Molly Graham: This is an interview with Kathleen Taylor for the ACLU and Rutgers Oral History Archives Project. Today is June 16, 2015 and we are at 901 Fifth Avenue in Seattle, Washington. Kathleen, let's just start at the beginning with when and where you were born.
Kathleen Taylor: I was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho, which is southeast Idaho. It's a town with a higher concentration of Mormons than Salt Lake City. I was raised as a Catholic there, so I've been an outsider all my life.
MG: What year were you born?
MG: Can you tell me a little bit about growing up in Idaho?
KT: Yes, a beautiful place. I lived outside of town. We had horses growing up and I rode in the Idaho Falls Junior Posse. We rode in rodeos and parades, and things like that. It was quite idyllic.
MG: You lived on a farm?
KT: No, I just lived on three acres outside of town.
MG: Tell me a little bit about your family history, starting on your father's side.
KT: My dad's family is Mormon. His father was one of twelve siblings. My father's grandfather came across the country with the Mormon migration, across from the east to the Salt Lake City area on wagon trains with Indians following them. The foothills around Idaho Falls are called Taylor Mountain, from I don't know which part of the family, but there are a lot of Taylors in the area. Many of the family members, the Taylors, are potato farmers. That's the big deal in Southern Idaho. My grandfather however, moved to town and became a businessman and active in the Democratic Party, and was the state Democratic chair for a while, and was the head of the Idaho State Penitentiary, an appointed position. So, my branch of the family is a little bit different from the rest of the family.
MG: What about your mother's family?
KT: Mom and Dad met in Boise where they grew up. Mom was raised Catholic and she was an only child. I don't know that much about her family. She died when I was in high school.
MG: Do you know how your folks met?
KT: They met in high school. They were high school sweethearts. Then Dad went to the University of Idaho and Mom went to community college in Boise. It's now Boise State University. When the war started, Dad joined the Coast Guard. He didn't have to leave the country. They married over in--I think they married in Portland during the war. After the war, he finished college at the University of California at Berkeley. Then they came back and Dad got a job, at Westinghouse, at the National Reactor Testing Station outside of Idaho Falls. It's where the first prototype of the atomic submarine was built in the deserts of Idaho. [Editor's Note: The National Reactor Testing Station opened in 1949. The laboratory developed nuclear reactors. It is still in operation and since 2005, it has been known as the Idaho National Laboratory.]
MG: Do you have siblings?
KT: I had an older sister. She is deceased.
MG: Just tell me a little bit more about growing up in Idaho.
KT: I guess, it was lovely in many respects. As I said earlier, heavily Mormon and so there's always a little bit of being an outsider, both a Catholic and a Democrat in a highly Republican Mormon area. The Mormons, when we'd go to high school, would walk across the street to go to seminary school while the rest of us were taking regular classes. This is something that wouldn't happen these days. Mom died when I was a sophomore in high school. My sister went to college the year after, so I was chief cook and bottle washer with my dad at the house for a couple years. When I was a kid, we went camping in the Tetons every summer. Dad had a sailboat. There weren't very many sailboats in that area, mostly motorboats, but we had a sailboat. [Editor's Note: The Teton Mountains are part of the Rocky Mountains. They are located in northwestern Wyoming in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.]
MG: I am curious how that outsider feeling sort of played out.
KT: Yes, I mention that because of my job at the ACLU. Growing up, I was always told that I could do whatever I wanted. That is, we weren't restricted by our parents' assumptions about what we had to be. Dad always said you could do whatever you want. He was strict but he empowered us to think broadly, For Idaho. I went to there. I started at the University of Idaho. A story I like to tell is that, after the first couple years I moved off campus and I got a call from the Dean of Women who said, "You can't live off campus. Women can't move off campus until they're twenty one," even though the men could move off campus when they were nineteen. I had no idea. I thought the Fourteenth Amendment covered things like that. I had no idea that we didn't have an Equal Rights Amendment, that we needed an Equal Rights Amendment, that we weren't all equal. I told her-- "So, kick me out of school. I'm on the dean's list." She was not happy with that. She called up my father and Dad said that I could do whatever I wanted and that was the end of that. I stayed in school and off campus. So, I guess, I was feisty all my life. [laughter]
MG: Before college, did you have other incidents like that growing up where you witnessed inequality?
KT: I can't think of an example. If I think of a story later I'll tell you, but I can't think of any right now. I think I was always--Daddy always considered me the feisty one of the family. I was a little bit more spirited and unwilling to just follow the rules.
MG: I'm curious about the conversations that took place in your home. Would your family discuss religion and politics?
KT: I really don't remember that many conversations about politics and religion. My parents were ballot counters back in the days when votes were counted that way. They were Democrats, as I said, in a Republican state, so that was known to me. Maybe I didn't consider it politics at the time, but I certainly knew my parents' opinions on things. I think there was some red baiting that was taking place. There was some of that happening around people at the National Reactor Testing Station. I just have that impression. I remember some discussions--it must have been in the early '60s--Dad talking about when he was in the Coast Guard and was in Atlanta or someplace in the south during that World War Two, and blacks would step off the sidewalk when a white person walked by. This was totally shocking. Of course there were very few blacks in Idaho Falls. The minorities in Idaho Falls were Native Americans, who actually most of us only saw when they were in the park. There were a few Japanese Americans, probably a result from the internment camps.
MG: We'll talk about high school and the things that happened during the late '60s, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, but I am curious about things that influenced you or impacted you in school.
KT: I really can't say a lot about politics in high school. I really don't remember that much, but it's really when I went to college, I think. I went to the University of Idaho and joined the sorority that my sister was in. There was a lot of hypocrisy I thought that was occurring in the sororities. When I was a sophomore, one of the freshman girls was kicked out of the sorority because she asserted date rape. She was dating a black football player. I think that was really the problem-that she was dating a black guy. It just seemed so unfair. This was during the Vietnam War era and the thing about the University of Idaho is while all this important stuff was going on with the war, the largest demonstration at the University of Idaho was in favor of the President of the school. He was apparently a good guy, but I mean that the political climate there. They didn't think beyond their own bubble. I was dating, at the time, the only member of the SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, on campus. [Editor's Note: SDS, or Students for a Democratic Society, was a student organization with many chapters across American colleges and universities. It was a leader in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, with the war over, the organization faded.] [laughter] Six of us left the sorority over that incident. There were other hypocrisies at the sorority, but that one was the one that we could not take it any longer. So, six of us left the sorority, which was a big deal. People just didn't do that. My sister was still in the sorority too, which didn't help any. That's why I moved off campus.
MG: Can you elaborate a little bit on what the position of the sorority or the President of the school was at the time?
