About the Peoria Area Chapter
The Board of Directors for the ACLU of IL - Peoria-Area Chapter meets on the 4th Tuesday of every month (except December). Board meetings are open to all, and are held at the Unitarian/Universalist Church, 3000 Richwoods Blvd., in Peoria IL. We also hold monthly discussion group gatherings, which are open to the public. These discussion gatherings are informal, and free to attend. However, attendees are encouraged to enjoy food, spirits and other beverages served by the host restaurant –Rhythm Kitchen– near the Peoria Riverfront, on Water Street at Liberty. These gatherings are held on the 2nd Thursday of the month. Other activities are scheduled throughout the year, as well.
Our chapter boasts multiple successes in defending civil liberties over its nearly 60-year history, but one recent achievement to defend freedom of the press occurred is a particular point-of-pride… since 1977, a local monthly newspaper, The Community Word (thecommunityword.com), was a publication serving mostly as a booster for area events and activities. After 36-years, the paper went up for sale in 2013. A small group of local investors, half of them on the local ACLU Board of Directors and other area ACLU members saw the sale for what it could be: an opportunity to publish a monthly area newspaper that would focus on civil rights issues, as well as other local matters concern, such as renewable energy, environmental concerns, adequate funding for education, and so on. Since its purchase in 2013 by local individuals spear-headed by the Peoria-area ACLU chapter, the paper has thrived and continues to grow as it tackles liberal-leaning issues head-on.
We also act as watchdogs on local governments, and blew the whistle on the mayor of Peoria who sent the police to arrest someone who had posted a mocking Twitter account of the mayor. The ACLU of Illinois sued in federal court for this Constitutional violation of free speech and won a judgement for the person. This lawsuit was settled successfully out-of-court with a sizable judgment for the victim, and a stinging public rebuke of the mayor.
Indeed, it was even featured on a number of national cable TV programs, bringing positive notoriety to our Peoria ACLU chapter. In past years, we’ve also been responsible for a number of civil liberty achievements at the local level, as well as impacting national and state leaders from the local area. Our Peoria chapter has also sponsored open debates between US congressional candidates.
State Senator Dave Koehler and Peoria City Council member Beth Jensen have been recent guest speakers at our annual banquets. Within just the past decade, we’ve also been honored to have other high-profile guest speakers, including the Chief Justice of the IL Supreme Court – Justice Tom Kilbride; former US Transportation Secretary to the Obama administration, Ray LaHood, as well as US federal court judge, Joe Billy McDade. Past Board members have included JD Wheeler, a former chapter president, who is well-renowned as one of the Peoria-area’s greatest defender of civil rights during the ‘70s, ‘80s and into the ‘90s. Likewise, Tom Pugh. longtime editor of downstate Illinois’ largest daily newspaper, the Peoria Journal-Star, served as chapter president and a Board member for many years.
We participate in protests, marches and other events, including a recent event designed to encourage voter turnout by warning the public of deceptive voter suppression tactics. The Peoria-Area Chapter also hosts an annual membership meeting and banquet, an annual picnic, and weekly discussion groups – open to both members, as well as the general public.
Our Peoria-area ACLU chapter is a conduit for our parent chapter, the ACLU-of-IL, which is headquartered in Chicago. The Chicago offices provide solid support and communications with the Peoria and other downstate ACLU chapters. As is the mission of the national ACLU for nearly 100-years, the state and local chapters in Illinois remain focused on protecting, and fighting for, the civil rights and liberties of all persons in our geographic area – primarily west and central Illinois. While our members may support any number of other worthwhile causes, the ACLU is dedicated to preserving and promoting the freedoms given to each of us as a birth-right, and guaranteed by our amazing US Constitution. With the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the ACLU has taken on a new, ambitious and necessary role, as well: Taking the fight for liberty and freedom to the streets, as well as our continued efforts to protect freedom in the courts. We have aligned with a number of like-minded groups and organizations in our area – all determined to keep the Trump administration from undermining the protections of the US Constitution.
As the national ACLU approaches its centennial in 2020, our Peoria-area chapter has been a crucial part of those efforts, and will celebrate its 60th anniversary the following year: 2021.