Dear ACLU of West Virginia Family,
Five years ago, I boarded an ACLU-chartered bus bound for the nation’s capital. The U.S. Senate was about to appoint Brett Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land despite multiple credible accusations of sexual assault against him. The ACLU of West Virginia had invited me and other survivors of sexual violence to travel with them to Washington, D.C. to confront Sen. Joe Manchin and ask him to oppose the nomination.
When I stepped onto the bus at its Morgantown stop, I knew I was among friends. People of every socio-economic class were there. There were Black people and Brown people. There were trans and nonbinary people. I didn’t feel like I was part of something performative; it felt inclusive and empowering.
For the first time, I felt like the Red, White and Blue was for me.
We didn’t win that day. Manchin listened as we poured out our deepest traumas, and then he voted for Kavanaugh anyway. I cried most of the ride back home, but I also knew I’d made the right decision by choosing to get on that bus. I knew I’d found allies for the fights ahead.
Shortly after that trip, I was elected to my first term in the West Virginia House of Delegates. During my two-and-a-half terms as a legislator, I came to know the work of ACLU-WV very well. I was impressed by their tireless advocacy and their willingness to sit down with anyone, no matter how strong their differences might be, to explain their principled positions.
The Legislature can be a lonely place, but on issue after issue, I felt ACLU-WV at my side. From fighting attempts to whitewash history in public schools to defeating every single attempt to resurrect the death penalty, we championed each other’s causes. I cheered at their victories in court and I mourned the gut-wrenching losses with them.
They’ve stood at the forefront of some of the most important issues of our time, and they don’t back down from the fight. They’ve scored legal victories against the epidemic of racist police violence. They’ve litigated ground-breaking cases on behalf of trans West Virginians. They’ve sued to protect the rights of unsheltered people. They’ve fought to protect society’s most forgotten souls, those who are incarcerated in jails and prisons.
And yes, ACLU-WV will continue to use every resource at its disposal until the day that abortion is accessible in every holler and hill in this state.
These are difficult times, but the ACLU was built for times exactly like these. The organization was forged in the political fires of the Palmer Raids, when the U.S. government illegally rounded up some 10,000 immigrants for deportation because of their leftwing political views. Less than a year later in 1921, ACLU organizers were on the ground in West Virginia helping coal miners organize in the aftermath of the Battle of Blair Mountain. And we’ve been here ever since.
That’s why I couldn’t be prouder or more excited to take over as the affiliate’s next executive director.
To say I have big shoes to fill is an understatement. My predecessor, Joseph Cohen, oversaw a massive expansion of the affiliate, from just four employees when he started in 2016 to 19 brilliant and compassionate staffers today. His leadership saw the creation of the Appalachian Queer Youth Summit, the Family of Convicted People, an election protection hotline, and the Justice and Equity Fellowship, which provides paid internships to young people from marginalized backgrounds. I’m confident that together, we will build on his successful vision.
This organization is here for you, and it has never been stronger. I can’t wait to get to work with each of you for a fairer and more just Mountain State.
In Peace and Solidarity,