Monday, September 12, 2011

I'm Now a Card-Carrying Member of the ACLU ...

And a lot more!

After seven years of self-employment as a consultant, I’m really excited to share that I have taken a full-time position. I’ve just started as Director of Development for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana!

First, let me say that I’ve enjoyed the variety and the flexibility of consulting, and the opportunity to learn about, and make friends in, whole new industries – in particular, libraries, community development, and the emerging field of social media marketing. One of the reasons I pursued consulting was because, after the campaign to help create the new Indiana State Museum, I really didn’t see one single cause that I could see devoting myself to exclusively for the next three to five years of my career.

Self-employment also allowed me the flexibility to do a lot of volunteering, including with the Common Goal mentoring program, and a variety of outreach programs through Trinity Episcopal Church. I don’t feel like I’ve become “righteous” in my old age … but when I’m volunteering in the inner city I recall the scripture ‘whatsoever you did to one of the least of these my brothers, you did unto me’ and I feel like I’m in the right place.

And that’s a big part of what drew me to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU defends and protects the rights and liberties guaranteed to us in the Constitution. Guaranteed to all of us … including minorities, the poor, and the unpopular. Yes, the ACLU often makes the news for taking positions and cases that are controversial – because they often end up standing up for the people who otherwise would have no one in their corner.

This spring I was unhappy with many things that were happening legislatively in my state … and feeling powerless to do anything about it. When I learned that the ACLU was looking for a Director of Development, it was the first time in years that I saw an organization and a cause that made me stop and think: “That’s something that I could devote myself to exclusively for the next few years.”

I’ve spent big chunks of my career helping create two museums that are, at least partially, celebrations of Indiana culture. I love this state, as I love old friends and members of my family, even when I disagree with some of the things that happen here. Of course, it’s a pretty comfortable place to be a middle-class white male.

Along the way, I’ve been studiously non-controversial and non-partisan. I’ve avoided taking positions or sharing opinions on political, religious and even public issues that might alienate potential clients, donors, or collaborators. By doing that, I’ve missed some opportunities to promote my values and advance causes I believe in. A mentor once described this as “keeping my powder dry,” but at what cost, and to what ends?

The ACLU is – as I continue to be – non-partisan. It has strong supporters on both sides of the current configuration of the political aisle. It does fearlessly pursue its mission, though, taking on cases and causes without regard to popularity. A lot of these causes – LGBT rights, racial equality, reproductive rights, religious freedom – are causes that mean a great deal to me, and where recent trends in Indiana are having a powerful negative impact on friends and neighbors of mine. I’m eager to get off the sidelines on these issues.

The ACLU also vigorously defends the First Amendment rights of people and organizations with which I strongly disagree … but I understand that we cannot allow government to suppress their freedom of expression, or none of us can count on that freedom for ourselves.

Yesterday I joined the rest of you in commemorating the tenth anniversary of 9-11, in our own ways. Today feels very much like the first day of a new decade – certainly for me professionally and personally, and perhaps more globally. Perhaps yesterday’s services will open the door for a return to a more civil discourse, and I am looking forward to playing a role in that. The organization I’m now working for is the American CIVIL Liberties Union, after all…