KT: Oh, these two were not connected. I think the University was going to change presidents. The students liked this guy so much that they were having a march in favor of the president. I didn't object to that, politically, but I remember thinking, "There's this war going on." There was no discussion of that among anybody. It was all about the football game or who you were dating or all that stuff. I couldn't believe that was going on and those are my existential moments, I guess.
MG: What years were you in college?
KT: I graduated from high school in 1968. So '68 to '70. Well, then I left the University of Idaho in the middle of my junior year. I ultimately finished at UC Santa Barbara.
MG: Can you just talk about what it was like to be on a college campus, and maybe the difference between Idaho and California in terms of reacting to what was going on in the rest of the world and all the changes and movements of the time?
KT: Well, during college I worked every summer in Yosemite National Park and that was so eye opening. My first tent-mate was a girl from San Francisco, a classic San Francisco hippie, a wonderful, beautiful girl. I think that was really where my eyes were opened and where I saw people talking about things that were really going on in the world. It was after my first summer in Yosemite that I left the sorority. Then after my 2nd summer in Yosemite I was so dissatisfied with the University of Idaho I left and worked for a full year at Yosemite National Park. Later I finished at UC Santa Barbara. But first I went to Europe for nine months, and bummed around, then came back and finished school at Santa Barbara.
MG: Why did you decide to attend the University of Idaho and what did you hope to study?
KT: I didn't think like that. I didn't have a thought of another school. No thought of going out of the state, because those state schools were practically free in those days. The University of Idaho was considered by my family the school to attend, as opposed to Idaho State in Pocatello. My father had gone to the University of Idaho. My aunt had gone there, and my sister was there. It was not even a question. There was not that much thinking going on in my head.
MG: Did your year at Yosemite and then your travels in Europe sort of open you up to--?
KT: I wish I could tell you some great story of an epiphany, but it really didn't work that way. I knew I wanted to do something worthwhile and I don't know where that came from. Maybe it came from my eight years of Catholic school, where I learned you should be of service to the world rather than just taking from it. I can't say there was an epiphany about politics or anything really, but I knew that I wanted to get a job where I was doing something--doing something good. So, I finished at UC Santa Barbara because I had friends from Yosemite there. UC Santa Barbara, it's the campus where the students burned the Bank of California in Isla Vista. [Editor's Note: On February 25, 1970 a Bank of America on the campus of UC Santa Barbara was burned down. It was set on fire by student protestors when tensions with police had reached a peak on campus.] I wasn't there then. I came after. The University of Santa Barbara was gorgeous, and it actually had courses that were challenging as opposed to the University of Idaho. And they didn't have a football team; their big sport was volleyball. Everybody was political, but it wasn't like marching on the streets political. There was much more political discussion, but it wasn't like I was sitting in dark rooms talking about politics all day or night.
MG: What courses were you taking?
KT: A combination of social sciences, anthropology, economics, Latin American studies, things like that.
MG: Were there courses or professors there that were starting to shape your ideas about civil liberties?
KT: There were a lot more progressive teachers and people on campus. I remember reading wonderful books about Latin American studies that were definitely from the left perspective. That was all so long ago. I think it was very much a gradual introduction to the world, starting from a small town in Idaho and just the kind of awakening that you hope your own children will have, whether it be quick or slow. I've always been more of a late bloomer than an early one.
MG: Did you witness or participate in any protests on campus?
MG: Does anything else stand out from your time at UC Santa Barbara?
KT: Just that I appreciated having classes that were challenging
MG: What did you major in?
KT: It was in the '70s; it was a combination of social sciences. You could just kind of pick and choose your courses and put them together in a nice little package and get a degree out of it.
MG: What did you hope to do when you graduated?
KT: [laughter] Maybe people have these thoughts now, but in those days you just went to the next thing. It was "go with the flow." I tell that to my daughter. She's always worried about what is the next thing that is going to happen. I said, "Just see where the path leads you." This is the '60s and the '70s; you didn't have to decide your life's career.
MG: Where did your path lead you after college?
KT: After college, one of my friends who I went to Europe with was living in Washington D.C. So I moved to Washington D.C. and landed in his apartment for a while and then got a job there.
MG: Doing what?
KT: I worked for the Foreign Service Association, which is the professional association that represents Foreign Service offices in the State Department. [Editor's Note: The American Foreign Service Association is a union for members of the US Foreign Service. It was established in 1924.] We were attached to the State Department. That was a lot of fun. I was an administrative assistant, but it was a great little spot because you got to state department events. I have some great pictures of me at a reception with Henry Kissinger. [Editor's Note: Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977. He had been a National Security Advisor since 1969 in the Nixon Administration before his Secretary of State appointment.] The great thing about Washington D.C. was that everything was political there. Even the bus drivers read the Washington Post and would talk to people about it. It was very dynamic. It was a great time. That was '74 through '76, and there was a lot going on in the country.
MG: Those were some wacky years for politics. The Watergate scandal took place then. [Editor's Note: On June 17, 1972 several burglars were arrested inside the Watergate office complex when they had attempted to break in the Democratic National Committee offices. After being reelected and attempting to cover it up, Richard Nixon resigned as President in 1974. Vice President Gerald Ford assumed the presidency and pardoned Nixon of all his crimes.]
MG: Can you talk about what it was like to live during that time period and what was going on?
KT: I lived in a group house in Dupont Circle. In Washington D.C. there are so many young people, so many people out of college or in law school. At first I worked for, as I said, for the American Foreign Service Association and then I worked for Senator Frank Church, the senior senator from Idaho, on the Capitol Hill. That was very interesting. Senator Church was a wonderful person, but that was in '74 or '75, and it was so sexist. The men had all the important positions and the women had all the lower positions and it was brutal. It was interesting to be involved in politics, and still have this very strong gender split. Senator Church was the Chair of the Church Committee, which was investigating the CIA for all of their dirty tricks. He was in the spotlight a lot. Then in '76 he decided to run for President, along with every other Democrat. It's kind of like this year when all these Republicans are running. His staff got to fly out on a chartered flight from Washington D.C. back to Idaho for his announcement in the small town of Idaho City, which is a little mining town above Boise. That was a great event. Living in Washington D.C. you couldn't help but brush with politics and brush with exciting things
MG: Was it frustrating to witness how slowly policy changes or being a woman in this political environment?
KT: Yes. Again, it was sort of like when I was at the University of Idaho--"What? I can't live off campus because I'm a woman?" I saw what a divide there was between the opportunities for men and women. I was really surprised by that. I was from Idaho and they needed to have Idaho people on the front desk so that when the people from Idaho came in to see the Senator they were being received by an Idahoan. That was my first senate job, on the front desk. Later I did a lot of research in the Library of Congress--really when he was getting to run--comparisons his votes on all sorts of issues, and the votes of other Senators who were going to be running for President.
MG: What were the positions that he ran on?
