint, 916 Williamson St. (some parking available on the street and behind building – bus and bike ridership encouraged)

Who: ACLU members and anyone with an interest in civil liberties

Cost: free, though participants are encouraged to bring money to buy drinks and support the coffee shop *** don’t forget to sign up for fun ACLU door prizes!

6:00 – 7:00 pm

Film: "Democracy’s Ghosts"
A film about how 5.3 million Americans pay taxes, live in our communities, but have lost the right to vote. Q&A after film includes a legislative update.

7:00 – 8:00 pm
ACLU of Wisconsin - Madison Community Action Team Meeting
All are welcome to join the Madison ACLU-CAT for updates on current civil liberties issues in Wisconsin, upcoming event announcements (including the Liberty and Libations civil liberties happy hour series), and different ways to take action.

For more on the ACLU of Wisconsin, including videos from Rachel Maddow’s speech at our recent Bill of Rights Celebration in Milwaukee, please visit our website at

Friday, March 20, 2009

News update: detention for immigrants an affront to justice, government spying and secrets update, and more

Voting Rights
Remember – you have until Monday to update your registration with the Statewide Voter Registration Database. With one of the biggest voter turnouts in recent history in November, this might not apply to you. But if you’ve moved since the last time you voted, contact your city clerk to make sure you’re ready to vote in the spring elections.

Immigration update: the other detainees
A recent AP article was written after a Freedom of Information Act letter was filed with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to get a snapshot of who was being detained in US immigrant jails.

The article points out that:
- the US has 32,000 people in detention for civil (not criminal) immigration violations
- 18,690 of those people have no other criminal conviction record; 400 of these people have been behind bars for more than a year. No convictions. Detained for over a year.
- 10,000 had been behind bars for over 31 days. Could you imagine being jailed for speeding and being behind bars for a month?
- 58% of immigrants went through their immigration hearings without an attorney
- electronic monitoring is cheaper than detention
- electronic monitoring is as effective as detention for people to show up to their hearings: 95-99%

The government is imprisoning immigrants without many of the rights criminals receive: no court-appointed attorney for indigent defendants, no standard habeas corpus, no protection from double jeopardy, no guarantee of a speedy trial. Anti-immigrant rhetoric says they are being detained because they broke the law. The bottom line is that we don’t even treat our citizen criminals this badly. On US soil, our laws and the Constitution should be for everyone. Read more about the ACLU's work on immigrant rights.

Prisoner’s Rights and Rachel Maddow
Did anyone notice that Rachel Maddow’s speech at the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Bill of Rights Celebration got a shout out on the national ACLU Blog of Rights? Her story about her work with the ACLU and human rights in the prison system was just one of the fun tidbits she shared at the event. See the full video of her speech on the ACLU of Wisconsin You Tube channel.

Safe and Free: Rolling back the Ashcroft Doctrine and the Patriot Act
For those who are exhausted with frustration over how often the Bush administration said “no comment” when asked about their policies regarding torture, Guantanamo detainees and other human rights issues in the past eight years, the “Ashcroft Doctrine” may finally be challenged. Congress has introduced a state’s secrets bill that would restore appropriate limits to what the federal government can say is to be kept under wraps. Keeping America both safe and free requires a balance between power and transparency in our government: the Ashcroft Doctrine put that out of balance. Take action to thank Wisconsin Rep. Petri for his leadership on this bill.

While you’re at it, you can give a “boo” to Rep. Sensenbrenner for his support to renew the Patriot Act. The ACLU continues to fight to roll back or reform the Patriot Act which has allowed greater government interference in individual privacy rights.

Death Penalty
Thanks Senator Russ Feingold for reintroducing the bill to abolish the federal death penalty. The ACLU has been involved in fighting the death penalty in Wisconsin and across the country due to its ineffectiveness and disproportionate racial impact.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Take Action: Restore religious/reproductive liberty balance in HHS regulations today

President Obama has made an important move to protect reproductive freedom. Let’s back him up.

