Driving through a snowstorm toward Detroit, I wondered every time I lost control of my car "What have I gotten myself into now?"
I've volunteered and served on the ACLU of Michigan Lawyers Committee for almost a decade. Even with all this experience, starting work as staff attorney for the newly-opened West Michigan Regional Office has been a revelation.
For weeks, I'd worked alone at the new ACLU of Michigan office in Grand Rapids and I was looking forward to spending a day in the Detroit office for orientation.
I arrived in Detroit after the snowy drive, relieved just to have survived. With barely a moment to catch my breath, I walked right into a press conference about our lawsuit on behalf of a woman whose city has banned the medical marijuana she uses to treat her multiple sclerosis.
As the reporters and cameras left, our communications director had to rush off: the Michigan Supreme Court had decide to allow a case to proceed regarding the right of poor defendants to a competent lawyer and she had to prepare a response. She shot me a welcoming smile and promised to have a proper introduction over coffee.
Our Legal Director Mike Steinberg told me that the Supreme Court had also just accepted another ACLU case defending a disabled woman who had been unable to pay child support for an amount double her monthly income.
That day we also met with a man who has lived in the U.S. since he was a child, yet is at risk for deportation to a country whose language he can’t even read. While awaiting his fate in jail, he suffered horrendous treatment that just shouldn’t exist in a free society. These stories reminded me how essential the ACLU of Michigan's work is to protecting the rights of all our citizens.
By lunch, my brain was whirling with dozens of cases, ideas and faces. Kary Moss, our executive director, later told me that this was a pretty typical day at the ACLU of Michigan. But for me, it was an amazing introduction to the breadth of work in which I’ll be engaged.
Although I’m still not completely sure what I’ve gotten myself into, I know it is going to be quite a journey through the Bill of Rights. With the support of our members and my amazing colleagues, I know that I’ll be able to meet any civil liberties challenges that arise.
That's more than I can say about another trip across the state in winter weather.
By Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney