"If our political system was totally just and fair, I would almost certainly be teaching high school baseball…it's the injustice of the system that drives me," says Faiz Shakir, the new national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU). Starting his new position in January of this year
, Shakir has already made great strides as one the youngest senior staff members of the 97-year old organization. With the goal of implementing grass-roots organizing on a national scale, Shakir aims to reimagine the mission of the ACLU to empower everyone to be an agent for change. Shakir is the special guest speaker at the ACLU of Michigan Standing Together for Justice Annual Luncheon
on Thursday, May 11 at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Raised in Florida, Shakir was a dedicated athlete as a child, and was recruited to play baseball in college for the Harvard Crimson. At Harvard, he studied government in addition to playing ball, and in his junior year was deeply affected by the terrorist attack in New York City on September 11, 2001. "9/11 really turned me in a direction of wanting to be heavily engaged and changing policy and politics in our country," says Shakir.
Committing him to further study and work within the government, the events of 9/11 propelled him toward Washington D.C. after graduation, where he worked in a variety of fields, including in congress for former Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Bob Graham. Shakir then went on to join John Kerry's campaign in the 2004 election, motivated by his opposition to the war in Iraq and sitting President George W. Bush.
After the election, Shakir worked for the Center for American Progress
, a public policy institute, and helped launch their blog, Think Progress
, for which he served as the editor and chief for seven years. All of the work he did in these positions was fueled by Shakir's desire to create change. Self proclaimed as "hell-bent on advocacy," he felt that he needed to "suit up and help go make change on the inside," he says.
His last position before moving to his work at the ACLU was for Nancy Polosi and Harry Reid, where he learned about policy-making at the highest levels. "I felt like I really grew from those experiences," says Shakir. After four years in this position, "I was eager to return to my roots of being an advocate," he says.
Shakir jumped at the opportunity to begin working with the ACLU due to his desire to involve the public in policy making. "I wanted to mobilize the public's attention and the public's need fix them," says Shakir. "ACLU was the right place at the right time." Beginning his new position on January 20th (the same day as President Trump was sworn into office). Openly in opposition to Trump's administration, Shakir jokes, "every milestone that Donald trump meets, I meet it with him."
After six weeks at the ACLU, Shakir launched peoplepower.org
, a grass-roots organizing website designed to mobilize activists across the country, on March 11 with a major town hall in Miami, Florida. According to the site, "Through People Power, the ACLU will engage volunteers across the country to take action when Trump or his administration attempt to enact unconstitutional policies or trample on people’s constitutional rights. By mobilizing in defense of our civil liberties, volunteers will build local communities that affirm our American values of respect, equality, and solidarity."
After operating for just eight weeks, the site has already attracted 225,000 people who have signed up to be a part of a variety of projects—everything from meetings with local judges to film screenings to panels on law enforcement and immigration. By visiting the "find an event
" tab and typing in their zip code, activists can instantly get involved in an organizing event in or near their community. Individuals can even sponsor their own events.
In addition to continued development of People Power, Shakir has a host of issues he intends to address as national political director. One such issue is surveillance reform, and the federal government's heightened security measures. Shakir aims to maintain civil liberties as surveillance reform occurs by keeping a close eye on personal data collection. The quest for increased voter rights is also a vital mission for his tenure. In Florida, Shakir's home state, 1.6 million people who were formerly incarcerated have been denied their voting rights despite having served out their term. With his sites set on changing the state constitution to restore the voting rights of these reformed citizens, Shakir aims to restore voting efforts one state at a time. "That's going to be a major effort," he says.
Also on the docket is are issues with mass incarceration, immigration, and Islamophobia. Himself raised Muslim, Shakir was especially shocked by President Trump's executive order 13769, in which Syrian refugees and nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries were banned from entering the United States
. "It's an area of great concern to me," says Shakir, when certain minority groups are ostracized. "I've seen how it's too easy to marginalize the voice of rising American muslims with the tag 'terrorist.'"
Though serving as the national political director for under four months, Shakir is already making waves, with a passionate voice that speaks through fifteen years of political advocacy. "We need to reconquer our basic humanity," says Shakir, who feels that the federal government is trudging over old terrain on issues like immigration. Fiercely opposed to "Trump's mass deportation force," as he described it, Shakir is appalled as he witnesses "dreamers" (immigrant youth who were brought into the country by their parents) being deported, immigrant families torn apart, and expedited removal for immigrants without due process. It's these types of actions that are "Robbing us of a basic sense of humanity," says Shakir.
"I wanted to mobilize the public's attention and the public's need fix [these injustices]," says Shakir.
"Where is our power?" he asks. "It's among the people."