KT: Well, he was a very early opponent to the war in Vietnam. He was taking on the CIA and FBI for their dirty tricks. Those were great things from my point of view. He was also an Idahoan so he had a strong position in support of The Second Amendment, because he had to. He did, I think, a good job of recognizing what he needed to do support the values of people in Idaho, but a lot of those positions are not just conservative. There's a strong libertarian view in Idaho, which he was able to parlay into things like why are we in Vietnam and what's the government doing spying on me? He was able to link the left-right values a little bit.
MG: I had also read that you were a journalist for some time. Is that correct?
KT: So-called journalist. [laughter] I wouldn't really describe it that way. In '76, my boyfriend now husband, Bob Beckerman and I travelled across the country, and moved to Seattle, I got a job with the Seattle Sun, which was a weekly newspaper on Capitol Hill. It doesn't exist anymore. Doug Honig, ACLU-WA communications director, used to write for it too. It was community-based and small. Those of us who wrote articles I think we got paid by the inch--also delivered the papers around the city. They were free papers based on advertising. It was a wonderful collection of people who worked there. Some of them went on to city council, such as Nick Licata. [Editor's Note: Nick Licata is a city council member in Seattle. He has been on the council since 1998. He had been a founder of the Seattle Sun.] It was a very liberal paper. They just had a big anniversary a couple years ago. It was a wonderful collection of people that were there. I worked for the Seattle Sun, but it was just a temporary job to get me going. The nice thing about it is when you work for a newspaper you can call anybody up and get an answer from them. I could call up members of city council and talk to them. It was much different from Washington D.C., which is so layered and thick with people and protocols. Here in Seattle you could walk down the street and people would talk to you on the corner or talk to you on busses. It seemed very open as compared to Washington D.C. It was fun to work for a newspaper for probably less than a year. Then I got a job at the ACLU.
MG: Can elaborate on what Seattle was like during that time? What kind of city was it and how is it different from today?
KT: People complain a lot about the growth of Seattle, but I think it's wonderful. I guess in '76 it wasn't that long after Seattle had really gone through a bust. I think that was in the early '70s, but of course I didn't know that coming in. I had a sister who lived here and I had been to Seattle because it's relatively close to Idaho and I had other family who lived here. It seemed like, compared to Idaho Falls, a very big city. Boy, there was no traffic, then. I'll tell you that. You'd get on the freeways and it'd be empty of cars. You could go any place in ten minutes. Now it takes a half hour to get to the same place. It was a great town. It still is a great town. The only difference between now and then, it seems to me is the growth that all these giant companies. Bill Gates hadn't invented desktop software yet. Microsoft became hot in the 1980s. So I came to Seattle before the digital revolution. I guess it seemed like a big city to me. If I saw it right now I'd probably say, "Oh, gosh. It's such a sleepy, relaxed little place." But it retains its beauty and access to the out of doors. Everybody either hikes or bikes or boats or does something else active around here.
MG: Was it always a very liberal city?
KT: As far as I know, yes. Washington was considered a very liberal state as far back as the 1930s when Postmaster General James Farley is said to have Washington as "The 47 states and the Soviet of Washington." Seattle of course is the center of that progressiveness. It had a long, strong, labor union movement in Seattle. When we moved to Seattle, we landed on Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill, probably then and now, is the densest part of the northwest--the densest area north of San Francisco and it's also known as the gay neighborhood. It is probably the most liberal neighborhood in the liberal city, and it's very close to downtown, referred to a wonderful location. It still is that exact same way. It's just much more dense now.
MG: Was that where you were living?
KT: Yes. Still do.
MG: Describe more of your neighborhood and what you would see when you walked out the door.
KT: We rented a house when we got to Seattle. We knew we wanted to be close in the city. We rented a house for three hundred dollars a month, two bedroom, two story, view of the water. About two years later, the landlord decided he was going to sell it, so we bought it for thirty thousand dollars. [laughter] That was nice. We thought that was a lot of money then, of course. Prices were a lot different then than they are now.
MG: Then maybe talk about how the job at the ACLU came about.
KT: When I came here I knew I wanted to work for a political organization. I'd worked for the American Foreign Service Association, which is connected to the State Department. I actually at one time thought about joining the Foreign Service, but didn't. Then I thought about going to law school and actually applied and got into a bunch of law schools. Because everybody in Washington, D.C. was a lawyer, I thought I had to be a lawyer. My boyfriend was a lawyer. Then instead, we decided to move out here. What was the question you just asked?
MG: Finding out about the job at the ACLU and the hiring process.
KT: I knew I wanted to work for an advocacy organization, but in Seattle there just really weren't many. ACLU was the only organization that had a staff. I'd just come from Washington, D.C. where every organization has staff, but here, in terms of advocacy organizations, really the ACLU was it. I was lucky to find a spot here. So I applied for a job. I didn't get the first one that I applied for but a few months later got a grant-funded position organizing a series of community public events on police-community relations around the state. It was a Washington Commission for the Humanities grant. ... We put on, I think, six or eight forums on police-community relations and that has been a continuous theme of my work life ever since. That job led to a job that was housed at the ACLU, as Coordinator of the Coalition on government spying, a coalition with American Friends Service Committee, the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild. [Editor's Note: The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that was established during World War I to promote peace. It now participates in solving social issues. The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and aims to use law to advance rights.] This fits in nicely, though it has nothing to do with the fact, that I worked for Senator Church, who was dealing with federal spying and dirty tricks. This coalition was dealing with the Seattle police, which had been collecting political information on activists, who had nothing to do with criminal conduct, and the police had no business collecting that information. That was happening throughout the country by police departments called Red Squads, from really the '50s on up through the '70s and '80s. Through that effort, Seattle became the first city to adopt a law that restricted the local police from collecting political information about people that was not connected to a crime. It was a great result. We got to go to Washington, D.C. and testify before the Subcommittee On Civil Rights of the Judiciary Committee, and talk about this new law. We had earlier filed a lawsuit on behalf of fifty-two organizations in Seattle that had been subject of the surveillance and we were able to get their records to prove what the police department had done. That was some fun and exciting work for a couple of years and that job led to this job in 1980.
MG: Was that an ACLU sponsored project?
KT: It was a coalition of the three organizations. It was sponsored by all three of the organizations. It happened to live in the ACLU offices; ACLU gave it space. The American Friends Service Committee gave it funding, and all three organizations provided members for the steering committee, and I was the staff. I became ACLU-WA Executive Director in 1980. I was twenty-nine. The ACLU had been going through some rough financial times.
MG: Sort of in reaction to some divisive moments in the ACLU's history, is that fair to say?
KT: Like what?
MG: Well I know that the Skokie incident and the debate over President Nixon's impeachment divided the ACLU. [Editor's Note: Skokie v. National Socialist Party was a 1977 Supreme Court case that supported a Neo-Nazi march through the town of Skokie, Illinois which had a large Jewish population. The Supreme Court decided that the Neo-Nazis were allowed to march because of their Constitutional rights. The ACLU had supported the Neo-Nazis. In the end, the march did not happen.]
