By Kelly Ehrenreich
Sixty ACLU members, volunteers and staff represented the ACLU of Michigan in the Ann Arbor Independence Day parade earlier this week. Marching through streets lined with rows of people of assorted ages, races and political stripes, we chanted over and over, "This is what democracy looks like.”
And as I joined that walk through Ann Arbor, I realized just how true that chant rang.
Watching the mosaic of faces light up with recognition and pride at the ACLU, I realized this is what democracy looks like. It is colorful and patriotic and diverse. It cares more for its neighbors than for any political party or ideology. It can love America, decking itself out in red, white and blue—but it can at the same time wave a sign reading “Dissent Is Patriotic” and shine a light on the challenges our nation still has to overcome.
Democracy means we can celebrate the nation’s birthday and still take note of how much more America needs to grow up.
As a proponent of civil liberties, I’ll readily admit that this year has made it difficult for me to be as proud of America as I want to be. The assault on immigrant rights as reflected in Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, the push to drag us back into a retrogressive drug policy, the recent voter suppression effort launched by the so-called Election Integrity Commission—all have helped chill the confidence I felt in where America seemed to be headed prior to last year’s election.
But these events have not cooled my patriotism. Instead, they’ve galvanized me, same as they have the tens of thousands of others who’ve shown support for organizations like the ACLU and resistance to the current administration’s anti-democratic impulses. Celebrating the 4th of July felt different this year, more urgent and important than ever. Like the march to honor the holiday, Independence Day this year was a reminder that we all have a stake in this democracy, and 241 years in, our work is nowhere near done.
We have to reform our criminal justice system; protect immigrants’ rights; ensure affordable, quality healthcare, education, and access to water for all; demand freedom of the press and the right to vote. We have to seek an end to gendered and racial violence; we need people in this country to feel safe on the streets, in their homes, and using their private devices.
The great thing is, the ACLU is doing that work, in Michigan and throughout the country. Moreover, the work we're doing isn't niche or partisan. There is something for everyone. You don’t have to be a civil-rights lawyer to call your local and state lawmakers to ask them to implement welcoming city policies. You needn’t be a lobbyist to urge Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to rebuff the Trump administration’s calls for sensitive voter information. And you don’t have to be a firebrand activist to be a part of our People Power movement.
Our work is bigger than one legal case or legislative action. It’s a movement. It’s thoughtful and humane and raucous and uncompromising. It is dissenting and diverse and determined.
It is what democracy looks like.
Kelly Ehrenreich is a student at the University of Michigan Law School and an ACLU of Michigan legal intern.