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SLO loses an important watchdog

Local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union closes its doors

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With the War on Terror and the Patriot Act raising concerns about the erosion of civil liberties, now could be a relatively inopportune time for satellite chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to start closing their doors. But that's exactly what the SLO chapter informally announced last week it would be doing. One member of the ACLU-SLO said recently that attendance at the meetings had fallen off and that the forums were sparsely attended.

Perhaps more troubling still is how quietly the SLO chapter seems to be dissolving. The ACLU Southern California, ACLU-SLO's parent chapter, was founded by Upton Sinclair in 1923 to protect rights granted under the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

In recent years, the ACLU-SLO has held forums and discussions on various civil issues and been the eyes and ears for its parent organization, ACLU-SC. Last week the group held a discussion on transgender discrimination. Christopher Daley, director of the Transgender Law Center of San Francisco, was the featured speaker.

In 2001 New Times profiled Hank Alberts, then-president of ACLU-SLO.

"People brag about their constitutional rights all the time," Alberts said. "But they rarely thank - or think about - the people who protect them. The ACLU is not motivated by what's fashionable. We're here to protect the Bill of Rights. That's our only client."

In honor of the group's historical dedication to civil checks and balances, New Times opened up the archives and found some of the more newsworthy issues taken on in recent years by the ACLU-SLO.

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