KT: I think that you'll hear from some people that Skokie dramatically affected our membership and it certainly did affect our membership to some extent, but another key part of that that very few people really know about is that there were some big operational issues about membership recruitment and processing. This was when ACLU was growing from a small grassroots organization and becoming a unified nationwide organization. Just the accounting and process of renewing members and getting new members was a huge effort, and there were some bumps in the road about the same time as the Skokie controversy. Everybody blames Skokie for the fall in membership. I imagine Ira Glasser is one of the persons you're interviewing. Ask him about that, because I think he'll tell you that really there were some problems with how we administered our membership ... Skokie did cause huge debate and some fall off, but it was also a really a seminal activity for the ACLU, one that helped define who the ACLU is, not just to the ACLU members but to everybody else. Even though people were unhappy that we were defending somebody whose positions were so obnoxious, many understood ACLU was acting on principle and wasn't just an arm of the Democratic party or just another liberal organization. We were -- and are-- an organization that is based on principles. I'll tell you, I have heard that from conservatives numerous times who don't agree with us on our positions, but admire us for our principles.
MG: So can you just describe again or elaborate on how it was working previous to your directorship, in terms of identifying issues and finding support for those issues?
KT: I think that in the '60s, the ACLU was just like the rest of country. It was longhaired and wild and vigorous. In those days, there wasn't even a public defender organization. That hadn't been created yet, so the ACLU was taking all sorts of cases of people who were treated unfairly and probably took many more cases than it really could successfully deal with. Every issue was coming up--rights of women's, rights of students, rights of Blacks, rights of criminal defendants, free speech, and the ACLU tried to deal with all those things. There was a lot going on in the organization, having committees and talking about things and trying to figure out how to move them forward. There was less infrastructure when it comes to fundraising and, as I said, membership recruitment. When you're going to grow you have to have those things in place as well. In the '60s, ACLU-WA had at some point one or two attorneys on staff. By the time I got there, there were no attorneys on staff. There was only a part-time legal assistant, a director, and an administrative assistant. I think that's it. Really, when I started one of the first things I worked on was "let's get this organization in a shape that it can maintain itself and grow."
MG: I want to talk more about that and I am sorry to jump around.
KT: Yes, it's fine.
MG: Can you talk about the state of police and community issues, why there needed to be a coalition to deal with this relationship. Were there incidents that needed to be addressed?
KT: Well, in the '60s, throughout the country, cultural tension resulted in conflict between young people and the police. The police represent the establishment and the young people represented a threat. Police departments in Seattle and throughout the country were collecting information on people they thought were threatening, which was anybody who had a political point of view that was different from traditional viewpoints. They were following people and engaging in activities on a local level along the lines that the CIA was doing on more of a massive level. That same thing happens still. The ACLU recently did a report called The War Comes Home, about the militarization of the police. The cops take the lead from the federal government, the FBI or The Defense Department. That happened in the '60s when there was a lot "of how do we deal with these troublesome people who have these different ideas than us." I remember, some of the information that came out, showed that the police had been gathering information on a local TV reporter who later became mayor. Anybody that was at all suspicious or too progressive was subject to police surveillance.
MG: It reminds me of the longhaired drivers case that Frank Askin told me about in New Jersey, where you'd get pulled over if you had long hair. [Editor's Note: Frank Askin has been a Rutgers Law Professor since 1966. He has worked for the ACLU since 1969 as a member of the National Board and General Counsel.]
KT: Oh, absolutely. Yes. Having peace signs on your car, anybody who looks like a hippie--I can't say exactly how it was before I got here because I wasn't here. I got here in '76 and through this work with the Coalition on Government Spying, we were able to gain the documentation that showed what the police had been doing and how they had been following people and had been presuming that they were dangerous--wasting their time and effort and people's political rights.
MG: It seems like the West Coast affiliates are defined by their grassroots efforts in organizing. Were you doing that here in Seattle, going into prisons and talking to people on the street?
KT: I think that's because you've been talking to people in California who were ten or twenty years before my time --from the people that you listed there. That probably was happening in the '60s, but not by the time I was here.
MG: I didn't know if part of that police community issue work you were doing, you were visiting people.
KT: No. It was more public education stuff. The way we worked by the time I was here with the Coalition on Government Spying is we would work with other community groups. We didn't try to organize people on the street, but we had forty-two other community organizations that agreed with what we were doing and supported the ordinance we had drafted for submission to city council. We could bring to bear people from the League of Women Voters to El Centro de la Raza to support this cause. [Editor's Note: The League of Women Voters was founded by Carrie Chapman Catt in 1920 to advocate for women's suffrage. It continues to support the rights of women today. El Centro de la Raza is a Seattle based organization that was founded by Latinos in 1972. It continues to advocate for human rights.] So we got a lot of community based organizations' support.
MG: I want to talk more about the hiring process for the Executive Director position. Who was in the position previously?
KT: Peter Thomas Judge was there for one year prior to my being hired. I don't think any Executive Director had lasted longer than three years. They would really go through Executive Directors like crazy, and Peter had lasted only a year. The Executive Director before him who was the person who hired me for the various positions: David Harrison was a wonderful, smart guy. He's still around--very good on the issues, not very good on the fundraising. There was some financial mismanagement. As I mentioned, by the time I got here, the staff was down to one and a half people and the budget for the organization was eighty thousand dollars a year. So it was a little tiny organization with a big agenda. Now, it's budget is4.7 million dollars.
MG: Was that why those positions weren't lasting so long, is that there were financial frustrations?
KT: I can't tell you why each person didn't last so long--whether it was bad hiring or just burnt out from working so hard, although Larry Selden, lasted about three and a half years in the early '70s. Those were the days before advocacy organizations really got professionalized, which happened in the '80s. Before that, many were shoestring operations, really. You came ... did the best you could, you worked day and night, but you burned out pretty quickly because you were working so feverishly and not in a way that could be sustained. That's what happened in the '60s and '70s, which a lot of people want to say are the glory days, but in terms of sustaining an organization and making an impact in the long run, you have to have certain things in place, which I think a lot of advocacy organizations understand these days.
MG: I was curious if you were interviewed by a board?
KT: Yes, I was. The board at that time was about forty-two members and they interviewed the three finalists. The board met at that time all day once a month. I was very nervous. I knew many of them because I worked in the office already with the Coalition on Government Spying. I had a leg up because my work with the Coalition had turned out very well. That helped, but I was only twenty nine and I didn't have that much experience, and the members of the board had been on the board forever and knew a lot about civil liberties--not so much about organization. I remember it took a long time after the three of us had been interviewed for them to make a decision. I recall that the vote about my predecessor had been--I think there had been three candidates and they finally chose him, but not with a majority vote. So they decided that they had to keep working on it until they really had a majority vote for the finalist. This was wise, was, and I got it.
