Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian, March 9, 2017
The American Civil Liberties Union is launching an ambitious plan to create a swath of “freedom cities” capable of resisting Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
The civil rights organization, which has emerged as one of the Trump administration’s major foes, plans to leverage individual cities’ local authority to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The ACLU will reveal the freedom cities effort during the official launch of its new grassroots online platform, People Power, on Saturday. It will distribute a set of “ordinances” to activists, encouraging them to pressure local sheriffs and police commissioners to adopt more lenient policies on undocumented immigrants.
“As Donald Trump does what he does, the greatest political power is in the cities and towns across America,” said Faiz Shakir, the ACLU’s national political director.
“Because constitutionally, cities have sovereignty rights unto their own.”
The ACLU is hosting a People Power action event on Saturday, when it will issue specific guidelines to activists on how they can have an impact on immigrant rights at a local level. The event will be live-streamed, and Shakir said ACLU supporters had already set up 2,300 watch parties across all 50 states.
“Essentially we want people to think of their cities as cities of resistance,” Shakir said. The ACLU will issue nine ordinances to activists on Saturday, and ask them to present them to their local officials.
The ordinances resemble a pledge that could be made by local sheriffs or police commissioners. They include a commitment to “require a judicial warrant” before detaining people at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and to not “authorize or engage” in surveillance of a person or group based on their perceived immigration status.
“We will be asking people to arrange a meeting with their sheriff or their police commissioner or their local precinct commander and raise these draft ordinances at that meeting,” Shakir said. “And have them discuss what their policies are with respect to immigrants. That would form the basis for follow-up meetings and follow-up policy advocacy.”
Activists will be encouraged to submit details of their meeting to the People Power website, Shakir said, enabling more people to attend. The ACLU has tripled its membership since the night of the November election, according to the Washington Post, and collected more than $80m in donations.
In planning the action, Shakir said he had “deviated away from the theory that [political action] needs to be simple”.
“I’m saying, OK, people are fired up and I’m going to test that and give them something a little bit difficult and hard and complex but has meaningful impact.”
The freedom cities plan represents a new foray into grassroots organizing for the ACLU, which has traditionally focused more on legislative action.
Shakir, a former senior adviser to former speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and former Senate minority leader Harry Reid, joined the ACLU on 20 January – Trump’s inauguration day – to kick off the organizing effort. He has hired people who worked on Bernie Sanders’ campaign and for the White House under Barack Obama to work on the project.
The initial focus is on immigration, Shakir said, but the ACLU plans to expand, and have activists lobbying local officials on LGBT rights, women’s equality, police surveillance and other issues.