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Trump blowback boosts ACLU donations

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In a climate of widespread fear about federal civil rights rollbacks, ACLU Montana is reporting a groundswell of support for its work. ACLU Montana counted about 1,400 active donors prior to the election. In the weeks since Nov. 8, more than 1,100 people have made first-time donations, according to Kileen Marshall, director of philanthropy and strategic initiatives. She says about 250 of those donors have joined just since Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. Nearly 2,000 new subscribers have signed up for ACLU email alerts.

"My sense of why people are choosing to do this is they recognize the new administration is threatening—and has already threatened within its first week—several social justice and civil liberties issues that people feel passionately about," Marshall says. Immigration, refugees, reproductive choice, LGBT protections, voting rights and racial justice are among the issues widely perceived to be at risk under the Trump administration.

"There's a long list, and the ACLU works on all those issues," Marshall says.

The average donation in Montana has been about $35. Marshall emphasizes that even token amounts help spread the message.

"There are over 2,500 supporters in Montana who've paid money and belong to the ACLU," she says. "Our voice is strengthened when we can share how many people are with us."

In late January, the national ACLU reported an unprecedented spike in donations, to the tune of $24 million in a single weekend. That's six times the organization's annual average. Staffers attributed the uptick to outrage over the Trump administration's anti-immigrant, anti-refugee policies. The ACLU has vowed to take on the administration through every legal avenue. ACLU Montana is joining some of those efforts, including a coordinated effort among 50 ACLU affiliates to request information from U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices regarding that agency's implementation of Trump's Jan. 27 immigration ban. (The ban is currently stayed by a federal judge's order, pending legal review.)

At the state level, ACLU Montana reports encouraging news. Advocacy and Policy Director SK Rossi says that so far, most of the organization's work lobbying the 2017 Montana Legislature has been proactive, rather than reactive. Compared to past sessions, relatively few bills have cropped up that target reproductive choice or the LGBT community. ACLU Montana supports the legislature's work this session regarding criminal justice reform, in particular Commission on Sentencing efforts to reduce incarceration rates, promote alternatives to prison and address racial and ethnic disparities in the judicial system.

"It's been a joy to work with legislators from both sides of the aisle finding common ground," Rossi says.

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