In the waning days of his presidency, George W. Bush moved to undermine the ability of American women to get basic reproductive health services, including birth control and information about abortion. As a result, more than 45,000 ACLU members voiced their opposition.

President Obama has issued a proposal to rescind Bush's Heath Care Denial Rule. The 30-day public comment period on the Obama proposal ends on April 9. Now, the ACLU needs your help again to mobilize people all across the nation for a dramatic show of support.
Add your name to public comments in support of rescinding the Health Care Denial Rule.

The Obama administration has started the ball rolling by initiating the review. Now, it's up to us to do our part in ending this totally unnecessary and dangerous rule.

For years, federal law has carefully balanced protections for individual religious liberty and patients' access to reproductive health care. But the Bush regulations take patients' health needs -- and patients' rights -- totally out of the equation. The ACLU stood up for patients' rights and brought a federal lawsuit on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. Recognizing the dangers posed by this rule, eight state governments also filed suit.

When the Bush administration first proposed this rule, the Department of Health and Human Services received more than 200,000 comments. The overwhelming majority opposed the rule. Now we need to speak just as loudly and clearly to end this rule.

At a time when more and more Americans are either uninsured or struggling with the soaring costs of health care, the federal government should be expanding access to important health services, not interfering in programs that have successfully provided services for years.

Take part in an immediate, bold display of support for rescinding the Health Care Denial Rule.

Thank you for all you are doing to make this a year of progress to renew American freedom. Act now on this very important request.

Louise Melling, Director
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When demand for water meets bad urban planning: Milwaukee area SEWRPC's plan for Lake MI

An update on the ACLU's involvement with environmental justice efforts:

A broad coalition of community groups has filed comments objecting to any efforts to finalize the draft Water Supply Study released by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC). The objections are based on SEWRPC’s continuing refusal to evaluate the civil rights and environmental justice effects of diverting of Lake Michigan water to suburban communities.

“Once again SEWRPC has acted in a way that furthers, rather than reduces, the deplorable racial disparities in our region,” stated Milwaukee Branch NAACP President Jerry Ann Hamilton.

“The Water Supply Study simply does not address the potential harm to urban residents and to the environment that could occur if water sales facilitate suburban sprawl,” noted Karen Schapiro, Executive Director of Midwest Environmental Advocates. Schapiro noted that SEWRPC is basing the Water Supply Study on unsustainable and unreasonable land use assumptions. “SEWRPC admitted it’s assuming that all communities seeking water will follow its regional land use plans - even though it knows those plans have often been ignored. So the demand for diverted water could be much greater, and more harmful, than what SEWRPC is projecting.”

“SEWRPC repeatedly promised that, before finalizing the study, it would take the steps that its own Environmental Justice Task Force wanted,” emphasized Karyn Rotker, ACLU of Wisconsin Senior Staff Attorney. “But when the EJTF asked SEWRPC to conduct an independent socioeconomic impact analysis, they balked. That evaluation must occur before the Water Supply Study is finalized.”

As environmental attorney Dennis M Grzezinski, a former Commissioner and Chair of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District, stated: “SEWRPC's technical and professional staff includes many talented, competent individuals, and it is terribly disappointing that they have not been allowed to apply their skills to so many important aspects of the water supply picture. No water supply plan can be complete, or even reasonably useful, without addressing these many issues.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Race-based mascots = government-endorsed discrimination

The Assembly Education Committee hearing today was really amazing. It was great to see the room packed with dozens of students from across Wisconsin who were there to show their visible support for Assembly Bill 35 which would allow for a process for communities to challenge the remaining racially insensitive mascots for their public schools. Thanks to Rep. Jim Soletski (statement - PDF) and Sen. Spencer Coggs for introducing this bill.

The testimonies today were overwhelmingly in support of the bill and showed the need of indigenous people to not have their communities, religion and culture caricatured by public school mascots. A special shout-out to the students from Prescott High School who not only gave well-researched statements, but who stole all of the best talking points before the ACLU got a chance to speak. They are right: mascots are better when they are animals and we should not treat people like mascots.

