Professor advancing in ACLU leadership

February 22, 2018
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
Traci Griffith

Traci Griffith

Saint Michael’s College journalism professor Traci Griffith was elected to the Executive Committee of the National American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Board during a late-January meeting in Atlanta.

“It’s an opportunity to step up and have Vermont have a more significant role in setting an an agenda for the national organization – it gives us more of a voice,” said Griffith, who chairs the Saint Michael’s Department of Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts and also is an attorney. She has been active with the Vermont ACLU Chapter for many years, including her role for the past four years as Vermont affiliate representative to the national board.

Griffith’s additional duties on Executive Committee will include setting the national ACLU agenda and guiding the organization on specific initiatives, along with addressing finances and organizational policies. “It bumped up the commitment quite a bit,” Griffith said, explaining that some Executive Committee meetings are done by phone, though several each year are held in New York City along with one someplace else, as with the January meeting in Atlanta.

Strong personal motivations led her to seek the added responsibilities, Griffith told more than 80 representatives present in Atlanta before a vote was taken, as she recounted recently. “That’s what my speech was about – obviously the First Amendment has always been my civil liberties issue as a journalist and lawyer – but what changed it for me was my son,” Griffith said. “I’ve got a brown boy with a Hispanic last name and all of a sudden he was the nexus of all these issues and I realize that it’s my responsibility, my job to make the world better for him and other kids.”

Her Executive Committee term is two years and when her Vermont-affiliate representative term with the national ACLU winds down soon, she plans to try for an at-large seat so that somebody else from Vermont can also be more involved nationally.

Griffith said it is an exciting time to be involved with the ACLU, given its recent remarkable surge in membership. “It’s a whole different world now post-Trump,” she said. “Pre-election we had 425,000 dues-paying members and now we have 1.75 million.” Further, pre-election ACLU counted 40,000 “sustainers” who made larger contributions, and now it’s 255,000.

Her priorities on the board will mostly revolve around her belief that “civil liberties are under assault, which is not anything new and not just under this administration – they’ve been under assault for quite a while. From my perspective the ACLU has the role and responsibility of monitoring intrusion on civil liberties.”

Some timely issues she mentioned specifically were the recent rounding up of immigrants by ICE agents, the ongoing and growing problem of mass incarceration in the U.S., the so-called “Muslim ban” proposal of the current administration, and the “Me Too” movement and women’s rights in the face of widespread sexual harassment. “Midterm elections are coming up – where do candidates stand on some of these issues?” she asked.

Griffith said her activities with ACLU provide rich material and examples in the Saint Michael’s classes she teaches, and students can benefit from the insights that her activity provides since “the heart of what I teach is the First Amendment.”

“I walked away from the recent meeting thinking, ‘thank goodness there are people doing this work, with so much craziness going on in our communities,” Griffith said.

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