ACLU Next Generation Society

While the event only officially began at 7 pm, a crowd of guests was already present by 7:15 pm. They sipped drinks, sampled hors d’oeuvres and chatted — creating a lively din throughout Savage Smyth. A hanging neon sign proclaimed “#RiseUp” while projector screens depicted the Statue of Liberty, fist raised, with the headline “Leading the resistance.”

The crowd was eclectic, ranging in age, race, occupation, background, dress and gender, but they were all there to support the same group — the ACLU Next Generation Society.

The group, known as Next Gen, was created just over two years ago in an effort to, as its name implies, engage the next generation of supporters of the American Civil Liberties Union — the nearly 100-year-old organization that works to defend the rights and liberties guaranteed to every person under the Constitution and the laws of the United States. The ACLU was behind landmark court cases like Brown v. Board of Education (school desegregation), Roe v. Wade (women’s reproductive freedom), and Obergefell v. Hodges (marriage equality).

“There was nothing resembling the Next Generation Society,” said the group’s president Peter Hanna. “For a lot of people, they’d never had any interaction with the ACLU.”

Next Gen seeks to remedy that by creating a path to engagement with the ACLU, especially for younger professionals and artists. Its success is the result of many people’s hard work, including Emmalee Scott, the Director of Strategic Development at the ACLU, who first pitched the idea to the organization.

Today, they have more than 200 members who span professions and interests. Members pay $125 in annual dues and receive invites to special events and programming. They can also participate in Next Gen’s multiple committees focused on special projects.

The goal, Hanna said, is to create “opportunities for meaningful engagement based on [members’] key interests.” For example, Next Gen members are helping draft legislation, protested the immigration ban at O’Hare Airport, and on November 18, will be training citizens how to document civil rights violations.

Considering the current political environment, “the call to action has never been more resonant,” Hanna said.

The group has also put on several unique events in this past year, infusing energy and excitement into the ACLU. In April, they hosted a benefit concert called Rise Up, which featured actors from the cast of Hamilton — several of whom are members of the Next Generation Society. The concert included music, media and spoken word performances.

“It was amazing to have such a broad mix of people,” Hanna recounted, “all united by the ACLU.”

In July, Next Gen hosted The Giant Dinner, which was initiated by head chef of popular Chicago restaurant Giant, Jason Vincent, who wanted to do something to support the ACLU.

“He realized, like many of us, that he’s got to get involved now,” Hanna said.

Vincent, Scott and Next Gen Event Co-chairs Kelly Cervantes and Laura Haning rallied some of Chicago’s best chefs — Stephanie Izard, Rick Bayless and Mindy Segal — to join Vincent in putting on an elegant, five-course dinner at Giant with all proceeds going to the ACLU.

And the Society has much more planned for 2018.

Back at the group’s fundraiser at Savage Smyth, guests bid on silent auction items and entered to win raffle prizes. They visited an area designated the “Rights Room,” where they could learn more about the ACLU’s key issues, as well as some of its most significant victories. Volunteers armed with iPads signed up new members. The crowd heard about the ACLU’s impressive legacy and the Next Gen Society and afterwards, many headed to the roof to enjoy the unseasonably warm night and take in the skyline.

When Hanna first saw Savage Smyth, he was sure it was the right place for the event. The venue’s features plus the rapport with the exceptional Savage team made the decision easy, he said.

“Everything went so smoothly,” Hanna said, “and it was clear to everyone involved how perfect the space was for the ACLU and its supporters.”

The event itself exceeded Next Gen’s goals in terms of attendance, money raised and new members recruited.

“Overall, the event was a tremendous success thanks to the hard work, dedication, and shared commitment of so many people to the essential work of the ACLU,” Hanna said.