Change And Challenges: Americans United Pushes Into Its Next Decade

If you’re a fan of this feature, you’re used to reading Barry Lynn’s words here. As most of you probably know by now, Barry is retiring this month. Americans United’s Board of Trustees is hard at work finding a new leader for our organization. Until that happens, I’ll be occupying this space.

Barry worked at Americans United for 25 years. His tenure is an impressive achievement, the pinnacle of a professional career dedicated to protecting the rights and liberties of all Americans.

Having worked alongside Barry for so long, I know how hard he labored and what he accomplished at Americans United. I was there for all of it. I don’t want to brag, but I have a slight edge on Barry when it comes to longevity at Americans United. In fact, this month marks my 30th anniversary with AU; it’s a professional milestone that gives me great pleasure. 

But I’m not AU’s only long-termer. In AU’s professional departments, you’ll find people who have been with us 25, 15 or 10 years.

People don’t stay with Americans United simply because it’s a great place to work (although it is); they stick with us because of the importance of the work we do and our shared commitment to this cause.

I can’t speak for others on staff, but I suspect they would agree with me that there’s something about getting up in the morning knowing that you’re going off to do work that really matters to you that makes a big difference.               

I’ve been consistently amazed over the three decades I’ve been here by the strength of the staff at Americans United. The people who work here are smart, talented and dedicated to this cause.

AU lawyers are willing to work until midnight to meet a deadline for filing a lawsuit or a court brief. Members of the legislative team don’t hesitate to pull marathon sessions to defeat bills that threaten church-state separation. The Field Department happily handles logistics for events all over the nation to mobilize local activists. The Development Department always employs creative strategies to raise funds and keep AU solvent. In my own department, Communications, we recognize the 24-hour nature of news, so I’ve taken media calls and emails at all hours and woken up early for appearances on CNN, MSNBC or Fox News.

I’m also very familiar with the important work done by the Finance Department and AU’s administrative staff. These folks usually work behind the scenes, but what they do is essential to AU’s mission.

If you’re getting the sense of a well-oiled machine, I’m glad because that’s what we have here at Americans United. And backing it up is AU’s Board of Trustees, National Leadership Council, chapter activists, Youth Advisory Council and Faith Leaders United.

But there’s another component, one that is absolutely essential, one that makes all of these things possible. Without this component, none of the work that Americans United does would be possible. 

That component is you.

Americans United’s members provide the base that buttresses all we do. And I mean all of it. Americans United is heavily supported through donations from members all over the country. We’re not subsidized by large foundations, and we accept no government money. It all comes down to you.

You are a diverse lot. Some of you are religious, and some are not. Politically, you run the gamut. You’re all genders and ages, straight and gay and of all races. Yet you all agree on one thing: that only a high and firm wall of separation between church and state can protect the most precious of our rights – freedom of conscience.

It has been my privilege during my time here to travel around the country speaking to AU chapters and allied groups. I’ve met so many interesting people that I long ago lost count. I’ve seen firsthand the depth of the passion so many AU members hold for this issue. It’s what leads so many of them to volunteer untold hours defending it.

This is a time of transition for Americas United, now 70 years old, and it is a time of challenge, too. The Donald Trump-Mike Pence administration has us on guard. (One tweet or stray comment can quickly upend an entire day.) Yet I have no doubt that AU’s future is bright.

The reason for that is simple: The staff and members of Americans United share a deep commitment to our cause. For 30 years, I’ve seen the difference that can make.

 

Rob Boston is director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.