MG: The board for the Washington affiliate had forty-two members on it?
MG: That seems like a very large board for a one and a half person office.
KT: Really? I agree with you, but that's the way they used to do it. Yes, we had thirty at-large members and then one to two representatives from various--eight chapters, I think. So it was forty-two and they held all-day meetings from nine in the morning until four o'clock. They talked about things that weren't necessarily what was going on in the organization but they were important current issues. They debated things like is nuclear power a civil liberties issue? They wanted to debate. There were lots of lawyers and academics on it. They were deeply committed to civil liberties, deeply committed to the ACLU, and spent a lot of time at it.
MG: What was your plan to put the ACLU on firm financial footing and not make the same mistakes that were made previously?
KT: Well I had just come off a pretty good win getting Seattle to adopt the 1st local law to restrict political surveillance by Pohco. I was young enough to be naïve and idealistic, so that helps. It's always good to not know what you don't know and think you can do anything. I didn't come here knowing I was going to focus on finances and infrastructure. I just looked at what was happening and wanted to have enough money to do the work and there was an active group on the board that was interested in increasing the membership. The ACLU membership was probably about three thousand at the time in the state of Washington. They were eager to do something and we started a campaign to increase membership. At that time, The Weekly newspaper had a subscriber list which we would purchase and get people like Tom Robbins, the author who lives up north of here and Emmett Watson, a revered columnist for the newspaper to sign recruitment letters written in their voice. We increased membership a lot and then we started a campaign of one-on-one fundraising, which was very new to the ACLU. It was based on a model coming from the Northern California affiliate, that was about '82. The ACLU of Washington embraced that effort and we were early on to have a development director. We took seriously the fact that we had to raise money that was renewable to keep ourselves going.
MG: What were some challenges during those first couple years?
KT: We had this wonderful calendar where each--I'll show you one. Each week at the calendar had a civil liberties quote and the names of up to ten people that would purchase the page. So their names would be on it for 250 dollars and then they get to choose a quote. We did this for a number of years and it was very time intensive to organize--who would come together to buy this and every twenty five dollar check that would come in, it would have to be on the right name on the right page and which date they wanted, and which quote they wanted. So it's an organizational nightmare, but it was a great success. Everybody loved it and we raised--I don't know--probably three thousand dollars is a lot of money in those days.
MG: So these are donors on the right side?
MG: How are the quotes determined again?
KT: I think lots of people choose their own quotes or they'd say, "I want to have a censorship quote," or "I want to have a prisoners' rights quote," or they would say, "This is a quote I want." "Sorry, somebody else already has that quote." It was kind of like doing a fundraising auction--lots of details, and not that much money really for what you get out of it. We also had an auction at that time. Again, very time intensive, but we finally got rid of the auction. We had this a lot longer, but then we finally had to put that to rest, too.
MG: What were you discovering worked in terms of fundraising and programming?
KT: With respect to fundraising, it's one on one relating to people who share your values. You talk to your members and you tell them what you're doing and ask them for money. It's pretty simple. That's easy to say anyway. A key aspect of programming is maintaining your credibility. That is so important to the ACLU. When you say something, you must mean it, not to overstate it and follow through. I think we've been very good at following those principles. We have also been aggressive in taking cases and pushing issues forward. In the '80s, there were a lot of problems with schools holding prayer sessions and in religious baccalaureates or graduation programs. We would get calls in the springtime all the time. Finally, we went through a rule-making process with the Superintendent of Public Instruction. We created binders offensively documenting the religious practices in the schools and asked the Superintendent of Public Instruction to establish state-level rules to disallow the practices. They couldn't ignore what we showed them because it was obviously illegal under the state constitution. The Superintendent of Public Instruction directed each school district to go through the process of creating rules for themselves, which we thought, "Oh, we just want the state to have one set of rules that everybody has to follow." What we found out was that by making every school district go through this process, it was really a learning process for them. They had to think about it and not just do what they were told but actually figure out what it meant for their school. We have had a significant decline in those kind of problems as a result of that big effort. That's an example of identifying a problem, looking for a solution. That wasn't a litigation solution, but it was figuring out what's the best way to solve a problem. We were one of the earlier affiliates to have a legislative program. There had been a lobbyist here even before I got here. We had a strong legislative program--both defending against bad laws and also promoting good laws. Early on, there was a massive conditions case against the state penitentiary and we still have prison cases on our docket all the time, either prison or jails. The thing about civil liberties is no civil liberties ever stays won, as Roger Baldwin would say, and so you deal with an issue time and time again. [Editor's Note: Roger Baldwin was one of the founders of the ACLU. He died in 1981.] Hopefully, you're dealing with a different aspect of it--you're improving a little every time but the issues never really go away. Perry Watkins was an important case early in my tenure in 1981. Perry Watkins was a soldier in Tacoma, which is just south of us, an African American. He was drafted into the Army in 1968. When he filled out his draft form there was a little box to check for "homosexual tendencies" and he checked it. "That's okay. Come on in. We've got a war going on." So he was drafted into the Army. Actually he wasn't sent to Vietnam. He went to Germany where he would perform in the officer's club in drag. Perry was a good soldier. He got great reports and he was gay. When President Reagan came in, he changed the rules and the service started kicking gays out of the military. Perry came to us and we took his case. It went up and down the courts for multiple years and his case became the first one that was fully adjudicated to rule that a gay man can stay in the military. The argument wasn't that every gay person gets to stay in the military, but that the military had known that Perry was gay and kept reenlisting him. Therefore they couldn't finally kick him out.
MG: Yes, it was finally in 1991 when you won that case, I think.
KT: That sounds about right. 1991.
MG: Did that impact Mr. Watkins and the ACLU?
KT: Well, Perry died of AIDs in 1996. So for him it gave him some--he took an honorable discharge and some money and then he was able to live the rest of his life comfortably. For the ACLU-WA, it was one of many important gay rights cases we took both before and after that. We've been involved in gay rights cases for a long time. Our first marriage equality case was in 1972. We didn't call it marriage equality in those days. It was gay marriage. Two men wanted to get married and the King County Court wouldn't give them a license. We took their case up to the Washington Supreme Court, which refused to allow the marriage on the basis that the purpose of marriage was procreation. [laughter] As if people who were fifty, sixty, can't get married or people who can't have children can't get married. It made no sense, of course, but that argument is still being used. So we have been involved in gay rights for a long time, but Perry Watkins was one of the early visible cases relating to military service. Then later on, we had the case of Margaret Witt [Witt v. Department of the Air Force] She was a major in the Air Force. She was a flight nurse, which meant that when soldiers got hurt on the battlefield, she would be on the airplanes that took the wounded to the hospital in Germany or wherever they were going. She was highly regarded. Somebody outed her during the era of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which President Clinton established. We took her case. The same cooperating attorney, volunteer attorney, that represented Perry Watkins--was now representing Margaret Witt.
