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The American Civil Liberties Union – at Your Service

It was just three years ago, in July 2007, that the new Greater Fresno Area Chapter of the ACLU-NC (Northern California) got sufficiently organized to hold its first full agenda Board meeting. Because the homeless lawsuit against the City of Fresno was just concluding, we were immediately famous for defending the homeless.

Actually, we were too new to have had anything to do with that lawsuit. Credit was really due to Mike Rhodes, publisher of the Community Alliance, and to the ACLU affiliate in San Francisco. But because we were mistakenly famous for defending the homeless, monitoring the homeless situation has been one of our major activities ever since, not only in Fresno but also in Visalia, Madera and even in Merced.

We have also been involved in every imaginable situation since. We were immediately caught up in the River Park teen curfew and in the city’s practice of charging a permit fee to register voters on Fulton Mall.

By October 2007, we were fighting the city on its proposed unconstitutional Film Permit Ordinance. The proposal was eventually improved to the point that it seems to have been permanently tabled by the City Council. If you check the Fresno Film Commission page on the City of Fresno Web site, it still says (to paraphrase and read between the lines), “We have an unconstitutional film permit policy. But don’t worry because we don’t enforce it.”

We have also been involved in police issues, including the establishment of the Office of Independent Review (OIR), video surveillance and a request for a Department of Justice investigation. We are now checking out complaints about the county jail.

We have worked with school and Williams Act issues especially in southwest Fresno. We have addressed free speech issues at Fresno City College and Fresno State University and helped start an ACLU campus organization at Fresno State. We have presented workshops to high school students and held a workshop for families of prisoners.

We have networked with Californians for Justice, the National Network in Action, M.E.Ch.A (El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztl n), Peace Fresno, Death Penalty Focus, Equality California, California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), Central California Legal Services (CCLS) and the Fresno County Library on various projects.

But as much as we have done, a local chapter is just a group of citizens concerned with civil liberties. They have no real expertise, except perhaps for the one or two lawyers who are on the board each year.

The real accomplishment of a local ACLU chapter is to help the affiliate, which does have legal resources, to focus on the needs of the area. And the San Francisco affiliate sometimes seems like it is Fresno’s and the Central Valley’s personal legal resource.

Beyond the advice and assistance the affiliate gives the local chapter’s board, the affiliate itself jumps in on many issues, not the least of which are police issues. Affiliate lawyers have addressed the situation with the health professor at City College and the city’s failure to respond to a Public Records Act (PRA) request in the Glen Beaty incident.

The affiliate is working with Californians for Justice on the high school “pushout” problem, with Equality California and the CRLA on gay rights issues and with the CCLS on homeless issues. An affiliate lawyer is now also addressing police practices and immigration enforcement issues affecting communities in Tulare County.

Now we need to raise some money both for the chapter and to support the affiliate’s work in the Fresno area. We invite you to a fund-raising event to be held on Saturday, July 31, at 7 p.m. at 1785 W. Dovewood Lane in Fresno. Proceeds will benefit both the Fresno Area Chapter and our affiliate in San Francisco.

We ask you to donate what you can, hopefully at least $20; no one will be refused for lack of funds. However, because the affiliate is just ending its 75th anniversary celebration, perhaps a $75 donation would be symbolically appropriate for those who can afford it. In any case, join us for an evening of music, light refreshments, pleasant conversation and perhaps even passionate discourse about civil liberties on July 31. To RSVP or for more information, contact Bill Simon at simonaclu@sbcglobal.net.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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