With ACLU’s Rapid Growth Comes New Leader, and Increased Emphasis on Latino Engagement

SAN DIEGO – Having grown from seven staff members to twenty-one in seven years, the San Diego ACLU today announced the promotion of Norma Chávez-Peterson to the new position of Associate Director supervising the organization’s entire advocacy portfolio.  Chávez -Peterson started as Organizing Director nine months ago and led the organization’s Latino voter engagement campaign in Escondido and the San Diego component of the statewide campaign to replace California’s death penalty (Proposition 34).

“This is a magnificent development.  Norma is a supremely talented leader and an invaluable team member,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the San Diego ACLU.  “She has deep roots in the community, an extraordinary ability to inspire people to action, and one of the finest strategic minds I have encountered.  With our organization’s rapid expansion, we need someone who embodies all these skills to help lead us in our next phase of growth and effectiveness.”

In addition to core liberties of speech and equality for women and the LGBT community, the San Diego ACLU’s key issues, which are also key areas of concern of the growing Latino community in the region, include voting rights, immigrants’ rights, educational equity, criminal justice reform, privacy rights, and border justice.

Chávez -Peterson was carefully selected in a national search that surfaced several exceptional candidates.  As associate director, she will supervise the ACLU’s program work, comprising organizing, policy, communications and legal teams.

“One of the things I am most excited about is the opportunity to leverage our different ways of making change—organizing, education, policy advocacy, and litigation—to reinforce one another,” said Chávez-Peterson. “We felt some of the tremendous potential of this collaboration during our get-out-the-vote campaign in Escondido.  I love coming to work every day and getting to do what I do—inspire the community to take charge of their lives, raise their voices and exercise their power to help realize our vision of an equitable and just society.”

Chávez-Peterson had an impressive resume before coming to the San Diego ACLU.  She was the founder and director of Justice Overcoming Boundaries, a faith-based leadership development and community organizing nonprofit that addresses issues faced by low-income people historically excluded from decision making and political power.  Chávez-Peterson played a lead role in the push for comprehensive immigration reform, leading to massive demonstrations, including a 2006 march of more than 100,000 people through the streets of San Diego. While quite young, Chávez -Peterson served as a senior manager at MAAC Project, a social service nonprofit that promotes self-sufficiency for low- and moderate-income families and communities of color.  Given the shifting demographics and growing power of the Latino community across the country, Chávez-Peterson’s new leadership position dovetails perfectly with the San Diego ACLU’s increased focus on empowering Latinos, ending discriminatory practices at all levels of government, and changing bad policies that encourage abuses along our southern border.

Norma’s leadership is being recognized tomorrow by the National Latina Business Women Association, which is presenting Chávez-Peterson with its Outstanding Advocate of the Year Award at an event featuring Mayor Bob Filner and former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher.

Despite the economic downturn across the country, the San Diego ACLU has experienced significant growth in size and advocacy strength.  Not only has the local affiliate itself grown, but it works more closely than ever with the two other ACLU affiliates headquartered in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and with the three other ACLU affiliates along the U.S.-Mexico border.

2013 will mark the San Diego ACLU’s 80th year in San Diego and 25th year as an ACLU affiliate.  The ACLU was founded in San Diego by Helen Marston, youngest child of city leaders George and Helen Marston, in 1933.  It hired its first staff member in 1979 and incorporated as its own ACLU “affiliate” in 1988.  The San Diego and Los Angeles ACLU fought for immigrants’ and farm workers’ rights in Imperial Valley during the Depression, fought California’s loyalty oaths for decades starting in the 1930s, won a historic U.S. Supreme Court victory stopping the enforcement of California’s Alien Land Act against Japanese Americans (Oyama v. California, 1948), and won the right of Pete Seeger to rent Hoover High School for a concert in 1960 without signing an anti-communist loyalty oath.

The National ACLU was established in 1920 to defend civil liberties, including First Amendment rights, the right to equal protection of the law, the right to due process, and the right to privacy.  Nationally, the ACLU has over 500,000 members; here in California there are more than 110,000 members.