I was blissfully unaware of the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, until it was pretty much over. I didn’t spend a lot of time on social media during the day, so when I started getting news updates, one after another, in my email from the Boston Globe, I read with horror about the violence at a “Unite the Right” rally, an event that included participation by the KKK and Nazis, I was appalled. I started seeking out other sources to get further information and read post after post at various media sites around the internet.
And then, in one report, I found a detail that many of the other sources had ignored. The city of Charlottesville had tried to cancel the event because they didn’t like the groups or their ideology, understandably, and revoked the permit. The racist group took the city to court, and with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, the decision was overturned because the city tried to silence the white supremacists by denying their constitutional right of free speech guaranteed by the First amendment.
The irony of Progressives’ money being used to ensure the free speech rights of racists hit me like a bolt of lightning.
A few months back I wrote a post about how progressive organizations had received a huge influx of donations from Progressives and Moderates after the presidential election. Planned Parenthood gained 300,000 new donors in the last months of the year, and the ACLU received $23,000,000 during that time. Donors did this to stick it to the new President and his administration. I’m sure these new supporters thought their donations would be put to use serving Progressive causes. I’m betting that few of these donors would have ever expected the ACLU would help the KKK or Nazis.
I’ve heard from a few friends who donated to the ACLU after the election on social media. Those who are in my age group, early fifties to late fifties, were unhappy with what happened, especially the injuries and loss of life, but were mostly gratified that the organization was consistent with their mission of protecting the constitutional rights of all citizens, even those with unpopular opinions and ideologies. While I don’t support racist groups or their vile ideologies, I will admit I was gratified by the actions of the ACLU. Perhaps, that is because we remember the 1970s, when the organization fought for the Nazis’ right to hold a march in the Chicago suburb of Skokie. Skokie has a large Jewish population, and at the time, many of those residents survived World War II and the concentrations camps that exterminated so many people. At that time, I couldn’t understand how anybody in their right mind could fight for the rights of people that awful, and I despised the ACLU for that. However, at that time I wasn’t quite a teenager, and I didn’t understand that taking away the rights of despicable individuals or groups could set a precedent allowing the government to take away my rights or someone else’s right. I had to age and mature to understand that. Many younger people who gave to the organization are not aware of its history, as many schools never get that far in US history courses, and many of their teachers don’t mention these events, if the ACLU even comes up in the conversation.
The fact is, the ACLU is not an exclusively progressive organization. Its support of the unpopular groups, both Left and Right, is in accordance to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans. That is their mission! German Lopez at Vox.com has written an excellent piece about the history of the ACLU’s actions that will give you some more background that you might find informative.
The question that interests me now as a fundraising professional is, how will these new donors who contributed to “resist” Donald Trump will react to the news that some of the money they gave for what they thought would be liberal causes actually was used to protect the rights of a reviled group of violent racists? Will they continue to provide financial support and hope that their money is used the way they want it to be used? Will they only give to specific causes? Or, will they stop giving to an organization that they feel betrayed them?
I have already seen signs that there is dissatisfaction on the part of these new donors. According to the Twitter feed for the ACLU, there are some very unhappy former supporters.
Progressive donors have been known to punish nonprofits that disappoint them, although Conservatives have also been known to do the same. I recall the reaction to the Komen Foundation’s decision to cut off Planned Parenthood after a Congressman from Florida indicated that PP would be investigated for misusing Federal money. Komen was attacked by Planned Parenthood supporters, and support from donors and volunteers dropped like a rock. The breast cancer organization really hasn’t been the same since, and now, its chapter in Phoenix, Arizona is closing or has recently closed completely.
I hope for the best for the ACLU. While I don’t always support some of the causes they support, I have found a greater respect for the organization, because I know that they are looking out for all of us, and not just some of us.