The ACLU of Illinois lost its own “Lady Liberty” in November. Harriet Hausman, our long-time and still active Board member, died just a few months shy of her 100th birthday. We lost a courageous and unstinting voice for liberty and for humanity. Harriet’s support for the ACLU has been clear for decades, having first joined the organization as a high school student. As we head into an election year that holds grave importance for the future of our country, I—and I hope you—will continue to find inspiration in Harriet’s courageous lifetime of advocacy.
Harriet, and her late husband Marty, are legendary in the ACLU for their defense of the First Amendment. Nearly 50 years ago, when the ACLU represented the Nazis in their effort to march in suburban Skokie, Harriet and Marty travelled across the area to synagogues and other groups arguing for the need to protect free expression in our country.
Harriet’s advocacy was not limited to the First Amendment. In her nearly 40 years on the Board of the ACLU of Illinois, Harriet was a vigorous advocate for racial justice, voting rights, reproductive rights, religious liberty, immigrant rights, and those involved in the criminal legal system. If the Constitution did not protect all of us, Harriet knew that it really protected none of us.
Harriet thought that democratic societies had a special responsibility to young people. She strongly supported the ACLU’s long-term efforts to reform Illinois’ family regulation system. Her last column for the Weekly Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, published posthumously, called for the revitalization of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Harriet’s commitment to young people reflected her underlying wisdom about the need to invest in future generations – not only as a human rights matter but also Was an investment in the future of our democracy. One of her many unheralded acts of generosity was her decision to fund the ACLU of Illinois’ high school education work. Harriet understood that real civic virtue depended on educating the next generation of voters about democracy, civil liberties, and human rights.
Therein lies inspiration for all of us who care about preserving our democracy, which is essential to preserving our liberty. Harriet understood that democracy is NOT a spectator sport. For our democracy to remain vital in its protection of individual rights and liberties – the foundation of the ACLU’s advocacy – each of us must participate; each of us must advocate for individual rights and liberties for all.
The 2024 elections will have a momentous impact on this country. It is up to “we the people,” to once again save our democracy from those who would corrupt its Constitution, replacing liberty with suppression, and substituting political persecution with even-handed justice. The ACLU and its members have a critically important role in the months ahead: we must speak vigorously about the ways in which autocratic candidates threaten our constitutional democracy; we must insist that the constitution protects all of us – people of color, women, immigrants, people of different faiths or none at all; and we must vote. Our future depends on it.