Protecting Civil Liberties: Our Role

Civil liberties are critical to the preservation of our democracy, ensuring freedom of the press and protecting our rights to speak, worship, assemble, and more. These rights are not without limit, but we must remain vigilant to ensure they are safeguarded nationally and locally.

In January, Edwin Yohnka, Director of Communications and Public Policy at ACLU Illinois, spoke at an AAUW Naperville webinar (available here) in January on Civil Liberties and the Supreme Court. In his discussion, he outlined recent decisions which threaten civil liberties and current cases which bring further challenges. Despite these threats, he communicated a sense of optimism and possibility when he encouraged participants to act to protect these liberties at the local level. 

Mr. Yohnka emphasized that we should not passively rely on lawyers and the Supreme Court to build protections. Democracy is not a spectator sport and requires active participation, especially at the state and local level. We need to engage new muscles in order to make an impact.

Local legislators often need assurance that they have the support of their constituents in supporting civil liberties when there is controversy. Those who wish to limit these liberties will show up–at meetings, through social media, in the press, via email and the telephone. If we value civil liberties, we must show up as well. We need to know who our city, county, school board, and state representatives are and actively reach out to them. We need to attend their meetings, send those emails, write letters to the editor, and make phone calls. We need to do this individually and collectively. 

Our voices are more powerful when we advocate FOR policies, such as civil liberties, instead of only speaking out against policies. We need to actively engage in advocacy as much as possible. When a legislator supports our policies, we need to acknowledge and thank them. As is often the case in life, we are more likely to voice our complaints and remain silent when we are satisfied with the outcome.

Most importantly in this election year, we must vote to elect candidates who share our concerns and will support our civil liberties. We must be informed and engaged voters.

I-Act, the Issues Action Team of the Naperville AAUW, seeks to be a collective voice for the values of this organization. We advocate for equity and empowerment of women and girls, including protection of their civil liberties. Our voice is amplified when others speak as well. When we reach out for action on particular legislation or policies via email or social media, please make time to take action. Don’t hesitate to reach out to if you wish to become more engaged in this work. Thank you to all who are already speaking out!