The following piece was written by Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, for Commonwealth Magazine.
The 2016 presidential election unleashed forces of racism, sexism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and authoritarianism that, we now know, have been simmering just beneath the surface of the collective American polity.
But the election of a president who campaigned on threats to dismantle protections for the least among us also has mobilized millions of freedom-loving people to abandon the assumption that someone else—somehow—will save our republic. Simply put: it’s up to us.
Fortunately, when threats to liberty are greatest, the people of Massachusetts are at our finest.
Throughout the Commonwealth, and nationwide, people are convening in groups, both large and small, to devise ways to stand together against threats to civil rights, civil liberties, our republican form of government, and the health of our planet.
While no one knows precisely what challenges a Trump presidency will bring, we do know that he campaigned on threats to create a mass deportation force to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants, to punish women for accessing abortion and to limit access to contraception, to ban the entry of Muslims into our country and to aggressively spy on those who live here, to reauthorize forms of torture, and to use libel laws to further weaken the press and stifle dissent.
These proposals are anti-American, wrong-headed, and unconstitutional. Stopping them will require local activists, advocates, elected officials, and ordinary people working together in a fight for fundamental freedoms and rights.
Massachusetts has a unique and critical role to play in this effort. We are the birthplace of the American Revolution; courage and freedom run deep in our veins. Our state constitution—our “Declaration of Rights”—was written by John Adams, and served as a model for the US Constitution in protecting human rights and our republic.
We are a center of scientific innovation and higher learning. Our cities and towns teem with students and scholars from around the world, who bring brilliance to our high-tech innovation economy and energy to our political debates. Massachusetts voters have a penchant for independent thinking, often electing Republican governors and Democratic legislators, and backing third-party candidates, in ways that require us to develop bipartisan approaches to policy-making.
With all of this historical privilege, however, comes a deep obligation to ensure that Massachusetts remains a free state, as one of the best hopes for ensuring that America remains a free nation. This isn’t a time for business as usual. We owe it to future generations to ensure that our republic is not lost on our watch.
States play a key role in ensuring freedom in times of national crises. State and local officials can—and must—refuse to collaborate with federal agents seeking to undermine fundamental freedoms and rights. This is work that needs to happen in the courts, in the State House, online, and in the streets.
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