MG: Who was that?
KT: Jim Lobsenz. Her case was influential in congressional consideration of ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
MG: When was that? We can put it in later. [laughter]
KT: In 2004 she was investigated for Homosexuality and since November 2000 was suspended from duty. In 2009 after the air circuit center of Appeal recommended the case back to the federal district court on due process grounds. The federal district court ruled in her favor and ordered he reinstating.
MG: I think this is a good time to talk about Initiative 120, which codified Roe v. Wade. [Editor's Note: Roe v. Wade is a 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion up to the end of the first trimester. In 1991, the state of Washington passed Initiative 120 in an election that legalized abortion up to the first trimester in the state in case Roe v. Wade was ever overturned.]
KT: Yes. Washington was an early state that allowed for some abortions well before I-120. In 1970 Washington voters approved Referendum 20 that first authorized limited abortions in Washington State, but by the '90s, we were all worried that Roe v. Wade was going to get overturned by some future Supreme Court. Even in Washington there were a number of initiatives that we were able to fight back that would have restricted abortion. A coalition of basically, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and NARAL [National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws], and other organizations, decided we were going to go on the offensive, which was a little bit bold. One of the ACLU-WA board members at the time, Stewart Jay, who's a Professor of Law at the University of Washington, was the primary drafter of the initiative. Basically, the shorthand is it codified Roe v. Wade, plus ensured that if the state was providing funding for maternity care, it also had to provide funding for abortion services. It was a very strong law to get passed. We barely did it. None of us were experts on initiatives and it was a struggle to find the right campaign director and manage the entire effort, but we did. We won. That's what counts.
MG: I know that protecting students' rights has always been an important issue to you.
KT: It's always been. It comes up, especially in the spring.
MG: Why in the spring?
KT: Kids get rambunctious and teachers get tired. [laughter] I really think that's what it comes down to. The sap rises. Typically, it is about free speech or discipline--and of course, they combine. We've also had cases involving student drug testing. Those cases occurred mostly in the '90s, or 2000s. The Big War on Drugs, got to stop these kids, test them, be sure they don't have anything in their systems--not that they were even suspected of it, but some schools started creating policies that would require any student engaged in athletics to submit themselves to random drug tests in order to play. We didn't think that was fair and neither did some of the parents. In 1999 Hans York, a deputy sheriff In Cathlamet, Washington, and his son came to us and asked us to help them challenge this practice. It took nine years in the courts, but ultimately our state Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that suspicion less urine testing of students is unconstitutional.
KT: That was really the beginning. We've had a long and strong effort to stem the war on drugs here. It started by winning drug testing cases, both school and employment related. Then our drug policy work became directed toward the state legislature. There were a number of bills that we stopped such as one that would take away funds for needy children if their parents were convicted of drug crimes, which made absolutely no sense to blame the kid for this. There was a great Good Samaritan bill that we got passed early on. It allowed for a person-- it was usually a young person-- to call 9-11 without risking arrest for being around a person engaged in drug use. There were a number of bills aimed at eliminating the worst parts of the war on drugs. We also wrote an initiative that was passed first in Seattle, that made marijuana use the lowest priority for the police department. That was a coalition effort by Sensible Seattle. We weren't leading it, but we were the lawyers for them. It was Initiative 75. Yes, Sensible Seattle. That was a big important change and the people saw that the sky didn't fall down when they decided to deploy our police resources other than arresting people for marijuana. A few years later, we tried to legalize marijuana through the state legislature and when that was not going to work, we went for the initiative. Washington and Colorado became the first two states to legalize marijuana.
MG: When was that? That was recent.
KT: Yes, it was 2012, but we worked on that for about ten years--and not on a specific initiative, but on the effort to move public opinion and public policy makers about how they felt about marijuana. We created a video called "Marijuana, A Conversation" where we just had people talking about marijuana in a way that was not so threatening. It featured Rick Steves, the travel writer who has his own shows on National Public Radio public television. He lives outside of Seattle and he was the face for this video which we aired on television. We did a lot of things to create a public climate that would be okay with marijuana legalization, and ultimately voters in counties throughout the state, not just in the liberal areas, supported Initiative 502 in 2012. That was also the same year that marriage equality was passed by the voters in Washington State. That was a big year.
MG: Tell me maybe how you celebrated those victories and what Seattle was like in the days following.
KT: The day that we all came back to work the Wednesday after the Tuesday election, we had a celebration in the conference room, of course, because we had all worked so hard on both of those measures. One of our staff members got a big piece of butcher paper and entitled it To Do. Shetten wrote "Marijuana Legalization" and a box next to it, and under that, "Marriage Equality," and a box next to that, and under that, "Death Penalty," and a box next to that, and on the very bottom, "World Peace." We had a celebration where ACLU-WA staffer Alison Holcomb, the campaign director of 502, got to check off marijuana legalization. The Jennifer Show who was in leadership of the marriage equality ballot measure checked off marriage equality. We still have the death penalty to abolish, and I think it'll take a very longtime before we get to world peace.
MG: What work are you doing around the death penalty?
KT: Our goal is to defeat it--to get to abolish the death penalty by the legislature next legislative session. So, it's a really legislative battle this time. We don't want to take it to an initiative as was tried in California, but I think the world is moving in the right direction. There has been an increasing number of cases where the death penalty is rejected by juries and more incidents of exoneration. I think ultimately, between that the combination of the costs and the inequities, the basic unfairness of it, will lead to its demise. We're hoping that we can do it in another year. That may be optimistic, but you have to be optimistic in this job.
MG: It's nice that you have maintained that optimism. It seems like it's been a defining characteristic of your work as the Executive Director. You said when you first started you had that hopeful spirit and it's good to maintain that I think.
KT: Yes, well you have to be optimistic in these jobs. Otherwise you wouldn't keep going. You have to believe that you can succeed, that you can make a difference, and we certainly have seen that. We have lots of things we can point to that make us feel good and make us want to do more. I mean it's fun every morning. You can get up, look at the newspaper, see something you don't like and say, "I'm going to go to work and do something about that." One reporter described my modes operand as "read, fume, act." I like that. Not every day do we get it done, but we have a lot of success and we're helping real people. We get to improve people's lives. We get to improve people's lives and we get to change the system so that other people don't have to face the same problems. I think everybody who works for the ACLU has to be optimistic, especially the EDs who have to find the money as well as develop the program.
MG: That sounds very rewarding.
KT: I can say that everybody who works here is thrilled to get to work here. They know that they are lucky to get to work in a place where they get to feel like they are doing good every day.
