Leadership transition at local ACLU planned for 2018

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawai‘i announced today that its long-time executive director, Vanessa Chong, will be retiring early 2018. Chong became the organization’s executive director in 1984 and first joined its staff in 1981.

ACLU of Hawai`i Board President Barbara Ankersmit said “Vanessa is leaving us a vital and strong organization and we look forward to a smooth transition.” The affiliate has appointed a search committee and will post the position nationwide later this month.

The ACLU affiliate has grown in size, effectiveness and influence statewide during Chong’s tenure. “The ACLU has been at the forefront of many of Hawai`i’s key civil liberties and civil rights issues and we are grateful that Vanessa has been at the helm through every challenge,” Ankersmit said.

“When Vanessa took over as executive director in 1984, Hawai`i’s prisons were in deplorable conditions,” Ankersmit said. “The ACLU filed its first class action lawsuit that year in partnership with local and national ACLU lawyers to challenge those conditions in the courts. Our advocacy then to reform prison policies continues to this day.”

The local ACLU has also proven itself a tireless advocate and key partner on issues such as ensuring the equal protection of the laws for racial, ethnic and religious minorities, protecting reproductive rights, securing marriage equality for same-sex couples, encouraging fair treatment of homeless individuals, and ensuring free speech and protest rights for all points of view. The ACLU must continue to help Hawai`i be vigilant in protecting hard-won freedoms while constantly striving to raise awareness about their importance,” said Ankersmit.

Chong is confident that the ACLU will be even stronger in the years to come. “Civil liberties and civil rights are being eroded as never before. The ACLU is the one organization whose years of experience give it the unparalleled breadth and depth to successfully counter these threats.”

The ACLU of Hawai`i is an affiliate of the nationwide ACLU, the country’s premier organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties and civil rights since 1920. A non-profit and non-partisan organization, the local ACLU has more than 4,000 members and donors, a staff of seven and an annual budget of more than $1 million.

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The mission of the Hawai‘i affiliate of the ACLU is to protect the civil liberties contained in the state and federal constitutions through litigation, legislative and public education programs statewide. The ACLU is funded primarily through private donations and offers its services at no cost to the public. The ACLU does not accept any government funds.