So far, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has brought its Campaigns for Justice Tour to 10 cities in northern California including Merced on March 2 and Fresno on March 9. Visalia is a future stop.
At the morning Fresno session, Abdi Soltani, the executive director of the Northern California affiliate, along with Linda Lye, a staff attorney, and Laila Fahimuddin and Bonnie Akimoto, both from the organizing department, welcomed 10 people representing Fresno nonprofits that work with issues concerning youth, schools, immigration and criminal justice. Stone Soup, Californians for Justice, Centro La Familia, Fountain of Youth LBE, Barrios Unidos, Central California Criminal Justice Committee, American Friends Service Committee, Prison Moratorium Project and Californians United for a Responsible Budget were all represented. The affiliate’s goal is to network with local organizations to share resources and to work together on local problems.
At lunchtime, 26 Fresno State students participated in a presentation called “Know Your Rights.” Lye discussed students’ right to demonstrate, including what forms of speech, what types of actions and what locations can and cannot be regulated. She also discussed the planning and strategies needed if a group decides to engage in civil disobedience. For example, who will contact which lawyer when you are arrested? How will you arrange bail?
The day concluded with a 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. session at Shepherd’s Inn. The 32 participants comprised local ACLU members, interested individuals and representatives of organizations including National Network in Action, Planned Parenthood, the West Fresno Coalition for Economic Development, Peace Fresno, Central California Legal Services and Marriage Equality USA.
The same topics kept coming up all day: immigrant rights, women’s rights, DUI checkpoints and towing, school problems, gang injunctions, free speech, equality for all and cutting the state budget by reforming drug laws and abolishing the death penalty instead of cutting essential services. There was so much discussion of school problems that Soltani promised a return visit by staff lawyers to engage in an in-depth discussion of school issues.
Soltani invited everyone to participate in the ACLU-NC Conference held in Sacramento later in March so that the networking and sharing could continue. The ACLU affiliate is actively reaching out to work with a number of local organizations as it has been doing with Californians for Justice on the school dropout issue.