2023 marked the ACLU SoCal’s centennial year. As the organization's new chief legal and advocacy officer, I am so proud to look back and celebrate countless accomplishments won for SoCal residents and our civil liberties at large. I am equally proud to continue to defend those hard-won rights, expand them, and ensure that they are available to all of us.
This year, we commemorated the ACLU SoCal's relentless pursuit for justice all while continuing our day to day work to advance civil liberties across the southland. We are privileged to be here a century later, celebrating the work of our predecessors and laying the groundwork for future generations.
Here are some of highlights and victories of 2023.
January – 100 years of the ACLU SoCal
The ACLU SoCal is the oldest affiliate of the national ACLU, and since our founding, we have fought for justice, equality, and freedom in all arenas of life in our region. We celebrate the stories of courageous leaders, activists, youth, and community organizations who have shaped not only the history of the ACLU SoCal, but of California and our country. Through our centennial blog series, we shared stories of ordinary and courageous people like Yetta Stromberg, who fought for her right to raise a red flag in 1929, Troy Perry, with whom we worked to secure a parade permit for the first Los Angeles Pride Parade in 1970, and students like Eli Williams, who sued the state of California for better schools and won. Our centennial is a special moment to celebrate leaders in our communities and their long-lasting legacies. Learn more about the history of the ACLU SoCal.
February – Mauricio Hernandez Mata, former deported veteran, becomes a U.S. citizen
Our Immigrants’ Rights teams at the ACLU SoCal and our national office have long worked to bring deported veterans home to the U.S. This year, we rallied in support of the Veterans Service Recognition Act, and we continue to urge congress to honor its promise of naturalization to those who decide to serve our country. Because legal status is not automatically granted upon enlistment — or even discharge — deported veterans can spend years living in exile. Fortunately, there are stories of hope, like that of Mauricio Hernandez Mata. Despite living in Mexico for almost a decade, on February 8, Mauricio became a U.S. citizen and returned home. Watch Mauricio’s ceremony.
March – Housing is a human right
On March 8, the ACLU SoCal and housing advocates traveled to Sacramento, California and introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 10 (ACA 10). Rooted in human rights law, ACA 10 would establish a government obligation to (1) respect the right to housing by not interfering with that right; (2) protect the right to housing by shielding the enjoyment of affordable and adequate housing from third-party threats, and (3) fulfill the right to housing by affirmatively enacting policies and budgetary allocations to ensure that all Californians have secure housing. If passed, Californians will have the chance to vote to add this right to our state’s constitution. We believe this amendment would be a substantial step toward ensuring housing access for all Californians.
April - Lobby Day
Every year, the ACLU affiliates in California and supporters convene in Sacramento to lobby their legislators for bills that champion social justice. With the theme of "Justice Rising," activists lobbied for the right to housing, the need to curtail the use of police attack dogs, and to stop reverse warrants. We’re proud that 25 SoCal residents joined us and lobbied 12 of our state legislators. Students from our Youth Liberty Squad also attended, many of whom were in Sacramento for the first time and gained first-hand experience of California's legislative process.
May – ACLU SoCal 100 in City Hall
On May 16, the ACLU SoCal was recognized at Los Angeles City Hall for our 100th anniversary celebration. The office of Los Angeles City Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez introduced a resolution to recognize ACLU SoCal Day. We were happy to take a moment to pause and celebrate all our accomplishments fighting for civil liberties. Watch the acknowledgment.
June – Pride Month
June was celebratory from start to finish. We hosted our annual Advocates for Justice event at the Grammy Museum, honoring individuals like actor and activist Kendrick Sampson, Stephanie Luna and Helen Jones Phillips of the Check the Sheriff coalition, and past clients like Evan Minton. Read a recap of the event.
Our history with the L.A. Pride Parade runs deep, and this year's celebration was our biggest yet. In 1970, we secured the permit for the first permitted L.A. Pride parade. We are honored that in our centennial year, the ACLU SoCal was named the Community Grand Marshal at the 53rd L.A. Pride Parade. We marched down Hollywood Blvd. with celebrity guest Janelle Monáe, past clients, staff, and over 250 community members. Check out artwork and photos from the parade.
July – Reimagining Community Safety in California
In partnership with Catalyst California, the ACLU SoCal released two reports analyzing the Los Angeles and Riverside sheriff’s departments’ patrol activities and budgets, and the ways in which they undermine community safety, waste public dollars, and inflict harm on communities of color. By using data from the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, the report revealed that deputies in these counties spent nearly nine out of every 10 hours on stops initiated by deputies rather than responding to calls for help from community members. The bottom line: even with their enormous budgets, sheriff’s departments don't keep us safe. Read the reports.
August – Racial Justice Act in Orange County
For years, the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) office tried to hide information from the public about how it prosecutes people. This is illegal, but thanks to the efforts of local organizations like Chicanxs Unidxs de Orange County and the Peace and Justice Law Center, we brought this case to court. On August 22, a judge ordered the OCDA to start producing records critical to implementing the Racial Justice Act, a law which allows people charged with or convicted of a crime to raise issues of bias or discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or national origin. Read more.
September – Latine Voting Rights
On September 13, the ACLU SoCal reached a settlement requiring Riverside County to provide Spanish translations and live Spanish interpretation for all future board meetings. This settlement comes after Inland Empire United and county residents sued Riverside County Board of Supervisors over its newly drawn 2021 district map, arguing that the map didn’t give Latine voters equal opportunities to participate in the political process, even though the Latine population represents 52% of Riverside residents. As we approach the 2024 elections, the ACLU SoCal and its partners will continue to take necessary action to ensure all California voters can participate fairly in our democracy. Read more about the settlement.
October – Victory! Senate Bill 274 becomes law
For years, the ACLU SoCal’s Education Equity team has worked hard to pass legislation to end suspensions for ‘willful defiance,’ a catch-all, vague category. Finally in October, Senate Bill 274, or the "Keep Students in Schools" bill, was signed into law. California is the first state to end "willful defiance" suspensions — a hard-earned victory, which will benefit students across the state.
November – Rallying for asylum rights
On November 7, the ACLU SoCal joined community partners like CHIRLA, CARECEN, and the Immigrant Defenders Law Center at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge President Biden’s asylum ban. No matter the administration, seeking asylum is legal and a human right.
December – Centennial Bill of Rights Awards
2023 was the year of labor — notably in Hollywood and in the local hospitality industry. Historically, the Bill of Rights Awards have taken place on or around the anniversary of the Bill of Rights (December 15), but as an affiliate, we believe that when we work together, we are stronger. In solidarity with all workers, the ACLU SoCal rescheduled its Centennial Bill of Rights Awards to February 18, 2024, and relocated to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, the first to reach an agreement with Unite Here Local 11. We look forward to celebrating our honorees, and we hope all our supporters, family, and friends will join us. RSVP now.
As we mark another year of progress and victory, we hope that these stories provide momentum and inspiration to continue the pursuit of justice. We have learned from our predecessors over the last 100 years that the ACLU SoCal is powered by the courage of our clients, the talent of our staff and volunteers, and the steadfast support of our members and donors.
Our Centennial Annual Report offers more stories from our history—stories of hope, of change, and of the tenacity required to continue the fight for justice and liberty for all.
We wouldn’t be able to do this work without ACLU members and activists across Southern California. In the coming year, we will call again on the power of our supporters. If you signed one of our petitions this year, marched with us, or simply liked one of our TikTok videos, from everyone at the ACLU SoCal, we thank you for taking action. We look forward to making another year of history with you.