Systemic Equality

Generations of Black, Indigenous, and people of color have long been plagued by the negative effects of policies that directly and indirectly discriminated against them. Through policies in housing, voting, education and many other spaces, systemic inequality has been baked into many facets of American society, causing disparate outcomes for communities of color. To address the problems created through systemic inequality, the ACLU believes the country needs systemic solutions. To that end, the ACLU of Washington has launched Systemic Equality WA, coinciding with the national ACLU’s Systemic Equality campaign — a racial justice agenda aimed at addressing the nation’s long history of systemic inequality, discrimination and racism through advocacy, legal action, and legislative work.

Systemic Equality WA is a framework for the efforts the ACLU of Washington has undertaken and will undertake to advance equality throughout the state, placing our efforts under three main pillars.


We can’t move forward with progress without first acknowledging the harm done by past policies and actions, and creating solutions that actually remedy those injustices, the pain they caused, and their lasting scars.


Promote Reparations

We will build relationships with Black leaders in Washington advancing reparations.  Our goal  is to deeply examine the history contributing to Washington’s racial wealth gap and its specific impacts on Black people in Washington, and to build relationships to support the reparations work already being done by Black leaders in our community.  We recognize this work will take time and have committed ourselves first to identifying and conducting foundational trainings for our staff, reviewing and compiling existing research, and identifying and reaching out to Black led organizations doing this work.

Reimagine Public Safety

Communities of color have been overpoliced throughout the nation for generations. In Washington, we’re working to ensure an end to police violence, through both reform and reimagining how to achieve public safety for all. Advocacy efforts led to more than a dozen police reform bills passing the state legislature in 2021.

We look to build on that success and keep pressure on state lawmakers to create a culture of accountability within policing and to prevent the type of police violence that has routinely impacted communities, particularly Black communities. We’re supporting legislation that provides legal remedy for victims of police violence, and legislation that deprioritizes non-safety traffic stops to reduce the number of harmful interactions between community and law enforcement. We are also exploring divestment from police departments and reinvestment in community through advocacy and a blog series exploring new ways to provide Washington’s communities with safety, health and well-being.

Advance Smart Justice

We are fighting mass incarceration, which has been a harmful and costly problem in America in so many ways – with lasting and devastating impacts on Black and Indigenous communities and communities of color. Through our Smart Justice campaign, the ACLU of Washington is advancing solutions that reduce Washington’s prison and jail populations and combat racial disparities. We will continue to work on meaningful criminal legal system reform that prioritizes non-criminal approaches to public health issues and rehabilitation over ineffective punitive policies. We also will combat lies and disinformation about crime that call for a return to failed tough-on-crime policies.

Protect Immigrant Rights

The intertwined history of racism and immigration law in the U. S. has brought tremendous harm to communities of color. The ACLU of Washington has been working with communities across the state to expand and enforce the civil rights of immigrants, to disrupt Washington state’s participation in federal immigration enforcement and deportation, and limit Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s and Customs and Border Patrol’s footprint in Washington. Through defending and extending Washington’s laws against the use of local and state resources for federal immigration enforcement and fighting government overreach in immigration enforcement, we aim to assure that the rights of everyone in Washington are protected.

End the War on Drugs

The War on Drugs has been a war on people – rooted in racism - disproportionately impacting Black and Indigenous people and people of color. The ACLU of Washington promotes policies that deal with substance use disorder as a public health issue instead of a crime. We are on the front lines, from the successful effort end the prohibition on cannabis to our current support of replacing the criminalization of drug use with public health approaches, such as case management, housing and employment services.

Transform School Discipline

By advocating for and with parents and communities across the state, the ACLU-WA is working to disentangle school discipline and the criminal legal system to assure that when kids make mistakes, they can learn from them without the life-altering consequences of police and legal involvement. Black and Indigenous students, students with disabilities, and students of color, are disproportionately suspended and expelled and are more likely to have negative interactions with law enforcement on campus. In a joint-report with Disability Rights Washington, the ACLU-WA found schools also routinely physically restrain and isolate students. The ACLU-WA is advocating for legislation that will eliminate that practice. The organization also seeks to replace ineffective and costly school police with proven, positive supports that improve student safety and success, and to limit suspensions and expulsions that keep kids out of the classroom and away from necessary learning and support.



Our democracy works best when everyone can participate, yet government, at all levels throughout the nation, continues to create barriers to this participation, particularly for Black, Indigenous and people of color. We must work to remove these barriers and ensure everyone can enjoy their true political power and rights. 


Build Power Across the State

Through the Power Up Network, we are connecting grassroots activists with the information and tools that they need to advocate efficiently and effectively for civil rights and civil liberties throughout Washington. We will be working to expand the campaign into more communities across the state.

Additionally, we provide education and opportunities for Washingtonians to join the fight for systemic equality. We sponsor a lobby day each year in Olympia, providing people with the education and support that they need to effectively lobby their legislators. We hold Power Up education sessions that provide in-depth training for activists in Washington. We also hold public education events that bring together community leaders and ACLU attorneys to discuss civil rights and civil liberties. You can watch previous events on our website.


Creating systemic equality means ensuring everyone has access to the resources and tools they need to be successful.


Healthcare Access

The overturning of Roe v. Wade and national outright assault on reproductive and gender-affirming care has renewed the ACLU-WA’s fight to ensure equity in the health care system. We are working to ensure all Washingtonians have access to health care and applaud the recent signing of legislation that take meaningful steps toward defending and expanding access to abortion and gender-affirming care in Washington.

The ACLU-WA is also working to ensure immigration status is not a barrier for people seeking care. To that end, the organization is engaged in continuous advocacy to make sure there is a successful launch of health care programs accessible by Washington’s immigrant communities in 2024 and beyond.

Address the Housing Crisis

Washington is experiencing a housing crisis fueled by racist housing laws and practices and continued in part through the criminalization of poverty. Solving this crisis requires systemic reform that actually addresses the root causes of housing instability and economic injustice and respects the rights of unhoused people.

Prevent A.I. Discrimination

Algorithms are shaping every part of our society, but are often created and used without transparency and accountability. Because algorithms reflect and perpetuate human biases, they often discriminate and cause harm, exacerbating systemic inequities. Government agencies throughout the state and nation are using artificial intelligence (AI) technology across many sectors, including in education, health care, housing, and our criminal legal system. The ACLU-WA is advocating for community-focused laws that regulate these technologies to protect people's civil rights and liberties as technology continues to advance.

The organization successfully advocated for My Health, My Data, a first-of its-kind law that protects people’s private health data when seeking abortion and gender affirming care. The ACLU-WA also continues to fight for legislation that will protect Washingtonians from algorithmic discrimination in hiring, housing, benefits, and beyond.

Invest in Communities

The ACLU of Washington is sharing information and resources with communities through its public education programs. Through our Speakers Bureau, we teach people about government and the criminal legal system and empower them with information about their rights. Additionally, we distribute “know your rights” information at Black, Indigenous, people of color and LGBTQIA+ led businesses and events. Through these partnerships, communities get needed resources and help to expand the distribution of civil rights and civil liberties information.