Helen Keller, one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) almost 100 years ago, recognized that while one person can make a difference, many working together can make real change. Since its founding 50 years ago, the ACLU of Virginia has worked together with many people and groups in our work to bring real change to Virginia.
We have followed the lead of courageous clients who have refused to settle for the status quo or to live lives in the shadow of Jim Crow. Working together with these brave people over the last 50 years, we changed the laws prohibiting people of different races or the same sex from marrying the person they love. We helped end sex segregation at Virginia colleges. We got courts to redraw gerrymandered election districts to assure black voters an equal opportunity to elect the local government candidates of their choice. We challenged state laws and government action that limited free speech or the free exercise of religion, including limits on panhandling, worship in prison and mandatory prayer at public meetings. We fought to end discrimination against transgender people in prison and Virginia public schools.
As we look toward the next 50 years, we know our ability to continue to make change will require us to focus even more on how we can be “better together.” The progress we want to see cannot be made by working alone or by only working in the courts. To build our power to make change, we have to use all our tools—legal advocacy, legislative advocacy, and public education and engagement.
Our two top priorities now are guaranteeing a right to vote in the Virginia constitution and realizing our vision of eliminating racial disparities in our criminal justice system. To achieve these ambitious goals, we will need to center in the work those directly impacted by the current discriminatory systems and structures. We will need to join and build broad coalitions that will work together to build a more perfect Commonwealth in which all are truly equal participants and beneficiaries. As Helen Keller said, “[a]lone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” With your help, we can be “better together.”