The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon visited Astoria for the first time in years Thursday as part of a wider effort to reconnect, face-to-face, with communities across Oregon after the contentious presidential election last November.
The organization held a community forum at the Performing Arts Center, drawing an audience of more than 60 people to discuss legislation the group is working on in Oregon, as well as concerns particular to Clatsop County.
The ACLU is a nonpartisan organization “dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights” — a mission statement that takes the form of lobbying to support the passage of certain laws and prevent the passage of others at local, state and national levels, and providing educational outreach and legal assistance, among other actions. Thursday’s audience was a mix of longtime “card-carrying” ACLU members, non-members and people who signed up for the first time after the election.
Mary MacDonald-Garner and her husband were among the latter group. MacDonald-Garner, a bookkeeper at Gimre’s Shoe Store in Astoria, said she worked on Robert Kennedy’s Democratic presidential campaign; his assassination in 1968 devastated her.
“I just let politics go,” she said. “But now that I’m older I feel it’s something we have to do: We have to be involved. Our country is our country and I don’t recognize what’s going on.”
She attended Thursday night’s event with a friend. Both women work and are trying to find ways to be involved in local and state political and social issues in their free time. They are not alone.
The ACLU of Oregon has seen its membership almost quadruple since November while the number of cases and issues seem to expand weekly.
David Rogers, executive director of ACLU of Oregon, said he feels like he’s “aged a decade” in the last six months, but he also feels hopeful.
“There are so many collective acts of resistance and kindness that give me hope,” he said.
This January, people in Astoria organized a local Women’s March in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. An estimated half a million people joined the East Coast march, while millions more marched in solidarity around the world. Organizers in Astoria were ready to call it a success if 100 people attended the local march. They were astounded when an estimated 1,300 showed up instead.
Since then, several local activist groups have formed, including Indivisible North Coast Oregon, which now has groups based in Manzanita, Cannon Beach, Seaside and Gearhart, Warrenton, Astoria and on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula.
District attorney accountability
At the forum Thursday, Rogers announced ACLU of Oregon will be starting a campaign on “district attorney accountability.”
Rogers said Clatsop County might be one of the few counties where residents know the name of the district attorney, Josh Marquis, who has been a vocal proponent of the death penalty, a measure the ACLU believes is a “failed policy.”
“Most people don’t know who they are,” Rogers said. “Eight out of every 10 DA races for election in the state are uncontested. DAs tend to feel like they can do whatever they want to do. They have the ultimate job security. Few people know who they are so they’re not being held accountable.”
Rogers also discussed other pieces of legislation moving forward in the state Legislature, including one that would push against legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump allowing internet service providers to share or sell browsing history without the consent of consumers. Oregon’s legislation, HB 2813, would increase consumer privacy protections in the state, Rogers said.
It is an issue that is particularly pertinent to rural areas where people may be limited in their choice of internet service provider, he said.
Nancy Ross, an Astoria resident, board member for ACLU of Oregon and a former plaintiff with the ACLU, hoped people left the forum with a better sense of the resources the group offers, and “not feeling like the ACLU is a Portland organization that just works on Salem legislation.”