DC Influencer Q&A: Anthony Romero, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union

Anthony Romero, American Civil Liberties Union executive director, talks to Jaimy Lee about how the economy impacts civil rights efforts

What issues for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have become more relevant in the past year?

Romero: The war on terror continues to be one of the top priorities for the ACLU. The question over the growing inequality in America is one that we're all concerned about. That's an issue we're beginning to explore more closely. Who are the communities that are losing their homes in larger numbers? What's the impact of some of these government bailout programs on poor people and people of color? How has the scapegoating of immigrants increased since the economic meltdown?

How do you keep an issue like immigration front and center in the national debate when so much is focused on healthcare reform and executive pay?

Romero: Part of the way we keep that issue alive is by bringing lawsuits. A lawsuit is a great way to tell a public story. You always have two opposing sides. You have a winner or a loser. You have a client. If we do our jobs right as lawyers, we're not just addressing the issues of that particular client; we're also framing a broader public debate about it.

In your role as executive director, how do you communicate with the public?

Romero: We communicate through our newsletters, our annual report, our letters to our members, as well as our action alerts.

Part of what the new technology has afforded us is a new opportunity to talk more informally. If we only stick with the traditional outlets, we're going to miss a whole generation of people who get their news and information elsewhere. However, we take the traditional outlets very seriously. They're still read by key opinion leaders. They are an important source of historical record.

How has the ACLU incorporated economic issues into its activities?

Romero: Just as the government needs to address the economic recession and impact on Americans, we need to address it. For us to remain relevant for a large portion of the American public, we need to think about the civil rights and the civil liberties implications of the economic meltdown. We'll evolve as we better understand the facts and who's particularly affected by the recession.

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