The ACLU’s executive director is leading the nonprofit through the most contentious period in its nearly 100-year history.
Anthony Romero was the first one in his office on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sat at his desk, which overlooks the Statue of Liberty from lower Manhattan, and wrote a combative letter to then–president-elect Donald Trump. In it, he vowed that “the full firepower” of his organization would be deployed against any attempts by the new administration to encroach on the Constitution. In the months since, the ACLU has blocked the two so-called travel bans targeting predominantly Muslim countries and launched new tools to help organize protesters and lobby lawmakers. It’s taken in $83 million in donations and increased membership fourfold to 1.6 million people. In Romero’s 16 years as executive director, the ACLU has often been on the front lines of cultural controversy, helping lead landmark fights against “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010 and for marriage equality in 2015. “We will get tested, and we will sometimes lose, but we will always be in the fight for the right reasons,” Romero told his staff on November 9. Here’s how he keeps the pugnacious 97-year-old nonprofit—which has challenged Republicans and Democrats alike—at the forefront of national affairs.