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'Now that the election is over it's time to get to work': ACLU National Political Director

Ronald Newman, ACLU National Political Director, joined Yahoo Finance's A Time for Change to discuss racial justice and economic justice.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome to "2020-- A Time for Change." I'm Kristin Myers, here with Jen Rogers and Sibile Marcellus. Well, Election Day is behind us, even if President Trump has yet to concede. And the new year is right around the corner.

JEN ROGERS: So let's take stock of the social justice movement that has swept the country this year. What is next? Let's look ahead to how this movement pushes forward under a Biden administration.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Our first guest is on the frontlines of the social justice movement. Ronald Newman is the National Direct-- National Political Director at the ACLU. Ronald, now that Biden is the President-elect and Kamala Harris made history, where is the ACLU's work headed with the Biden administration? What can we expect from the Biden administration in the first 100 days when it comes to addressing systemic racism and oppression?

So first, Sibile, I'd like to thank you very much for having me today. And I'm excited to have this conversation. Because now that the election is behind us, it is very much time to get to work. As a multi-issue organization, we will be engaging the Biden administration on a range of issues, from immigrant rights to LGBT rights to reproductive freedom. But you've touched on issues related to race. And we have every intention of pressing the Biden administration in a noticeable way, in a particular way, on issues related to racial justice. That'll be first and foremost for us as an institution.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And speaking of those issues of social justice, I know that the ACLU has called for reparations to Black Americans for slavery. How important do you think that's going to be the Biden administration? And are we talking about millions of dollars in direct payments to Black Americans?

RONALD NEWMAN: I think there are lots of areas of challenge. And so there's lots-- there are lots of areas of opportunity for the Biden administration. I think 2020 has been a very telling year. Whether it's the recent acts of police violence that have been meted out in particular against people of Color, or the wildly disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on people of Color. The situation is screaming, "take action" and "take action now." And that action can come in a variety of flavors, so it's issues relating to housing, which can be led by a department like Housing and Urban Development, issues relating to access to capital, where Treasury can play a leading role, issues relating to voting rights where a Department of Justice that is empowered, and sort of steered in the right direction can really make a difference. And so there's a broad spectrum of issues that we'll be focused on, because there's a lot of work to be done.

KRISTIN MYERS: Ronald, we talk a lot with folks who say, listen, the election is just the beginning. It's not the end, it's really the start of pushing forward on social justice initiatives. So to that end, looking at down-ballot voting, you guys have said that there's been a lot of down-ballot measures that have actually been able to advance civil rights issues. I'm wondering, as you're seeing it, is down-ballot voting-- are those down-ballot initiatives in states like California, states like Chicago, for example, really the way to move forward on social justice issues instead of relying on Congress or the White House to get things done?

RONALD NEWMAN: Oh, you do them both you absolutely do them both. Take the issue of the immigrants rights. As an institution, we've gotten engaged in a range of sheriff's elections-- tracing all the way back to 2018, but in particular in 2020, in places like Cobb County, Georgia, Gwinnett County, Georgia, Charleston, South Carolina. In each of those elections, sheriffs were elected and unseated incumbents because they committed to pull their offices out of immigration enforcement.

The Trump administration has pushed sheriff offices all across the country to help them round up immigrants, detain immigrants, and deport immigrants. In each of those jurisdictions, those sheriffs declared no more. And so irrespective of who the next president would be, there would be no more immigration enforcement by those local law enforcement entities. But at the same time, you want to have that conversation with Biden administration. Because it's two sides of the same coin. We want the federal government to stop asking for that type of assistance. And to the extent, the federal government asks for that type of assistance. We want those serious to say no. And so we're working through both channels and in both lanes to make sure we reach and get the outcomes that are important for justice and fairness in America.

JEN ROGERS: Thinking about both of what Sibile and Kristin just brought up-- reparations and also down-ballot initiatives-- do you think that 2020 and beyond is a time where we can combine both of these? So going back to reparations, which the ACLU has talked about for years here, is that going to come from more of a local area? We've seen this in Chicago. Or is it a public private partnership? Do you think we need to get companies involved here-- insurance companies that have been involved historically in these issues? How do you see that moving forward exactly?

RONALD NEWMAN: Yeah. So I think it's an all of the above answer. So take one example, just one example. Think about the issue of government procurement. Every year, government at the federal level and at the state and local level spends billions, if not, trillions of dollars procuring services or buying goods. And in far too many cases, too little attention is paid to whether minority-led businesses, or women-led businesses are part of that vendor pool. And that's precisely the type of issue that you can attack from all jurisdictional levels. The federal government can do better, but the state of Illinois, the state of Massachusetts can also do better. The city of Richmond, the city of Chicago can also do better. And by generating action and energy at all of those levels, you can get to the finish line a bit more quickly.

KRISTIN MYERS: Ronald, I'm wondering what accountability looks like. If you are a person who has sent someone to Congress, to the Senate, or put someone in the White House, are elections the only method of accountability to make sure that these legislators are moving forward with these initiatives that folks sent them to do?

RONALD NEWMAN: So elections are clearly the biggest accountability lever that we have. That's the way our democratic system is set up. But we will be having focused conversations-- and when I say "we," I am not simply saying the ACLU is in an advocacy organization. I'm saying "we," including the voters and constituents that have put these people in office.

We started this conversation talking about Joe Biden. I mean, you may remember that there was a time in this electoral cycle where it seemed as if Vice President Biden's quest for the Oval Office might be coming to an end. And communities of Color, in particular Black people down in South Carolina, resurrected that campaign. And so those exact same communities of Color will be having our conversation with this administration outlining the ways in which we must make progress on issues relating to racial justice every day for the next four years.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: But we're not quite there yet. President-elect Joe Biden hasn't yet been inaugurated. So in terms of where we are right now with the election, he's been named the President-elect. But President Trump has a flurry of legal challenges that he's pursuing. Where does the ACLU stand on all that? And what can you do differently next time around to prevent this kind of uncertainty that voters have to deal with?

RONALD NEWMAN: Yeah. So one of the great things about working at the ACLU is that we have a mighty and powerful political advocacy arm. But we also have a really notable legal department. And that legal department has been active for months in the voting rights space and continues to be active in places like Pennsylvania to ensure that every vote is counted. And that's essentially our posture.

Our litigation is focused around ensuring that every single vote counts, and that ballot votes are not thrown out, are not discarded. And so we are very much engaged in that fight. And we'll stay there until these votes are certified. So we think we know where this is heading. But there is a formal process that must occur. And we will be engaged deeply until that certification occurs, and then a new president is inaugurated. So those are all parts of the process, and also places where we're very active as an institution.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Well, we're definitely all waiting for that formal certification. Put all our minds at ease. Ronald Newman, National Political Director at the ACLU. Thanks so much.

RONALD NEWMAN: Thank you for the time. Appreciate it.