My name is Shaadie Ali, and I've recently stepped into the role as interim executive director for the ACLU of Wisconsin. I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and share my journey with the ACLU.
I was born and raised in the Milwaukee area. Growing up, my father, an immigrant from Palestine, and my mother, a lifelong Wisconsinite, instilled a deep desire for equality and justice. These issues were particularly salient for me as a young boy, as the only Muslim child in a predominantly white elementary school. Despite the discrimination and harassment we occasionally faced, my parents went to great lengths to make my siblings, and me, feel proud about our identities.
I was first drawn to the American Civil Liberties Union at 16 after learning they were fighting back against the NYPD Mosque surveillance program. <[link removed]> It was thrilling to learn that an organization was not only making principled defenses of Muslims to worship free from police surveillance, but actually winning in court. I'll never forget the sense of empowerment I felt in realizing that there were people just a few miles away who were, in a real sense, fighting for the rights of people like me.
I sent an email to the ACLU of Wisconsin that same night, asking if I could volunteer. I asked if there was anything they needed help with around the office; I didn't care what I did as long as I could be of some use to the organization.
The Wisconsin affiliate quickly connected me with some other ACLU youth organizers. Because of the stark racial segregation of Milwaukee, these meetings were the first time I was ever in a space primarily with other people of color who weren't family. Talking about politics and racial justice with other young people of color in the ACLU office in Milwaukee was a deeply formative experience that I continue to draw on to this day.
I've been involved with the organization ever since that first meeting. I soon found myself leading workshops for other high schoolers. After a few years in college, I was elected to one of the student representative positions on the ACLU of Wisconsin Board of Directors. Some staff at the National ACLU heard about my work as a student organizer, and I ended up on the cover of the 2017 issue of the ACLU's Stand Magazine. <[link removed]> A few years later, I was appointed to the National Board of Directors.
When the Board asked me if I would consider taking on the role of Interim Executive Director, I thought back on the email I sent the ACLU almost nine years ago. Nine years later, I am even more passionate about that work and the team that makes it happen. My answer now is the same as it was back then: "I'm happy to help out however I can."
In assuming this position, I understand how great a responsibility I'm taking on. This organization has been fighting for justice alongside the people of Wisconsin for more than 90 years, and the threats posed to our civil rights and civil liberties today are still daunting. In 2021, we are seeing mounting attacks on our right to vote, deliberate efforts to discriminate against trans and other LGTBQ+ people, assaults on reproductive freedom, and the continuation of the profound racial injustice that has plagued our country since its founding. We face many pressing challenges ahead, but our team is as committed as ever to continue to fight for every Wisconsinite as we build a state and a country that we all want to live in.