Now more than ever, it seems, it’s hard to have a conversation about politics and current events.
People disagree all the time, of course. But not all disagreements lead to the same levels of stress as a conversation related to politics. So we tend to shy away from having these difficult conversations. We don’t want to argue. We’d rather avoid conflict.
It hasn’t always been this way. In recent years, there been a sharp spike in the contempt that partisans express for their opponents, according to Pew Research Center polling. More than 4 in 10 Democrats and Republicans say the other party’s policies are so misguided that they pose a threat to the nation. So the disagreements simmer. Nothing gets done.
That’s unfortunate. And it’s not going to get any better unless we’re all willing to work together with people with whom we have differences.
That’s the way the ACLU of South Dakota has always approached its work.
Whether it’s advocating for smart justice reforms, achieving full equality for the LGBTQ community in South Dakota, preserving the rights of immigrants in our state, establishing new privacy protections for our digital age, or preserving the right to vote or the right to have an abortion, the ACLU takes up the toughest civil liberties issues to defend all people from government abuse and overreach.
That’s why the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging a South Dakota law that moved the deadline for new political parties striving for a place on the ballot. A federal judge’s ruling last year affirmed the argument that the state’s two-party legislature made access to the ballot for dissenting voices uniquely difficult, and that they violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution in doing so.
It’s also why the ACLU’s staff attorney responded to voting rights infringements across the state via an Election Day hotline in November. Voters who experienced voting rights violations and irregularities or had other problems at the polls called our hotline throughout the day to get on-the-spot help so they could cast their ballots. A caller’s political party or candidate of choice didn’t matter – but protecting the right to vote did.
And it’s why, this time of year, we focus so much attention on the South Dakota Legislature.
Our legislative advocacy work in Pierre is just one of the ways that we advance civil liberties in our state. We spend a significant amount of time engaging in the legislative process, monitoring key civil liberty issues and talking with our state legislators to ensure the protection of South Dakotans’ rights. We aim to support bills that strengthen our rights guaranteed under the Constitution and defeat bills that threaten them. The ACLU of South Dakota has never shied away from a fight when civil liberties are at stake. Our constitutional rights are too important.
The ACLU is a nonpartisan organization, and we welcome the opportunity to work with many different organizations. We’ve had allies from all political stripes and all political parties – and opponents, too. The proverbial saying, “politics makes strange bedfellows” often comes to mind with our work. But reaching across to both sides of the aisle, so to speak, is how change happens. In order to drive concrete policy outcomes that matter for people’s lives and to protect the constitutional rights of all South Dakotans, it’s what we have to do.
The stakes are incredibly high for civil rights and civil liberties issues in South Dakota. But if we can work together – beyond one person, party or side – we have the opportunity to create a more perfect union.
A version of this column appeared in the Pierre Capital Journal.