The past year has tested our resolve and magnified the injustices that have plagued our country for centuries. But it also demonstrated our strength and resilience in the face of adversity – not to mention a lot of creativity in finding new ways to push for civil rights in an ever-changing virtual world.
Here’s a look back at some of the highlights for the ACLU of North Dakota.
Helping North Dakota Kids Today Will Make North Dakota Stronger Tomorrow
Across the country, school districts are struggling with students who don’t have enough money to pay for cafeteria meals and accrue a debt to eat.
Lunch debt collection policies vary from district to district. At some schools, children have had their meals thrown in the trash for unpaid school lunch debt. Others have been barred from participating in extra-curricular or after-school activities. It’s happening in North Dakota, too.
Often, private donors step in to help foot the bills. But soliciting donations to cover school lunch debt isn’t exactly a sustainable solution. That’s why the ACLU of North Dakota worked with a coalition of organizations to change school lunch debt policies. Now, thanks to a Fargo School Board policy update in early 2020, families will no longer have to worry about being sent to collections or referred to social services over lunch debt.
Helping North Dakota kids like this today will only help make our state stronger tomorrow.
Good Health Starts with Stable Housing
For North Dakotans whose income was impacted because of involuntary unemployment, extended sickness or required quarantine during the COVID-19 crisis, stable housing was – and still is – a major concern. In fact, nearly 1/3 of respondents to a North Dakota Department of Commerce COVID-19 Community Impact Survey said they have concerns about housing evictions.
The ACLU of North Dakota, along with organizations like the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition to End Homelessness and High Plains Fair Housing, urged Gov. Doug Burgum to issue a temporary moratorium on eviction actions in the state.
While Burgum wouldn’t issue an eviction moratorium, his administration offered an alternative solution: the Rent Bridge Program. This program, which provide temporary rental assistance to eligible renters who are experiencing a loss of household income due to COVID-19, has the potential to be an even better solution to keep people in their homes. We’re happy the state finally responded to our concerns and call to action. Good heath really does start with stable housing.
Racial Justice Movement Sparks Changes in Fargo
After the murder of George Floyd by the hands of police in Minneapolis, North Dakotans responded with protests and marches across the state. The ACLU provided support to organizations like One Fargo at the Fargo-Moorhead Black Lives Matter group for these protests. We were also the first organization to call for the resignation of Todd Osmundson, the former Fargo deputy chief of police, for his actions when he infiltrated and agitated protesters.
Real change, however, starts at the top – which is why the ACLU worked with the city of Fargo to add more diverse voices to its police chief hiring committee. Five people of color were selected to be on the hiring committee, and the committee selected a progressive, reform-minded chief – the first step toward real police reform in Fargo. A community task-force will continue the work by meeting with the Fargo police chief and mayor on a regular basis. Watch out, Fargo. Change is coming!
Get Out the Vote Efforts Bring More People to the Polls
In an unprecedented year, it was only natural that we had an unprecedented election.
The ACLU has a long history of helping voters understand and exercise their voting rights – and this year was no different. With misinformation flowing from the highest levels, we knew how important it was for voters to be prepared and make their plan for voting – either by absentee ballot or in person on Election Day. It was never more important to help educate voters on how, where and when they can vote, and how to advocate for their constitutional right to cast a ballot when obstacles are thrown in their way.
That’s why we launched an aggressive voting rights campaign – amplified through digital and outdoor advertising, direct mail, an expansive email program, interactive online tools, and social media outreach – and provided voting rights information, absentee ballot request forms, and instructions to people across the state.
By doing so, we helped thousands of North Dakotans vote safely by mail – and if people were comfortable, in person on Election Day – in the November election.
Looking Ahead to 2021
Thank you for supporting civil rights and liberties. Moving forward, we’re more committed than ever to building a more just and equitable South Dakota for everyone. Thank you for joining us in the fight. You make progress possible.