ACLU Director Urges Local Democrats To ‘Push Back’

by SC Reporter David Rohn

Local Democrats were urged by the Florida director of the American Civil Liberties Union to “push back” at the voting booth in November not just to elect a Congress that blocks some of the worst impulses of President Donald Trump, but also to affect state and local issues.

In a speech to the Democratic Club of the Islands titled “Defending Human Rights in the Era of Trump” at the Sanibel Community Center Thursday evening, March 22. ACLU Director Dr. Howard Simon said of the Trump presidency, “This is horrendous what is happening in our country.”

But Simon warned the audience not to count on the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller or impeachment by Congress to remove Donald Trump as president.

“If there is no change in Congress,” he added, “I think impeachment is off the table no matter what the outcome of the Mueller investigation. Impeachment is, after all, essentially a political activity.”

Florida ACLU Director Howard Simon urged Democrats to turn out the vote in November not only in response to national issues, but also to affect state and local politics. SC photo by David Rohn

Simon especially criticized Trump for trying to delegitimize the press, assaults on the judiciary, his attacks on science and exacerbating the divisions – especially the racial divisions – in the nation.

“I don’t know how all of this ends,” he remarked, “but for four or five reasons, this is the greatest attack on our democracy that I’ve ever seen.”

For all of the bad news in the country, Simon argued, the good news is that people are responding. He cited the women’s march, the gathering of people at airports across the country to block the Muslim ban, and recent election outcomes in Virginia, Alabama and Pennsylvania as evidence of a mobilization of opposition to what is happening in Washington.

Membership in the ACLU, he added, has soared from 450,000 to nearly 1.8 million since Trump’s election.

Simon warned that change would not come about overnight, and he urged Democrats not just to focus on Trump, but also on local and state issues.

Noting that Florida has the third largest prison population in the nation, with 47 percent of adult offenders jailed for non-violent offenses and 53 percent of offenders incarcerated who have no previous convictions on their records, Simon claimed that too often the state is using its prisons as a substitute for a mental health system.

Accusing officials of too often using prisons for get-tough-on-crime “political posturing,” he added, “There are 300 prisoners in Florida who are dementia patients who don’t even know they are in prison.”

In his speech, Simon took aim at Florida’s permanent denial of voting rights to 1.7 million former felons in the state who are barred from voting, even though they have paid their debt to society. He said the provision was put in Florida’s constitution in 1868 as an effort to deny the vote to former slaves.

Urging support for Proposition 4, on the Florida ballot this year to restore voting rights to those who have served their prison sentences and paid their debt to society, Simon argued, “This is not a partisan issue, and if you make it a partisan issue you’re going to lose. This is a moral – almost religious – issue. The only issue is that these people have paid their debt to society, and should their full citizenship rights be restored?”

During his talk, Simon also warned about narrowly averted threats to privacy rights and the concept of separation of church and state in Florida.

“There’s some bad news out there,” Simon told his audience. “But there’s also good news as well, especially if you get out there, and vote, and push back.”

New DCI officers and board members elected at the meeting were: Chet Sadler, president; Garry Weiss, vice president; and board members David Bath, JoAnn Reece Hilliard and Elaine Schaeffer.

The DCI will host a farewell season potluck at 6:30 p.m. April 19 at the Sanibel Community House.

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