Today – Feb. 21 – marks my two-year anniversary at Americans United. I’ve learned way too much to fit into a blog post, so for today, I thought I’d share five highlights:
You need to be able to take the heat in this job: I learned this lesson fast. My first day in the office, famous evangelist Billy Graham died, and a few days after that, members of Congress announced that he would “lie in honor” in the U.S. Capitol. This rarely granted privilege has been extended only three times in history: for civil rights icon Rosa Parks and for two U.S. Capitol police officers who were killed in the line of duty. Graham’s achievements didn’t seem to reach those levels, so Americans United released a statement of opposition. It got good play in the media, but it didn’t make me the most popular person in America. Let’s just say, there have been other such moments over these past two years.
Working on this issue puts you on a roller coaster: AU has had some incredible victories over the past two years – in courts, in Congress and in state legislatures. And we’ve seen some bitter losses as well. You have to be prepared for that in this job. We celebrate the former and learn from the latter. There’s no time to lick wounds – we just keep pushing ahead, but always strategically.
The work we do isn’t just necessary and important, it is honorable: My journey has brought me into contact with people whose lives have been affected by reckless combinations of religion and state. I’m thinking of my friend Aimee Maddonna who was turned away from helping children in need by a taxpayer-funded foster care agency in South Carolina because she’s the “wrong” religion. I’m thinking of the Muslims who have been cut off from their families due to President Donald Trump’s cruel and capricious Muslim Ban. I’m thinking of the parents whose children have been pressured to take part in religious activities in public schools and the LGBTQ people who have been denied services in businesses and stores. I’ve heard their stories. I’ve felt their pain. I’ve shared their sorrow. And I’m determined that Americans United will help them. We will never stop holding America accountable to her constitutional promise that we must all be free to believe as we wish and live as our true selves.
Americans United’s staff is amazing: As the weeks and months passed (sometimes in a blur), I came to see up close the talent and dedication of AU’s staff – a collection of people whose passion and drive keep me in awe. You often see and read about the efforts of our legal and public policy teams, our outreach department, our communications folks, and our fundraising staff, but the people behind the scenes managing AU’s budget, making sure the bills are paid and ensuring that we all have functioning computers and a comfortable place to work are every bit as crucial. Even better, we are a truly collaborative bunch, which makes this team so effective.
Ditto for AU’s members: All of you are amazing! By now, I’ve been fortunate to have traveled around the country, met some of you in person and talked to others on the phone or by email. You come to us from so many different backgrounds, geographic locations and motivations, but every one of you is a loyal and devoted AU supporter. You donate. You write lawmakers. You march in the streets and attend rallies. You share AU’s material on social media. You write letters to the editor. You fight and fight and never stop. In short, you make all of our work possible.
I’m shocked at how quickly these two years have gone by, and I look forward to many more working in partnership with you. Thanks for your support!