For all of us who believe passionately in civil liberties and civil rights, this has been a momentous as well as an arduous year. Excitement over the election of our nation's first-ever African American commander in chief has given way to sober resolve: we will pressure President Obama when we must to address Bush-era mistakes and deliver on the promise of a better America. Meanwhile, the misbegotten economic policies of the last decade have culminated in the worst economic downturn in 80 years, bringing hardship to our doorstep as well as to virtually every other corner of society.

The economic crisis has challenged the ACLU of Southern California like never before. We’ve suffered staff layoffs and budget cuts on many fronts. Nevertheless, as we look over the work that our organization has accomplished in the last 12 months, we are struck by how much the ACLU/SC has accomplished in these challenging times.

Our organization continues to be one of the busiest public-interest law firms in Southern California, with 85 active cases. And we have a great responsibility to bear. As our fellow nonprofits on all sides struggle with the effects of the recession, the work of the ACLU becomes more crucial than ever.

No organization has done more to illuminate the legal transgressions and abuses of power perpetrated by the Bush administration than the ACLU. Without us, memos detailing the government’s widespread, illegal use of waterboarding and other forms of torture might never have come to light. Without us, so-called “enemy combatants” might still be facing indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, and the government might still be citing the “state secrets privilege” in claiming blanket immunity from litigation over torture-related claims. With the case of Naji Hamdan this year, our affiliate unmasked one of the most frightening aspects of the Bush-era national security abuses – the notion of proxy rendition of a U.S. citizen by a foreign government, in this case the United Arab Emirates – and we continue to press for his release into American custody.

As we move forward in 2009, it becomes more and more clear that the distressing legacy of the Bush era will be a lasting one. The damage – political, social, legal and economic -- will take years to undo. But we take heart when we see so many board members stepping up to keep their commitment to this organization, through donations, phone calls, letters to your representatives and more. Our spirits are lifted by the legacy of the ACLU/SC over the last 12 months, which can be summed up with terms like these: Commitment. Passion. Perseverance. Defending the vulnerable. Responding to need. Challenging the abuse of power. We’re extremely proud to say that these concepts define the ACLU/SC not only in good times, but in difficult ones, too.