MG: Good. I know we just have about a half an hour left so I just want to make sure we cover each decade of your directorship and then have time to talk about how 9/11 shaped the affiliate.
KT: About the 1980s, I talked about our efforts to stop religious practices in the schools. The other thing there was a lot going on having to do with censorship. It was the era of Ed Meese, I guess, and Reagan and all his people who didn't really care about civil liberties at all. The libraries had people challenging [them] to try to remove books. Our Bodies, Ourselves is one that to defended early on. In 1992 in the legislature passed a bill to require labeling of erotic music so that kids couldn't get access to it. ACLU along with the WA Music Industry Coalition has fought it without success. The day it was signed into law, we filed suit on behalf of a wonderful group of plaintiffs that included Pearl Jam, Soundgarten, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Alice in Chains, Queenslyche, and Sir Mix A lot. This was when grunge music was gaining popularity. These were all younger bands of the time. We had a great plaintiff group and we were able to overturn that law. There were a lot of censorship attempts in the '80s. There were some murals at the state capital in Olympia that were covered up because they were too risqué. They weren't at all, of course. We had a case for an artist in eastern Washington whose work had been approved for a public display in the city building. But when an official saw the work as it was being hung, the city decided it was too risqué. We took her case and won. So the '80s was marked by censorship, and the beginnings of the whole religious revival and efforts to insert religion into public institutions, especially the schools. The '90s was marked by--
KT: Well, the '90s were really the very beginning of the digital revolution, and the Internet. In 1995 we had a very important matter--it didn't turn into a case-- for a young man named Paul Kim, a senior at Newport, in High School in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. As I said, this was the beginning of the Internet era and Paul Kim was a very bright student. At home on his own computer produced a parody of the school newspaper, The Newport High on line. It had high schoolish silly things to say about the teachers. He was called in by the principal and told to take down the website. He refused to take it down. He had developed it on his own time. He wasn't on school property. It had had nothing to do with school other than it was talking about the school, but the school had no authority to tell him what to do on his own time. As a result of that, the principal rescinded the school's endorsement of his getting a National Merit Scholarship. We got involved. We got a lot of publicity for the issue, including from the New York Times. The school rescinded its discipline of him. Then he went on to become an attorney. I think that that was very formative incident in his life. [laughter]
MG: That reminds me of a question I had earlier. You mentioned you wanted to go to law school. That didn't seem to end up happening.
MG: What were you learning about the law through your work at the ACLU? It sounds like it probably was enough of an education.
KT: Oh, yes. I might have gone to law school if I hadn't gotten this job, but Roger Baldwin had a saying--Roger Baldwin is a founder of the ACLU and people presumed he was a lawyer because we do so much in the law. I really like what he said when he was asked if he was a lawyer. "I'm not a lawyer; I hire lawyers." That's what I say too.
MG: That's something else to talk about, growing the affiliate. You have gotten a lot of credit for turning it into what it is today in terms of resources and staff. So who were some of the people you hired and when did you start feeling like the affiliate here was turning around in terms of its financial footing?
KT: The affiliate has grown every single year about one position a year. I mean, that wasn't done in any kind of planned way, but looking back on it, we've grown about a position a year. So it's pretty steady growth. We now have about five staff attorneys. For the first ten years I was here, we had no staff attorneys. We also have, which is just wonderful--we have special policy projects on various issues that are of concern to us. We have a Technology and Liberty Project, which Northern California also has. I think Massachusetts is developing one, but we were the second affiliate to have that kind of legal position. It makes all sorts of sense here in Washington State where technology expertise is all around us. We have several people who have focused specifically on drug policy and now they're focusing on criminal justice more broadly and mass incarceration. We have a position that focuses specifically on education equity, especially the racially disparate discipline that occurs in the schools and how to keep kids in school instead of pushing them into the school to prison pipeline. We have a lawyer who works on the problem that many healthcare facilities do not provide abortion services or end of life care because they are merging with Catholic hospitals and clinics. We are very fortunate to have --in addition to excellent staff attorneys to have policy counsel working on special projects. We've grown a lot and I guess the big shift in size of the organization happened at 9/11. 9/11 was huge. It basically doubled everybody's workload at the ACLU. It was just a huge increase in issues to deal with--national security, free speech issues, discrimination against Muslims. Our membership doubled. That is what I think is so remarkable. The two things that have increased the ACLU's membership, dramatically--it says something good about the people of the United States. One is the bashing the ACLU got during the first Bush candidacy where he was saying nobody--I can't remember exactly how he said it, but something very pejorative about the ACLU and the ACLU got flooded with new members.
MG: That was the card-carrying ACLU comment.
KT: Oh, yes. Right. Exactly. Yes, Michael S. Dukakis admitted that he was a member of the ACLU, and Bush scorned him for that. The second thing was 9/11, when the ACLU made it clear that we believed that the United States could be both safe and free, and we really worked hard to make clear that the country should not suddenly go into hysteria and do the same kind of fear mongering that happened during World War II, and during many other crises in this country. Our membership doubled during that time.
MG: Was the Technology and Liberty Project in response to what happened on 9/11 or was it formed previously?
KT: No, it was in response to the growing issues around privacy and the digital world, and the increase in digital surveillance and cameras. Right now we're working on things like ALPRs, automatic license plate readers that track where and when you drive, body cameras, and all the ways that our lives are surveilled, especially by government, because government has the capacity to put us in jail, take away our liberty. That's been our primary focus.
MG: It seems like the work you were doing in the projects you had set up previous to 9/11 would help you with the challenges that that event brought.
KT: Not all those projects were setup before 9/11.
MG: But even your work on government surveillance.
KT: Oh, sure. Absolutely, yes. Yes. Right. We were in a good position. We had sophisticated staff by then. We've had a communications director who has been on staff for twenty-five years and is a very savvy political communications director. We've had terrific lobbyists over the years, great staff attorneys. We've been in a position to really respond vigorously to whatever it is that happens. After 9/11, even on the west coast, we saw peoples' stores being raided and people being investigated by the FBI for no reason other than they went to a mosque, and those kinds of things. We had a case involving a man had obtained political asylum from Iraq. His name was Abdulameer Yousef Habeeb. He was travelling from Seattle, where he lived, to Washington D.C., where he had an opportunity for a new job. He was taking a train through the northern route, which in Montana is very close to the Canadian border. He got off the train, as one can do when it stops, to walk around and get a snack, et cetera. He was approached by two border agents and asked for his papers, which he had, which were all proper--not that they had any right--well, the border patrol thinks it has the right to ask for papers. We don't think it does. They didn't think his papers were correct and so they took him to a jail in Montana--someplace he had never been before--and held him for a couple days while they were trying to figure out what to do with him. Eventually, they sent him back to Seattle and we took up his cause. Ultimately, we got for him--what was most important to him, an apology from the government. Habeeb had with him documents that even the government's own website described as the proper credentials, but the agents didn't even know their own system. All he had to do was look like he was a foreigner and the border agents were ready to whisk him away and presume that he was dangerous. As a result of that, he lost his job in Washington D.C. We got a financial settlement for him, but he was most pleased about getting an apology from the federal government.
