USA First Look

How the ACLU is training protesters in the 'resistance' movement

The American Civil Liberties Union on Saturday held a nationwide training event aimed at encouraging organized protest and ensuring that protesters are aware of their rights. 

A group of people hold up signs during "The Resistance Training" hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union on March 11, 2017, in Coral Gables, Fla.
Luis M. Alvarez/AP
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Thousands across the country tuned in to a live broadcast from the University of Miami's Watsco Center on Saturday afternoon – not to cheer on the Miami Hurricanes basketball team, but to better prepare themselves for a burgeoning resistance movement. 

A town hall-style event hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), dubbed "The Resistance Training," aimed to encourage organized protest and educate attendees on their rights as protesters. In a series of speeches, ACLU leaders and other guests spoke of the importance of resisting policies that threaten the civil liberties of marginalized groups and outlined various ways to take action. 

The event marked a distinct strategic shift for the civil liberties group, which has traditionally focused on courtroom litigation. The ACLU's new campaign, PeoplePower, is the organization's first grassroots mobilization effort in its nearly 100 years of existence, leaders say, driven by a recent surge in membership and widespread activism efforts across the country in the months since President Trump's election victory. Since November, group membership has tripled to more than one million, with more than 135,000 people signed up to take part in the PeoplePower campaign as of Saturday. 

"Before, our membership was largely older and much smaller," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero told Reuters. "Our members would provide us with money so we could file the cases and do the advocacy. What's clear with the Trump election is that our new members are engaged and want to be deployed." 

"It's completely unprecedented," he added. "People are wide awake right now and have been since the night of the election."

Speaking at the event on Saturday, Mr. Romero said priority issues for the campaign are immigration, free speech and religious freedom rights, civil and reproductive rights, and LGBT rights. 

"We will bring all the lawsuits necessary to defend these rights," he said, as reported by the Associated Press. "We'll do the work in the courts. You do the work in the streets. People are motivated. They want to be engaged." 

The Resistance Training coincided with the ACLU's launch of a new grassroots online organizing platform, PeoplePower.org, a tool to help people planning a local protest or rally connect and coordinate with others around the country. The site will also provide details of ACLU initiatives.

Those unable to attend the event on Saturday were able to tune in to a live stream, an opportunity that thousands took advantage of. Far-flung supporters held more than 2,000 local events around the country to listen and discuss, Romero said. 

Among the many who tuned in from afar was Cecilia Junier, a 61-year-old insurance medical examiner from Dartmouth, Mass., who listened to the broadcast with a dozen or so fellow resisters at a coffee shop in Warren, R.I. 

"Every day we wake up and hear about another crack in democracy and we're afraid. And we want to do something about it," Ms. Junier said. "I donated monies. I called senators and representatives and signed petitions but it's not enough ... We want to take our power back." 

After the event, Junier told the Providence Journal that she most liked the idea of organizing fundraisers for newly resettled refugees. 

At a similar gathering in Dubuque, Iowa, about 60 people came together to live-stream the training event and discuss constructive protest methods.

"We've seen that the Trump agenda is one that suppresses civil liberties. So we just want people to be aware of their rights," said one of the meeting's organizers, Steve Drahozal, to local news station KCRG. "So this is the first of many discussions that we are going to be having."

As part of a new campaign to create "freedom cities," the ACLU is encouraging individuals across the country to engage local officials in discussions about immigrant policies in their city or town in an effort to combat Trump administration deportation policies. To simplify the process, the ACLU has prepared "model" ordinances aimed at protecting immigrant rights that supporters can encourage local legislators to adopt. 

Mr. Drahozal and others in Dubuque say they plan to use the tactics suggested by the ACLU to try to make their community more immigrant-friendly.  

"People are going to be encouraged to meet with law enforcement officials in Dubuque County to talk about those and to find out how many of those policies Dubuque County is following," Drahozal said. 

Speaking alongside Romero and other legal experts at Saturday's event in Miami was Padma Lakshmi, an Indian-born cookbook author, actress, model and television host, who drew upon her personal experience moving to the US at the age of four. In the years since, she told the crowd, she feels the country has become less welcoming to newcomers – and hopes that will change. 

"Lately I've started to feel like an outsider," she said. "What makes America great is our culture of inclusion. We must not tolerate the intolerance."

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