Celebrating Bill of Rights Day with Gratitude

Dec 16, 2014
Shayna Gelender

Page Media

2014 bill of rights day

Yesterday was Bill of Rights Day, and here at the ACLU of Northern California we throw a party every December to celebrate it. We’ve been doing this for many years, but this year our Bill of Rights Day celebration felt different.

It’s an odd time to celebrate. Across the country, racist police practices are claiming lives, with no accountability for the perpetrators. Demonstrators are coming out en masse to express their outrage and exercise their First Amendment rights, only to be met by militarized police and unconstitutional surveillance. The events in Ferguson, in New York, and in every other community are a call to action. We need to continue stepping up and making change in our communities.

While it feels like an odd time to celebrate, it’s also a time in which we need to support those in our communities who continue to fight for justice and equality. Which is why I was so grateful last weekend to spend time with our Bill of Rights Day Celebration honorees who inspire me because they step up every day.

The ACLU-NC Alameda County Paul Robeson Chapter received our Outstanding Chapter of the Year award. This amazing chapter has made it their mission this year to fight for educational equity and to stop an unchecked and troubling mass surveillance system in Oakland. And they played a part in the successful campaign that passed Proposition 47, which struck a huge blow to mass incarceration in California.

We also got to hear from our wonderful Field Fellows and Organizing Externs — young community leaders from all across Northern California who have been organizing to implement AB 60, a law that allows all drivers to apply for a driver’s license, regardless of immigration status. Check them out in that photo at the top. I am so proud of their accomplishments. 

And finally, we got to honor two powerhouse leaders in the fight for civil rights and civil liberties.

The recipient of the Lola Hanzel Courageous Advocacy Award was Quinn Delaney. Quinn has been working for racial justice for over two decades. It was a privilege to hear her speak with great passion about the movement to challenge systemic racism and abuses of state power. Her current work at the Akonadi Foundation focuses on eradicating the school-to-prison pipeline. For many children this is where contact with the criminal justice system starts.

The 2014 Bill of Rights Day Celebration also happened to mark the tenth anniversary of our Technology and Civil Liberties Project, which has worked to make sure that—to quote project director Nicole Ozer—“as technology has advanced, our civil liberties have not been left behind.”

On this ten year anniversary, we owe a debt of gratitude to our 2014 Chief Justice Earl Warren honoree, Professor Pam Samuelson. Pam is a pioneer in technology and civil liberties and the Richard M. Sherman Distinguished Professor of Law and Information at the University of California, Berkeley. She has been the driving force behind developing public-interest technology law clinics across the country and has inspired a new generation of attorneys to dedicate their careers to protecting the public’s digital rights. With drones, license plate readers, stingray technology and warrantless searches of email, we are facing new tools for racial profiling and police abuse of power. But thanks to pioneers like Professor Pam Samuelson, we have the expertise we need to create precedent and legislation that is on our side.

So I’m grateful.

I’m grateful for the activists that marched this weekend in the Bay Area and across the country. I’m grateful for local organizers who challenge surveillance policies that infringe upon privacy and encourage racial profiling. I’m grateful for students like our Field Fellows and Organizing Externs who are so committed to their communities. And I’m grateful for people like Quinn and Pam, who are visionaries for justice.

Shayna Gelender is the Managing Director and Director of Organizing & Community Engagment at the ACLU of Northern California.