Why Oppose Racist Mascots:
Nearly 40 public school districts across Wisconsin continue to use nicknames, mascots and logos for their sports teams that are based on race or ethnicity. Nicknames, like Chiefs or Chieftains, Indians, Red Raiders, Redman, and Warhawks, and school-approved mascots and logos have been a common feature at sporting and pep events attended by generations of enthusiastic students.

However, the use of discriminatory mascots should be challenged. The ACLU of Wisconsin points out that:

1. All public schools in Wisconsin are required to provide all students with an adequate, nondiscriminatory education. Race-based nicknames, logos and mascots are inherently discriminatory and shouldn’t be endorsed by a public school.

2. There should be a fair and adequate process for the Department of Public Instruction to review complaints from community members about race-based mascots. As the use of race-based mascots is government speech (not individual speech), the First Amendment does not apply. The government is responsible for addressing discriminatory practices such as the use of race-based mascots and the Department of Public Instruction is the appropriate agency to mediate local conflict resolution.

3. Having schools with mascots that are not based in racial or ethnic stereotypes will not only end this particular discriminatory practice, but will be a positive step toward equality and an embrace of good sportsmanship, respect for others and fair play.

For these reasons the ACLU of Wisconsin supports AB 35 on race-based nicknames, mascots and logos and encourages the Assembly Education Committee to support this bill. Assembly Bill 35 won’t end discrimination in our public schools, but it is an important step forward.


1. Find out who your Wisconsin State Assembly Representative is:

2. Call or email about your support of AB 35.

3. If you live in a committee member's district (see below), be sure to say you want them to support the bill in the hearing on March 17th.

4. Tell Stacy that you contacted your legislator:

Assembly Education Committee members:
Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts (chair), D-Verona, 79th
(608) 266-3520
(888) 534-0079

Rep. Kristen Dexter (vice-chair), D-Eau Claire, 68th
(608) 266-9172

Rep. Steve Hilgenberg, D-Dodgeville, 51st
(608) 266-7502
(888) 534-0051

Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, 20th
(608) 266-8588
(888) 534-0020

Rep. Kim Hixon, D-Whitewater, 43rd
(608) 266-9650

Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, 93rd
(608) 266-0660

Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, 7th
(608) 266-1733

Rep. Mark Radcliffe, D-Black River Falls, 92nd
(608) 266-7461
(888) 534-0092

Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, 80th
(608) 266-1192
(888) 534-0080

Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, 31st
(608) 266-5715
(888) 529-0031

Rep. John Townsend, R-Fond du Lac, 52nd
(608) 266-3156
(888) 529-0052

Rep. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, 14th
(608) 266-9180

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, 89th
(608) 266-2343

Monday, March 16, 2009

Madison student receives national ACLU scholarship

The ACLU of Wisconsin is proud to announce the local winner of the national ACLU Youth Activist Scholarship Award! Madison West High School Senior, Natalia Thompson, is a student leader in young women’s rights and civic engagement. Her collaborative Madison SOS project inspired and involved an ACLU of Wisconsin workshop entitled, “Stand Up: Choose Your Own Activism Style” which teaches youth about planning effective strategies to have their voices heard at school and in their communities.

Natalia pictured center, top along with other student activists in Madison

Roots of an activist
In high school, Natalia started volunteering for student and community groups focusing on social justice issues like violence against women and reproductive justice. After interning on a Green Party U.S. Senate campaign in 2006 – a peace activist’s bid to become Wisconsin’s first female senator – Natalia developed a passion for helping other young women get involved in activism on the issues that most matter to them.

Thompson speaks at the national Girl Scouts convention

At age 15, she started working on her Girl Scout Gold Award to develop a project that advances a sustainable solution to a community issue. Natalia decided to focus her project, Madison SOS (Speak Out, Sister!), on advancing girls’ representation in policy-making and ensuring that girls’ voices are heard before decisions affecting their lives are made.

