Faiz Shakir 

"You've heard us say, 'See you in court.' Well, my job is to make sure that we also say, 'See you in the street. See you in the legislature. See you at the ballot box.'"

There's a small part of Faiz Shakir that still wishes he'd pursued a career in major league baseball (his boyhood dream). That said, his team at the American Civil Liberties Union has a pretty decent batting average. This past week, a federal judge ordered the state of Idaho to pay $260,000 in legal fees to a coalition, including the ACLU, that successfully battled anti-transparency Ag-Gag laws. But Shakir, the national political director at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the ACLU, says it's far from game over for Constitution defenders. That, he said, will be a big part of his message when he's be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Dec. 13, for the ACLU of Idaho's 25th anniversary dinner.

Can you trace your own advocacy to a particular event or series of events?

It was 9/11. There I was, a Muslim-American and a senior at Harvard. You'll remember that a few of the 9/11 hijackers traveled through Logan Airport in Boston. I felt, very acutely, the politics of war, privacy and liberty. I advocated for not going into war in Afghanistan. At the time, that was a super unpopular position. That was probably my first fundamental engagement in anything political. If you recall, nearly everyone was in favor of going to war. I just didn't think it was the smart thing to do.

To that end, patience, insight and a fair amount of time usually informs us to be more cautious about rushing to pick up a weapon.

That's when I first became exposed to the ACLU, one of the few organizations standing up for a vision of justice and questioning some of our approaches to national security. If you recall, President George W. Bush had something like an 80 percent approval rating. Any criticism of him was very unpopular. But the ACLU isn't worried about popular opinion. Fourteen years later, I joined the ACLU. I started on Jan. 20, 2017, the same day that Donald Trump was inaugurated as our president.

How would you describe what you do for a living to a layperson?

The ACLU wages critical fights for civil rights and liberties. You've heard us say, "See you in court." Well, my job is to make sure that we also say, "See you in the street. See you in the legislature. See you at the ballot box."

Can I assume that ACLU membership has increased during the Trump years?

We've quadrupled. We had about 450,000 members nationwide shortly before Trump was elected. Now, we're [at] about 1.8 million dues-paying members. Our number of volunteers and supporters is even greater than that. But when I hit the ground running here at the ACLU, it was important to urge us to still think of ourselves as a grassroots organization.

Recently, I joined a colleague at Idaho Press to take a closer look at a private prison facility, operated by The GEO Group, that houses hundreds of Idaho inmates near the Texas/Mexico border. Can you speak to the business of incarceration?

You literally have an industry that makes money by putting people in cages. Their explicit motivation is to throw more people into prison. It's unhealthy and detrimental to liberty in America because you're outsourcing law enforcement. It all contributes to our nation's problem of mass incarceration. I recently traveled to southern Texas and there's an incarceration economy in some of those border towns. Uber drivers are making their money just by transporting more workers to private prison facilities. A good many workers aren't making more than $25,000 a year. They know it's unjust, but the private prison has taken over their economy.

How closely do your colleagues at the national office in D.C. work with the ACLU of Idaho?

The office in Idaho has a great reputation here in D.C. General cognizance, awareness and litigation, all the ways to effect change. I'm particularly excited to interact with people in Idaho on so many things that we care deeply about: reproductive health, immigration rights, voting rights, mass incarceration.

So, liberty and justice for some, but not for all?

The last line of the Pledge of Allegiance is stuck in my head: "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." That's what we're fighting for. When you look at all the issues that we fight for, we repeatedly face a situation where it's liberty for some, but not for all. It's the role of the ACLU [to fight] for those that can't fight for themselves.


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