Vanessa Chong

Chris Fleck
Wednesday - July 20, 2011
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Photo courtesy Vanessa Chong

Vanessa Chong isn’t driven by money, ego or glamour, but by an unrelenting eagerness to preserve the inalienable rights of groups and individuals.

As director of Hawaii’s local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Chong, her staff and more than 100 volunteers statewide intervene when the government tries to use its immense power to step on rights guaranteed as constitutional.

“First of all, government has a timeless tendency of targeting folks they think they can intimidate, those they view as politically unpopular or powerless,” says Chong, who was featured on MidWeek‘s cover March 10, 1993. “As a result, the ACLU has to intervene and assist those individual rights. Over my 30 years with the local ACLU, the issues have changed, but the ACLU’s mission is unwavering.”

Currently there are three main issues of circumstance where the ACLU has had to step in and take a stand against governmental oppression. First is the over-incarceration of juveniles and adults, who will most often be returned to the community, which provokes the idea of taking alternative actions aside from incarceration that will benefit the potential inmate, protect public safety and cost the taxpayers less.

“Hawaii is undergoing an assessment process of our prison system, so we are hopeful that the government can come up with more reasonable criminal justice policies,” Chong says.

The second persistent problem that has provoked ACLU intervention are marriage equalities within the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

“We are glad that civil unions will be starting shortly, but our ultimate goal is for same-gender marriage to occur in Hawaii so that every loving family can stay together and civil unions are not marriages,” she says.

As the APEC meetings will convene on Oahu this November, matters of homelessness have continued to arise.

“The government knows it cannot do sweeps of homeless individuals because they do not want them to be visible, and they have reassured the ACLU they will follow the law. So we expect them to do so.”

Explaining her passion to help others, Chong says simply, “I don’t like bullies, and the government is the most daunting bully of all because it has the weight of power and money behind it.”

A working-class woman, Chong holds strong to the ideals that attack is not acceptable, particularly in Hawaii, which has been a vanguard in terms of reproductive freedoms.

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