For the past two years, Natalia has led several Madison SOS initiatives, including a workshop series for high school teen girls on community leadership, a forum highlighting the work of local women leaders, a community mural celebrating girls’ visions for the future of Madison, and a platform for action on critical issues affecting local girls’ lives. Madison SOS has received national recognition as a model for youth-led social change.

Mural project

Focus on intergenerational bridge building
While this makes a full student schedule, Natalia isn’t resting in her senior year. She is now working with Madison’s Grassroots Leadership College to develop and co-facilitate a workshop on intergenerational community activism. She is taking what she has learned about working with youth to facilitate their inclusion in broader social movements.

“I've seen firsthand how youth are not only left out of traditional policy making by their inability to vote, but also from grassroots community organizations with an older leadership,” she said. “I'm hoping that I can be a part of a mutual learning process at the Grassroots Leadership College.”

In the future, she hopes to do more thinking and writing about how to make civil liberties movements have a stronger understanding of doing intergenerational work, reaching out to youth, and working effectively across age and other boundaries that separate those working for social change.

As a bonus to her scholarship award, this summer Natalia will join scholarship winners from across the country for the national ACLU Youth Leadership Institute where they will be able to meet ACLU staff, learn about what they do, and participate in leadership development trainings.

For more information on the ACLU’s Youth Activist Scholarship for high school students or the ACLU of Wisconsin’s “Stand Up” workshop, please contact Stacy Harbaugh, Community Advocate.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Madison EOC: Please oppose change in youth curfew

*** Update: The Madison Equal Opportunities Commission voted unanimously tonight to oppose a change in the youth curfew law. Thank you EOC for standing up for youth rights! ***

The change would bump up the curfew for youth under 17 an extra hour: 10:00 pm on weeknights, 11:00 pm on weekend. Police officers asked city council members to propose this change so that they could have another tool to quiet neighborhoods. But police already have the power to stop people when they have reasonable suspicion that someone is breaking or about to break a law. Police also already have the power to cite people for disorderly conduct.

The ACLU of Wisconsin has written a letter to the EOC explaining our position that curfews shouldn’t be imposed on people, even youth, who are otherwise engaged in lawful activity. We hope our position will lend support to an EOC decision to oppose the curfew change and encourage the city council not to create a more restrictive juvenile curfew law.

This is a segment from our letter:
“While the Wisconsin Supreme Court recognized the constitutionality of curfews (a decision made about the temporary curfews imposed on Milwaukee streets during the civil unrest of the ‘60s), it is the position of the ACLU of Wisconsin that curfew laws deny the constitutional rights of due process, freedom of movement and equal protection. Only in emergency public safety cases are temporary curfews justified.

“Juvenile curfew laws inherently discriminate against young people and give police unlimited discretion to give citations or even arrest youth engaged in otherwise non-criminal or constitutionally protected freedoms. Limits on young people's freedom of movement should come from parents, not police.

“Furthermore, curfew laws treat young people like criminals when they have not committed a crime. This breaks the trust between youth and law enforcement, reinforces a belief that the criminal justice system is biased and inconsistent, and creates costly punishments that disproportionately impact low-income families.

“It was also cited in a Wisconsin State Journal article on November 17, 2008 that an earlier youth curfew would be able to be enforced before the Madison City Police officers’ shift change. Ultimately police shift schedules should not be the basis for the restriction of rights of an entire class of people or the creation of a more restrictive juvenile crime.”

Stay tuned to the Cap City Liberty blog for updates on the youth curfew proposal in Madison.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

News update: prison rate quadrupled, ban racist mascots, Obama reviews BC denial regs, more

Prison population rate quadrupled
Wisconsin has been doing a great job warehousing people. Monday’s Pew Center on the States report on incarceration shows that our state quadrupled its prison population in the last 25 years. We’re in the top 10 of states with accelerated incarceration rates. Nationally, it’s more like one in 31 people is behind bars. It’s a complicated picture of why so many people are in jail, but the “truth in sentencing” trends in punishing crimes has led to the denial of parole for even non-violent crimes. You can see characters “getting out for good behavior” in old movies, but not in Wisconsin today. In his budget proposal, Governor Doyle suggests that we look at early release for some incarcerated people and put them on probation instead. Early release and probation is cheaper than the warehouse: $3.42 versus $78.95. Now if we can just let people with felony convictions vote when they are released, we might have a better budget for taxpayers and a truer democracy for citizens.