MG: 9/11 coincided with a new national Executive Director, Anthony Romero.
MG: Can you talk about that transition?
KT: You bet. The executive directors of the affiliates have an organization called the Executive Director's Council. It basically meets so that affiliate EDs can learn from each other and also to figure out how best to get the resources and services we need from the national organization. That had always been difficult--we had a lot of difficulties because there was no one person at national who was responsible for helping the affiliates. I was chair of the Executive Director Council when Anthony came in. I remember our first meeting with him. We had a meeting of the steering committee of this council to figure out how we could ask this brand new Executive Director, right after 9/11--that was irrelevant to this discussion--how we could ask him to create a position of somebody to provide support to the affiliates? So we talked about the arguments we were going to make to him and we had the meeting. He beat us to the punch. He said that he was going to create a new department, the Affiliate Support Department with six people in it. We were floored. We had been working so hard with the previous executive director to get any attention, and Anthony came in and immediately recognized the tremendous number of people working for the ACLU throughout the affiliates, who needed to be more coordinated and supported to do their best work. After all, all the legal cases come from the affiliates, and every member of congress comes from one. I was Executive Director since 1980, so I saw twenty years of his successor and I've seen about seventeen years Anthony's work. They both had their strengths, but one of the many strengths that Anthony has is understanding the value of the affiliates and bringing a tremendous amount of resources to the affiliates, and strengthening the entire organization as a result. He also had understanding of management practices and put them in place in ways that extremely improved and professionalized the national office.
MG: Did he reshape the funding structure so that the most underfunded affiliates with the most pressing civil liberties issues--?
KT: He certainly added to that, but the sharing formulas go back to Ira Glasser. Under Ira, there was a financial structures committee that looked at the whole way we structured the sharing of money. Ira really gets credit for that. The committee started in 1984, and I was a member of it starting day one--still am on its successor committee. It created a system of sharing money where every-- almost every-- dollar raised, either in the affiliates or by the national office, is shared fifty-fifty. As a result of that system, there is no competition for donors. There's only collaboration, cooperation. That is so important for strengthening every part of the organization because we don't chase after donors and then put the donor in the terrible position of who do I fund? Having one part of the organization dis the other part of the organization in order to get more funds is exactly what happens in some, other nationwide organizations that have affiliates. They have structures that don't encourage collaboration, cooperation. If you can't collaborate on money, it's hard to collaborate on all those other things. Ira gets a lot of credit for helping to create that system. Anthony took it to the next level. We've increasingly shifted greater amounts of money to the smaller affiliates, and especially through the last major fundraising campaign called Leading Freedom Forward where we identified--the national organization identified-- those affiliates that were dramatically underfunded and where the civil liberties problems were greatest and invested heavily in places like Mississippi, and Texas and Florida. The ACLU of Washington is considered a donor state because we raise money and half of it goes to the national office and a lot of that goes back out to the needier affiliates.
MG: I also wanted to ask you about how this affiliate functions with the different chapters around the state because Seattle's unique in the state of Washington.
KT: We don't have chapters. We used to have chapters. Chapters functioned under the old system of advocacy organization, where it was all-volunteer. When you start professionalizing, bringing in professionals into staff positions, you can act much more quickly. You don't have to call a meeting of volunteers and have a group consensus about how you should move forward and then figure out who's going to write that letter. You can just get it done in a day. Then especially, with the Internet, everything is--life has speeded up a lot. Between the Internet and the professional staff, we found that it was not effective to have volunteer chapters around the state. We do a lot of state-wide work. In fact, our biggest cases are probably in Eastern Washington right now, but we've moved away from chapters. We work a lot with other organizations throughout the state--and organizations that represent the individuals whose civil liberties are being violated. Maybe Hispanic organizations or prisoner organizations, groups of people who are really affected by the civil liberties we're trying to improve. We also have contacts throughout the state, and we have people calling us all the time with information. We have members throughout the state. We have twenty thousand formal dues-paying members and we have fifty-thousand people on our e-mail activist alert system. So we have lots of people around throughout the state who support the ACLU and help us move issues. As a result, we can pick up the phone and find people in some small town, and have them help us get the information we need to move an issue.
MG: Are there issues that are unique to Washington that the ACLU tackles?
KT: Every state thinks they're unique, but really no. Probably, there's more emphasis on different issues depending on where you are. For example, we probably work more on technology than some places do. The thing about a place like Washington, and other more progressive states, is we get to push the envelope, whereas in Mississippi or someplace, they still have their thumb in the dike because they have got to keep what they have, whereas we get to legalize marijuana and have a ballot measure on marriage equality. We get to push the envelope on things and make a path for other states to follow.
MG: What is your working relationship with Anthony or this affiliate's relationship with the national office?
KT: Excellent. When I came in 1980, I remember our national board representative Mary Gallwey made it clear to me that a positive relationship with the national organization was very important. She was so right about that. I've seen others throughout the states, especially in my early days when there was more contention between the national organization and the affiliates. There was all this struggle about who's in charge and so forth, but some affiliates seemed to want to create that tension and to posture with the national organization. I found that we got a lot more done by being cooperative; people are more willing to work with you. We've maintained that very positive relationship. I got along very well with Ira while he was Executive Director. I feel like I'm very close to Anthony. I think Anthony has done wonders for the organization. He's been terrific. He's right on the issues and he's right on the organization. He was very young when he took that job. He was in his thirties. He would say he made some missteps at first. He had a very gigantic, cumbersome board, but he has done a marvelous job.
MG: Do you want to look over your notes and see if there is anything else we left out?
KT: Oh, there's this whole book, On Freedom's Frontier: The First Fifty Years of the ACLU in Washington State. One of our supporters, back in probably about 1990, suggested that we needed a history book. So we wrote one. It's a little outdated now because it ends in 1980. We've got a few more decades to add to it pretty soon, but I refer you to it for many more stories.
MG: Well, is there anything else you would like to add to the record? You have been very generous with your time.
KT: No, but I would hope you could come back and talk to other people around here because this is just a tidbit.
MG: I hope so too. I think we just got the tip of the iceberg and it would be great to talk to others who have something to contribute. I also would not mind another visit to Seattle. [laughter] It is so lovely here.
KT: It's beautiful, isn't it?
MG: It's amazing. [laughter] Well, I want to thank you so much for all your time and sharing so much with me.
KT: Oh, my pleasure.
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Reviewed by Molly Graham 8/10/2015
Reviewed by Kathleen Taylor 9/10/2015
Reviewed by Jessica Friedman 10/20/2015