The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) proudly announces its new Executive Director, Abdi Soltani, to lead the country’s largest ACLU affiliate. Soltani takes the reins as the ACLU-NC prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary as one of the region’s most established leaders in historic and contemporary struggles to defend and advance the civil rights and civil liberties of all Californians.
“Abdi brings an unwavering belief in an America that lives up to its founding values of freedom, equality, and justice,” said Nancy Pemberton, Chair of the ACLU-NC Board of Directors. “He has worked extensively leading campaigns aimed at upholding these values in Northern California through community organizing, legislative advocacy, public education, and the courts.”
Soltani, a card-carrying member of the ACLU for many years, has served as executive director at Californians for Justice, the Campaign for College Opportunity and, most recently, at PARSA Community Foundation. He also serves on the Board of Public Advocates, a legal advocacy organization.
“I’m honored to lead the ACLU of Northern California at such an exciting time in its history. My passion for freedom of speech and constitutional protections is intensely personal as well as political,” said Soltani, whose early experiences were shaped by government abuse of power during his childhood in Iran before and after the Iranian Revolution.
As a seven-year-old in Iran, Soltani vividly remembers knowing that he couldn’t say everything on his mind over the phone, because of the very real fear that government agents could be listening in.
“This fear squelches freedoms of speech and assembly. Ultimately, it stifles basic civil rights and liberty,” said Soltani. “I know that every social movement and every exercise of our democratic rights is drawn from the guarantees of freedom that the ACLU safeguards. I’m looking forward to an inspired collaboration with the ACLU-NC Board, staff, and chapters to uphold our mission and expand our impact.”
Soltani represents a new generation of public interest leaders in California. Having worked his entire professional life in Northern California, he understands its landscape: its diverse communities, geographic idiosyncrasies, political dynamics, ideological fault lines, and key players. He has worked extensively with young people, and believes deeply in the importance of investing in youth and cultivating their strengths and skills.
“Soltani brings a strong belief in the relationship between basic freedoms and the exercise of democracy,” said Alan Schlosser, ACLU-NC Legal Director. “His strong leadership and unique experience will be a great asset to the work of the ACLU at a time when there is tremendous opportunity to renew the country’s commitment to the Constitution, and to shore up civil liberties laws and practices in our region.”
Soltani has extensive experience working on statewide policy and ballot initiatives. As a leader in the No on 54 Campaign in 2003, he helped defeat a proposition aimed at significantly weakening racial equality by barring state and local government agencies from collecting vital data on Californians’ race, ethnicity, color, or national origin.
Soltani is a graduate of Stanford University. He was awarded the John Gardner Public Service Fellowship in 1995 and the Gerbode Foundation Fellowship in 2002.
Over the course of its 75 year history, the ACLU of Northern California has been a leader in advocating for justice, equality, and basic freedoms. From its founding in 1934, amid a heated labor struggle for dockworkers’ rights, to challenging the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, to defending Beat poet Allen Ginsberg against obscenity charges during the McCarthy era, the ACLU-NC has been one of the nation’s most successful defenders of fundamental rights. In recent decades, ACLU-NC has continued its focus on freedom of speech and ending abuses of government power, and also developed specializations in advocating for the rights of immigrants, LGBT communities, and youth; promoting racial justice in schools, society and in the criminal justice system; and on protecting reproductive rights and privacy rights, including the emerging arena of digital privacy.
Soltani began his new position on April 1, 2009.