Tuesday, May 11, 2010

ACLU Legal Observers: Witnessing History

On May 1st, 2010, supporters of the rights of immigrants and workers took to the streets in cities across the United States in support of comprehensive immigration reform and repealing Arizona's new racial profiling law. At the large marches in Milwaukee and Madison, ACLU volunteers were wearing bright yellow t-shirts that said "Legal Observer" or "Observador Legal" and handed out information on the rights of protesters.

ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation's legal observers are volunteers who are witnesses of First Amendment rights at protests. After training new legal observers on the rights of demonstrators and how to be effective and efficient witnesses, volunteers go out into the field to monitor protests from start to finish.

In Milwaukee on May Day, march organizers said that over 35,000 people took part in the massive protest. With a large team of volunteer legal observers, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation was able to distribute around 10,000 "Know Your Rights with Law Enforcement" brochures with information for participants about their right to protest and how to deal with police encounters.

Observers did not witness any civil liberties violations, but at one point a fire raged in a dumpster near the starting point of the march. Legal observers helped organizers steer the crowd to safety while Milwaukee District 2 Officer Robert Velez acted bravely and quickly to move the flaming dumpster away from the building to prevent a larger fire from spreading.

In Madison, legal observers marched with the May Day crowd from Brittingham Park to the Capitol. Madison Police did an excellent job rerouting traffic down W. Washington and the crowd was orderly as it marched past downtown businesses, houses with Mifflin Street revelers, and into the Farmers Market on the square. No arrests were reported.

In order to document potential violations of constitutionally protected free speech, each legal observer carries their trusty notepads, cameras, cell phones or video cameras. By remaining politically neutral during these events, we guarantee the rights of ALL to assemble and express themselves – regardless of their opinions. From hometown meetings to Tea Party rallies, immigration protests, tuition protests and sit-ins over workplace bias, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation volunteers are watching, educating and advocating.

Worried you're not qualified? Legal observers in Wisconsin are of all faiths, ages and races and have volunteered on foot, bicycle, car and wheelchair. Previous experience? Students, teachers, parents, children, artists, mechanics, lawyers, laborers, musicians, waitresses, businesspeople and retirees are all welcome. So if you have a desire to protect our freedoms and see history being made as you go, contact us.