Barbara Jones, a proud member of the ACLU for many years, strongly believes in the protection of civil liberties for individuals. She joined the American Civil Liberties Union in an attempt to become a part of the ongoing political change in our country and continue to help fight social change. Barbara agreed to talk on behalf of the Champaign County ACLU and the organization’s involvement in Champaign-Urbana and urges individuals to join and participate in the upcoming events and programs available to the public.

Smile Politely: Can you briefly explain what ACLU is?

Barbara Jones: ACLU is a organization that protects and fights for the civil liberties of America in areas such as free speech, freedom of the press, immigration, women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, you name it. It’s about making sure that immigrants or refugees, for example, know what their rights are in a particular situation such as whether or not they will be deported. The ACLU right now is doing a lot of work at the border with the children who have been separated from their parents. Some ACLU attorneys have even gone into Latin America to try to work within the countries to see if they can find ways to reunite the children with their parents and families. 

SP: Champaign has a large ACLU chapter, and the number of members continues to increase. What is the current involvement and impact of the Champaign County ACLU chapter in our society?

Jones: The chapter here is one of the most active in the country. In regards to the Champaign County chapter at ACLU, there were about 600 members in 2016 but we now have two thousand members. Our membership increased immensely after the 2016 election because people were really upset by the election and immediately became concerned about their civil liberties. The biggest myth about ACLU is that you have to be a lawyer to join. However, the program is open to all, we have members all over the place. You just go to the ACLU website and even the Champaign County ACLU website and there is an easy step-by-step process available to those that would like to join. Every ACLU program is free and open to the public and we truly welcome everybody. The one nice thing about an organization that protects civil liberties is that we promote free speech and we promote people asking whatever questions they want and expressing their opinions in a nice and safe environment.

SP: What are some current programs that ACLU is working on?

Jones: ACLU is working on prohibiting police drones at protests because we believe that people have a right to assemble and a right to protest and they shouldn’t have to have a drone recording them during this process. We are also working on the concept of police being able to collect data at a traffic stop. It was controversial at first because of the issue of privacy, but we decided as an organization that it is a good thing, because we have identified that people of color get pulled over much more than anyone else, so we are trying to fight to keep that (data collection) going. It is great because Champaign-Urbana is pretty good about getting our representatives to get on board with ACLU’s programs.

Right now they are talking a lot about the election in Florida where voting rights have been extended to convicted felons in the state, which is a huge victory for ACLU. It was a bill supported by Democrats and Republicans, and as of now there will be some exceptions, but convicted felons will be able to vote if they have paid their dues, similar to the current law in Illinois.

SP: You've got a program taking place on November 29th at the Champaign Public Library. What will that entail?

Jones: The program is called "Justice for All, Protecting Civil Liberties Here in Illinois and Across the Nation," and will feature Khadine Bennett, the director of Advocacy and Intergovernmental Affairs at the ACLU of Illinois, who is going to talk to us about her work. We put this program together because we, as a chapter, are worried that after the election people will begin to relax or quit fighting and resisting. We want to present something that isn’t just about the issues, but what individuals can do. Bennett will talk about the agendas happening in Springfield mostly, such as criminal justice reform, women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, and net neutrality. She will show how to sign up on the website, and how to join and get legislative alerts. For example, if you feel strongly about net neutrality, you can click the button and find out what the legislation is in Springfield and learn where to go from there, whether it is submitting a letter in favor of the legislation or simply understanding more about what is going on in regards to the current legislation topics. After Bennett has finished speaking about taking action and encouraging further involvement in ALCU, local organizations will explain what individuals can do about the different social injustices, such as immigration and criminal justice reform. Both Bennett and the local organizations are trying to get a message across to the public that there is still work that needs to be done in order to truly see more change. 

To learn more about Khadine Bennett, you can check out her bio on the ACLU Illinois website, and to find out more about joining the Champaign County ACLU, head here.

"Justice For All" will take place at the Champaign Public Library Robeson Pavilion Rooms A and B from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on November 29th. You can view the Facebook event here.