This blog post was written by our Strategic Communications Manager Meredith Mason.
I was a kid when the movie “The American President” was released, and I grew up admiring the way President Andrew Shepherd proudly said in his epic finale speech, “Yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU.”
Even before I fully understood what the ACLU does, it seemed like an organization I wanted to be a part of. As an adult, I learned more and became a proud card-carrying member myself. Now I’m thrilled to join the staff of the ACLU of Virginia as its new strategic communications manager.
Like so many Americans, activism has been a time-consuming unpaid side gig for me. I've spent most of my career up to now at marketing agencies, so I'd like to introduce myself using a common marketing tool: brand pillars.
Marketing pros use brand pillars as a way to identify key components of an organization, and I think most people, while complex beings, have a few primary drivers of behavior. Here are my own brand pillars:
I’ve cried at almost every movie I’ve ever seen. If I sense that even a bird is unhappy, I’m liable to tear up. I could single-handedly keep the waterproof mascara industry thriving. Empathy can make me react in strange, often funny ways, but I treasure it as an intense and highly valuable emotion because it compels me to grieve for every person I meet or read about who is treated unfairly.
I have immense privilege. Empathy also helps me recognize that the circumstances I was born into have allowed me to live easily and well, and it fuels me to fight for everyone to have the opportunities and freedoms I enjoy. As we're bombarded with news alerts on our phones and talking heads yelling over each other 24 hours a day, empathy prevents indifference. It's a reminder that anytime we talk about criminal justice or immigration or reproductive rights, we're talking about human beings, not hypotheticals.
My mom once told me if she had to sum me up in one word, it would be "determined." I suppose you could interpret this pillar as stubbornness, but I'm also an optimist, so let’s go with "determination."
Working at marketing agencies, I loved helping small businesses be more successful, but I didn't feel like I was doing enough to help other people. So, my husband and I moved from East Texas to the politically engaged, diverse, artistic capital of Virginia. I continued my work in marketing while I devoured as much information, met as many people, and volunteered in the community as often as I could. I was determined to pivot from agency life into nonprofit work. After two years in beautiful Richmond, the opportunity arose to apply for a job at the ACLU of Virginia. The second I was offered the job, I accepted without hesitation.
I've played music (piano and French horn) most of my life, filled stacks of journals, and tried my hand, quite unsuccessfully, at other creative hobbies like painting, sewing, cooking and dancing.
My desire for a new creative outlet drew me to join the student newspaper my freshman year of college. I garnered a spot on the editorial page with a political column and quickly earned a reputation of being a troublemaker at my conservative private university in Houston. Working as a student journalist cemented my love of writing and stoked a fire for political activism.
The newsroom I worked in was one of the most diverse places on campus, and I was lucky to be welcomed into a group of aspiring journalists, most of whom identified as LGBTQ. They helped me recognize the intense fear of persecution that so many people live in just because of who they are. When Texas voted to add a ban on gay marriage to the state constitution, I knew I could use my political column to advocate for compassion and equal rights. That article got me fired from the newspaper, but it gave me a deeper sense of purpose. Over the following decade, I protested to get the law changed, and even after celebrating marriage equality, I’ve had to dust off my “love wins” t-shirt to protest hateful rhetoric and regressive policies. A troublemaker’s work is never done.
Over the years I've protested for LGBTQ rights, women's rights, black lives, immigrants, gun control, science – I'm able to be one extra body in a large mass of people, and being a part of that collective power gives me purpose.
I'm incredibly grateful to the ACLU of Virginia for giving me the opportunity to work toward a more free and equal Virginia. The people I’ve come to know in this organization are passionate about their work. They challenge each other every day, and they are driven by the common goal of liberty and justice for all. The fight for civil rights is at a crucial point, and it's a privilege to be a part of that fight every day.