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Bereft of Hope in Politics? Think about the ACLU

Are you someone who finds solicitations for donations to political parties and candidates in your e-mail inbox or regular apartment mailbox on a frequent basis? Do you find yourself looking at these requests for money with despair? Have you begun to feel that there is no place in electoral politics for an idealist? Do you worry that no candidate can measure up to your standards? Does it all seem like a big sell-out to you?

You’re not alone. In fact, there are whole new industries of political organizations that begin with the proposition that politics is broken. From the Southern Poverty Law Center to Unity08, organizations appeal to us with the claim that they will “take our country back.” Then what is done with the money we send? It’s spent on more mass mailings, or hokey “membership cards” or “certificiates of participations” or machines to sign some famous person’s name on “special personal correspondence.” In the end, it seems like the machine is just there to perpetuate the machine.

So what is someone with a little spare cash, a desire to help and a fair amount of despair to do?

The first thing you could do is to throw your hands up in the air, say, “they’re all rotten,” and sink into a chair, grumbling. You could grumble a lot. There’s nothing wrong with grumbling. I often grumble. It helps to dispel the clouds of false optimism we get from those Cialis commercials. I mean, face it, we are all going to die, and the Earth will be incinerated by the Sun in 5 billion years, and then there’s the chilly, energy-less universe a few billion years after that…

OK. So the second thing you could do is to sort through all those industrial giants of ineffectual outrage marketing and try to find one that actually accomplishes something. Leave the mass marketing materials behind and pay attention to the news. When a piece of juicy malfeasance is brought to light, who helped do the bringing? When a powerful person has been called to account, who did the calling? When a legal wrong has been righted, who did the righting?

I can think of a good handful of organizations that appear fairly often as the bringers, the callers, the righters. But the one that appears most prominently in my mind is the American Civil Liberties Union, known for short as the ACLU.

The ACLU files countless Freedom of Information Act requests, and when the Bush administration denies them, it has the resources to follow up and successfully demand their release. You know about warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency because of the efforts of the ACLU.

The ACLU has an army of lawyers to bring suit against the government when it violates the Constitution. Bush’s military tribunals plan was brought to a halt for a time thanks to the ACLU.

The ACLU works in the areas that you likely care about, given your readership of Irregular Times. It is engaged in practical efforts with direct consequence right now regarding the Military Commissions Act, warrantless surveillance, extraordinary rendition, torture, freedom of speech, travel watch lists that treat people as equivalent to cargo, the no-notification provisions of the Patriot Act, instances of religious proselytization by local, state and federal government bodies, same-sex marriage rights, parenting rights for gay and lesbian parents, reproductive rights and bodily self-determination, and access to contraception.

I’m sure I’ve missed a whole lot in that list. Go ahead, visit and type in “ACLU.” You’ll find out a lot about what the ACLU does. And yes, you’ll find vicious criticism of the ACLU there too, predominantly from right-wing sources. That’s because the ACLU is so effective. The American Civil Liberties Union scares the right wing, and for good reason.

You’re looking for a place to give a little money, but you want to be sure that your donation will be expended in the pursuit of your political ideals, not just in publicized hype? Think about giving to the ACLU.

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