On Saturday, March 17ththe American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation celebrated a year of civil liberties defense and leadership at the annual Bill of Rights Celebration event. We recognized some of the volunteers and activists who were leaders among civil libertarians in our state. And we welcomed speaker Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s National Voting Rights Project who put Wisconsin’s new voter ID law in a historical context of voter suppression.
McDonald has been the director of the Atlanta-based Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union since 1972 and has been an attorney and law professor. ACLU supporters in the audience may have known the history of poll taxes, literacy tests and other voter suppression efforts that have come and gone in America. But upon hearing McDonald’s review of why the Voting Rights Act was so important to fight discriminatory practices like requiring black voters to have a white voter vouch for them at the polls, we were all reminded that making it harder to vote for anyone is an offense to our democracy. McDonald’s experience has made him a deeply well-respected leader in the work to protect voting rights and his wisdom was shared at a critical time in Wisconsin as our new voter ID law has recently been stopped by a state judge and the ACLU of Wisconsin’s federal lawsuit continues.
Each year we recognize some of the civil libertarians in Wisconsin who made a difference.
The Jack and Lucy Rosenberg Youth Civil Libertarian of the Year was given to some of our Young Legal Observers for their immediate and energetic response to the need to document the rights of protesters in Madison and Milwaukee, particularly during the large-scale protests at our Capitol in 2011. These young people have been trained to be witnesses at demonstrations and to document any violations of First Amendment rights that may occur in our public spaces. Accepting the award, Josh Del Colle spoke about how the ACLU of Wisconsin has been instrumental in teaching young people about their rights.
The William Gorham Rice Civil Libertarian of the Year was given to the Solidarity Sing Along, for expression of the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of assembly. The Solidarity Sing Along is an event that has occurred at the state Capitol every weekday since March 11, 2011 soon after the building was ordered to be reopened after massive demonstrations. For the past year, participants of the Solidarity Sing Along have demonstrated a clear commitment to protecting peaceful expression in the Capitol rotunda. Singing a rendition of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the audience stood and sang with the Solidarity Sing Along participants who traveled from Madison to be a part of the celebration. Song leader Chris Reeder gave an inspired acceptance speech in which he said our civil liberties are only protected when we use them and after this year, he would never take those basic rights for granted again.
Finally the Eunice Z. Edgar Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Rose Daitsman for her life-long dedication to economic and gender equality and social reform. Upon accepting the award, Rose have a nod to her involvement with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom by quoting Jane Addams and talking eloquently about how the work to protect individual rights must be done by each generation. Rose Daitsman has been a member of the ACLU of Wisconsin since 1989 and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Milwaukee ACLU Chapter. She worked to promote gender equity and the elimination of racial discrimination in engineering education, and has worked to promote the implementation of Civil Rights Law and the Human Rights Treaties of the United Nations.
A special thank you to our major sponsors:
Friends of Jane Addams: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Bill Lynch & Barbara Manger
Athan & Nancy Theoharis
Azeeza Islam and Musical Infinity
Also big thanks to all of our silent auction donors including Alterra Coffee, American Civil Liberties Union, American Players Theatre, Art Night Books, Athan Theoharis, Brennan’s, Chippewa Valley authors, City Tin, photographer Phil Ejercito, Harley-Davidson, artist Helen Klebesadel, Lela Boutique, Lynden Sculpture Garden, Laughlin McDonald, the Milwaukee Admirals, Milwaukee Art Museum’s Outsider Art, the Milwaukee Brewers, Pfister Hotel, Karl Ratzsch’s German Restaurant, Skylight Music Theatre, Solidarity Sing Along, Smac Design