Civil rights

‘Orderly Event’ launches ACLU chapter

ACTIVISM<br>Former Chico Peace and Justice Center Director Robert Trausch is one of the co-founders of the Chico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Former Chico Peace and Justice Center Director Robert Trausch is one of the co-founders of the Chico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

CN&R file photo

Event info
The ACLU benefit will be held at the Park Tower Pavilion, 2030 Park Ave., on Saturday (April 5) from 6:30 p.m. until midnight. Tickets are on sale at the Chico Peace and Justice Center and Chico Natural Foods. Cost is $20, including a first-time membership in the ACLU, and $10 for students.

You’ve heard about the city’s disorderly events ordinance and the controversy surrounding its alleged infringement on civil rights. Well, this Saturday (April 5), Chicoans will have an opportunity to celebrate their liberties with an “Orderly Event,” as it’s being called, featuring music by the Pub Scouts, Dick and Jane and the Jeff Pershing Band.

The purpose: To raise funds for a local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, one being formed largely as a result of the battle over the ordinance.

“The disorderly events ordinance dramatized the need for an ACLU chapter in the city of Chico,” Robert Trausch, one of the organizers, explained.

Trausch, a veteran peace activist who in 1986 walked across the United States with his two children in the Great Peace March, will join others at the Park Tower Pavilion to mark the formal organization of the Chico Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Inc. It will serve Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Lassen and Plumas counties, he said.

The main focus of the Chico ACLU is going to be “rights education,” said Greg Tropea, a philosophy professor at Chico State University.

“People say the Constitution, the Constitution, the Constitution, yet only dimly understand it,” Tropea said. “What we’d like to do is improve awareness and understanding of constitutional rights.”

By sponsoring events and speakers and also writing letters to local newspapers, the Chico ACLU chapter plans to engage in education programs to enable the community to recognize the violation or infringement of civil liberties and the need for their protection.

“The disorderly events ordinance was a recognition that the climate in Chico, the cultural climate, needs sustained attention,” Tropea said.

That attention will begin Saturday, after the music dies down and following a presentation by attorney Michael Risher of the ACLU of Northern California, located in San Francisco. ACLU members will cast votes for 18 directors, and the Chico Chapter of the ACLU will exist.

The ACLU is the nation’s largest public-interest law firm, with a 50-state network of affiliate offices. Except for the U.S. Department of Justice, the ACLU appears before the U.S. Supreme Court more than any other organization.

“Since corporate media are owned and paid for by corporations and not by the common people, we have lost our voice,” Trausch said. “So, we need institutions like the ACLU to protect our voice and freedoms.”

The ACLU is often asked to explain its defense of certain controversial and unpopular groups like the American Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and the Nation of Islam. “We don’t let who our clients may be dictate whether or not we’ll take the case,” Risher said. “We take a principled position across the board to defend the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and our country’s history of protecting civil rights.”

Trausch echoed Risher.

“The ACLU doesn’t always like the individual or group they defend,” he said. “They defend the principle that everyone deserves equal protection under the Constitution.”

Part of the Chico Chapter’s role will involve litigation when necessary. The chapter will also use less formal problem-solving techniques, such as letter writing.

A good example is the Jan. 2, 2008, letter from the ACLU of Northern California to Mayor Andy Holcombe and the Chico City Council, signed by Risher, arguing that the disorderly events ordinance violated both the U.S. and California constitutions. This played a role in the council’s decision this week to rewrite the ordinance (see story).

“We’d like people in the area to join the ACLU and join the mailing list,” Tropea said. “This is a service organization, so we want people to bring in their own concerns.”