Tonight Governor Jennifer Granholm will deliver the State of the State address, outlining her agenda and priorities for 2009. You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to guess that her focus will be the economy, and justifiably so – the economy is on all of our minds.

As you listen to her lay out a plan to assist the revival of the car companies, create new jobs, and provide workers training for new skills, don’t forget that progress and social justice have a profound impact on the bottom line as well.

How can that be? Because when everyone is able to fully and equally participate in society, we all benefit.

The ACLU of Michigan is at the forefront of the challenge to ensure that all citizens – regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or age – have the opportunity to play an equal role in our communities.

We are focused on:

Educational Equity – If we can create equal opportunities and equal access to education, we can stop the cycle of creating new generations of those who are disadvantaged in all walks of life, cannot fulfill their potential in employment, and cannot contribute fully to their own communities and to wider society.

Justice System Reform - Michigan’s deteriorating system of public defense is failing all its citizens, which, in turn, exacts a sizable economic toll. Because the current system of providing attorneys to those that cannot afford to hire their own is left to individual counties, the burden on the poorest counties means that limited resources are stretched even further at the expense of education, social services, healthcare and other critical government programs.

LGBT Equality – Research has shown that the economic success of a region is directly related to the measures it has taken to ensure diversity and tolerance. A large gay population demonstrates that a community is diverse and progressive, which makes it easier to attracts new businesses and other development. Detroit ranks among the bottom of the LGBT tolerance index, and its survival requires the type of growth that only increased tolerance can bring.

Immigration – It is widely known that a vibrant, thriving immigrant community is essential to the creation of jobs and ultimately the stability of the economy. The annual net measurable economic gain to this country from immigration is between $1 billion and $10 billion. Unfortunately, a number of factors – from ICE raids to racial profiling – work to make Michigan an environment that is relatively inhospitable to immigrants, thus preventing us from capitalizing on the many opportunities that our immigrant population offers.

Voting Rights - Through the very act of voting, citizens become active participants and stakeholders in their own community. In this way, our voting-rights work builds on all of the projects discussed above by ensuring that newly empowered individuals and communities partner with us in the continual development of their rights through civic engagement.

I know what you are thinking – that creating change around these issues will take time – too much time to make an immediate difference in the economy.

However, as we rally around this crisis, we must not be short-sighted. We must keep the big picture in mind and understand that if the right to an education were guaranteed to every child, if the system of indigent defense provided adequate legal counsel, if LGBT citizens were treated with the same dignity and respect, if immigrants were given the opportunity to truly breathe free, and if no voter were unnecessarily turned away from the polls on election day, then we would have built a strong foundation capable of carrying us through these difficult economic times.

Think about this as you listen to the Governor’s words. Then stop and ask yourself - who is more likely to create positive change for Michiganians? Will it be the government? Will it be the corporations? Or will it be Michiganians like you and me?

Then ask yourself if you’d rather use those few extra dollars to make an investment for the long-term in Michigan by making a gift to the ACLU.

By Melissa Combs, ACLU of Michigan Major Gifts Officer