What The ACLU Is Doing Right Now With Their Massive, $24 Million In Donations

Flush with $24 million, the “unsexy” nonprofit just debuted a shiny new social platform

It’s amazing what a group of Americans scorned can do.


In January, following President Trump’s first attempt at implementing a travel ban meant to block people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, Americans took to airports, to the streets, and to social media to express their dismay.

They also reached for their wallets. Over a single weekend in January, the American Civil Liberties Union received more than 350,000 online donations totaling $24 million, or just over 6 times the amount it typically raises in one year.

Not long after, the ACLU announced it joined Y Combinator, an investment firm which provides seed funding and unprecedented access to Silicon Valley advisors. Now, just a few weeks later, comes People Power, a new web platform made with the ambitious goal to change the way people take political action across the nation.

“People sense the existential threat that Trump poses to our democracy,” says Karthik Ganapathy, spokesperson for the ACLU’s new project.

The “cities of resistance” platform is the creation of Faiz Shakir, once senior adviser to former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, and now the ACLU’s national political director. Shakir joined the ACLU two months ago, right as Donald Trump was getting ready to take office, and as the ACLU strategized its next steps with public outreach.

“People are looking at the ACLU to lead the resistance to Trump,” says Ganapathy.

For nearly a century, the ALCU has focused its work and attention on legal strategy, or as Ganapathy puts it, “doing aggressively unsexy work of fighting cases in courtrooms.” That work has included taking legal action against President Trump moments after he took office, and just this week filing an ethics complaint against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which asks the Alabama State Bar to investigate if he committed perjury in his confirmation hearing when he allegedly lied under oath claiming to have never met with Russian officials.

While all of that work is imperative to keeping our government leaders in check, the social action nonprofit is looking to give some of their power and responsibility back to average citizens.

“We need to couple legal power with people power,” says Ganapathy, “we need to be fighting on all fronts here.”

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]The main idea behind People Power is to become a one-stop shop for resisters.[/quote]

An early version of the platform launches on Saturday, March 11, with meetups organized around the country. In total, Ganapathy says, there are 2,300 events happening in all 50 states. The ACLU claims more than 130,000 people have signed up to take part alread, exceeding the group’s own internal goal of 1,000 meetings.

The main idea behind People Power is to become a one-stop shop for resisters to “defend sanctuary cities, resist deportation raids, oppose the Muslim Ban, maintain Planned Parenthood funding, and support other priorities,” as the ACLU explains. The platform will support and work to amplify organic, bottom-up grassroots actions and be a one stop resource and place for listings on all ACLU related meetups.

On Saturday, volunteers will explain the roll out of People Power as well as a breakdown of nine ordinances set forth by the ACLU and will ask attendees to present them to their local officials.

As Shakir said:

“We will be asking people to arrange a meeting with their sheriff or their police commissioner or their local precinct commander and raise these draft ordinances at that meeting. And have them discuss what their policies are with respect to immigrants. That would form the basis for follow-up meetings and follow-up policy advocacy.”

While Ganapathy urges anyone who can physically attend a local event to do so, those people looking to get involved but can’t make it out can also take part via a livestream of any of the events on the People Power site. And the resistance will not end then either.

“This is not a one-off event. Saturday is the beginning of the long haul,” Ganapathy says. “We’re going to need to dig in. Saturday is the start of a long campaign.”

As more and more people begin to feel the effects of Trump fatigue, meetings like those put on by People Power will become increasingly important to the fight for social change. The very thought of thousands of Americans banning together on their day off to discuss how they will resist bigotry and engage with local leaders is at least a start, says Ganapathy who adds, “It’s the first thing that’s felt like hope.”

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