Ban racist mascots
There is some attention being paid to the proposed law to ban racist mascots, including this editorial from the Appleton Post Crescent. Having a law that recognizes why race-based mascots for public schools are inherently an act of government discrimination would be a step in the right direction. The proposed law is fair, gives the community a chance to raise their voice in opposition to the mascot, and gives the Department of Public Instruction the responsibility of having a hearing on it.

Obama reviewing Bush rule on birth control denial
On the reproductive rights front, President Obama is taking a look at what can be done about Bush’s end-of-term passage of the unbalanced Department of Health and Human Services regulations on religious-based refusals of reproductive health care, including birth control prescriptions. The ACLU took a stand against the HHS regs because they gave too much power to health care providers to refuse prescriptions and care, even at the expense of patient safety. In a time of recession, high unemployment rates and chronic numbers of uninsured women, access to birth control and other reproductive health care services should not be compromised. Now that the Obama administration is reviewing the regulations, the ACLU hopes that an effective solution can be found to restore the balance between health care workers’ right to religious liberty and patients’ rights to barrier-free reproductive health care.
Read more about how the ACLU was among the hundreds of thousands of comments about the HHS regs before their passage.

Local events:
Community potluck and film screening on the criminalization of free speech activity at the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities 2008
Saturday, March 28, 7:00 pm, Madison Infoshop, 1019 Williamson St. Get an update on activists jailed for the political organizing of protesters. Suggested donation $5-10.

Prison issues film series (2nd Thursday of every month
Thursday, March 12, 7:00 pm, Rainbow Bookstore, 426 W Gillman St.
Wisconsin Books to Prisoners sponsors the films which will be shown in Wisconsin prisons one week and to the public the following week in order to facilitate a discussion between those inside and outside the system.
This month - "Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House"
“After gaining unprecedented permission from the Justice Department to gain access to the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, two indie filmmakers spent 5 weeks inside ‘the walls’ and produced a hard-edged and shocking expose of incarceration in the U.S.”

Thursday, March 5, 2009

No to censorship in West Bend Public Library

The West Bend Community Memorial Library Board on Tuesday evening postponed consideration of a complaint filed over gay-themed books in the library’s young adult collection. Over 200 people came to the board’s scheduled meeting, including a representative of the ACLU of Wisconsin. When the library takes up the issue, the ACLU of Wisconsin believes it should follow young adult policies that ensure materials are accessible, inclusive, and appropriate for young readers.

“I heard a lot of misinformation about gays and lesbians from community members at the meeting,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Youth and Programs Director Emilio De Torre. “Libraries are about intellectual freedom. I went to support those who want our libraries to be places that serve all community members young and old.”

Before the meeting was dismissed, informal discussion among the community members reflected divided opinions: some wanted gay-themed books to be removed entirely, while others argued for youth-oriented books to be moved to the adult section. Among those who supported youth rights, teachers and advocates wanted the age-appropriate materials to stay and remain available.

The discussion continues on-line. A free speech advocate posted a summary of the issue on the Motley Cow blog and has received comments that reflect the divided community opinions.

“Libraries need to follow policies that serve their communities,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “Parents are responsible for guiding their own children’s use of the library. Censors should not pressure libraries to take away that responsibility and right from other parents. It is especially distressing when censorship may harm young people by denying them access to information.”

"Censoring gay-themed books or moving age appropriate materials to another more restrictive section would be a violation of First Amendment principles," Ahmuty concluded. "The ACLU of Wisconsin will continue to monitor development in West Bend closely.”

Please read about the Library Bill of Rights, a document that has guided the philosophy of the freedom and professionalism of libraries in democratic societies since 1948.

You can also read more about the work the ACLU is doing nationally on artistic freedom and as a part of the annual Banned Books Week.