How to Create Lasting Change in Washington

Wednesday, May 1, 2024
Graphic with the words "all in for our rights" on a black background with a red border. There is a heart and lightning bolt between the word "all in for" and "our rights"
It is no secret that many of us are anxious about the future. We are facing challenges to reproductive rights, attacks on LGBTQIA2S+ communities, censorship attempts, and more. How will we continue to deal with these challenges and whatever the 2024 election season brings?

We do not know the future. But we do know two things: 1) No matter the results of the elections, we and our allies will show up to protect our fundamental freedoms. 2) The key to lasting systemic change is community.

What the ACLU Does

We know change does not come easily — so we must be strategic in every effort. We analyze every challenge to civil rights and liberties and use the best strategy for the job, whether that is political organizing, litigation, media advocacy, or policy and public education. Every tool helps in the fight for a freer and fairer Washington.

And the way we use these tools is equally important as the tools themselves.

What Partners Do

A key value guiding ACLU-WA's work is honoring and respecting partner organizations and the communities impacted by systemic oppression. That means relying on our allies’ expertise and on-the-ground relationships. We learn more about where the fight is and how the ACLU can best use its legal and political resources to support communities.

What the ACLU and Partners Do Together

Many of the legislative and legal wins that you see in your newsfeed come from collaboration. What does this collaboration look like? It can be brainstorming strategies in weekly huddles, bringing supporters to Olympia for a joint Advocacy Day, and foregrounding the voices of those who could be most impacted by a new law. Regardless of the tactics involved, we rely on our relationships with community-based organizations just as communities rely upon them. Partnering with allies has been especially powerful in two areas: criminal legal reform and defending the right to bodily autonomy.

Criminal Legal Reform

Much of our work in criminal legal reform is focused on dismantling and remedying the harms of mass incarceration. Why? Because Washington deserves better policies that truly make communities safer and healthier.  

One of our top priorities has been transforming sentencing and reentry by reducing life and long sentences. Last year, in coalition with allies and incarcerated individuals, we successfully advocated to stop the practice of automatically giving people longer sentences because of offenses they committed as youths.

This legislation would not have passed - let alone existed - without the work of incarcerated activists and community organizations like Look2Justice and FAMM. Justice-impacted organizers designed the legislation, lead coalitions from prison cells, and risked retaliation to testify in front of the legislature. They also provided guidance on when to compromise and where to push back during the long journey to pass the law.

We returned this legislative session to make the law retroactive, meaning it would apply to people who are currently serving overly long sentences. While it ultimately did not reach the Governor’s desk, the bill made it incredibly far in the legislative process because of support from 21 Tribes and Indigenous organizations like Huy. Indigenous peoples are disproportionately harmed by the practice of punishing people twice for crimes they committed as children. Indigenous organizations and activists leveraged testimony and media coverage to bring that reality front and center for lawmakers in Olympia.

Bodily Autonomy

Protecting and expanding the right to bodily autonomy is another area in which collaborating with allies has been crucial to progress. While many states are rolling back or banning abortion and gender-affirming care, our state has continued to expand and defend access to these critical health care services.

For example, in 2023, we successfully advocated for a shield law to protect out-of-state patients seeking reproductive and gender affirming care that is legal in Washington. We also fought for the passage of My Health, My Data, a first-in-the-nation privacy law which helps reduce barriers to care by protecting people’s private health data.

Our advocacy for both laws was successful because of the collective action of reproductive health and LGBTQIA2S+ advocates, providers, impacted people, and privacy advocates.

What You Can Do

We are facing real threats to our communities, our freedoms, and our democracy. In this climate, positive change can seem like a fairy tale. It can be when you work alone. But we can make lasting progress when we rely on each other.

Whether it is educating your community on their rights or joining a get-out-the-vote campaign, you have a role to play in the fight for civil rights and liberties.

One immediate way you can show up in the fight is by donating to both ACLU-WA and a community-based organization during this year’s GiveBIG fundraising event, May 7 – 8. The truth is, right now, abortion access, trans rights, and free speech are all on the line. Protecting those rights starts with funding our work and the work of grassroots organizations. 
Lavender Rights Project, UTOPIA Washington, and Huy are three of the many partner organizations fighting for grassroots change in our communities. We encourage you to donate to one that speaks to you.