By David Inoue, JACL executive director
2018 promises to be another year of significant anniversaries. In 2017, we memorialized the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, and this year turn around to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
It is also the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike and the subsequent assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is important that we recognize the linkage of these events through their shared celebratory anniversary years as points on bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice.
The Japanese American experience is one of many stories of racism and discrimination carried out by our government, but it gives us solidarity and partnership with other groups who have felt the sting of racism. What is especially unique about our history is the redress story and the apology for what was done. In this, we can bring hope that that arc continues to bend toward justice.
JACL prides itself on being the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization. However, our membership numbers have continued to decline, and revenue from our membership can no longer sustain the organization.
With our long history comes the vestiges of an organization founded 90 years ago. It is nothing new as suggestions have been made previously that we must reorganize how we operate. Two-year board terms and limits on service may yield broader involvement of members on the board, but they do little to foster stability of leadership and oversight. Nonprofit boards have changed as well in 90 years. National JACL is not simply an extension of our chapters, led by community volunteers. National and even local nonprofits today have professionalized boards. This does not mean that we do away with the strong community leadership basis for our board, but we need to create balance.
Our budget continues to be prepared on a biannual schedule. It is impossible to foresee what will come more than two years in the future when the budget for the next biennium is prepared. As I began this past summer, not only was I working with a budget prepared long before my first day on the job, but also we will be working with that same budget well into my second year. In fact, due to the previously mentioned turnover, the board that oversees the budget is often not the one that prepared it.
All is not doom and gloom though. Our recent annual giving campaign raised 20 percent more than recent campaigns. I am working with our membership and planning and development VPs on membership and fundraising plans to increase our revenue from both of those key sources.
I hope to hire a new staff person to assist with the fundraising aspects so that our membership department can focus on its core function of supporting our membership and chapters. Ultimately, the success of those endeavors will hinge upon what you — our members — expect and desire from your participation in the JACL and whether we are meeting those expectations.
At the most public level, you see the statements we produce speaking out on issues of importance to the civil rights movement. We have been seeking to be more nimble in our responses through the use of social media, Facebook and, for me grudgingly, Twitter. Look for our website to be updated in the coming weeks as well. In this day of a “Twitter Presidency,” JACL must also adapt to this new communications landscape with a measure of common sense and sometimes restraint.
We continue to work with partners here in Washington, D.C., and across the country. I am particularly excited to be involved in the Camps Consortium, as it’s vital to continue to promote our story with its relevance to today. JACL is one of many groups all working toward many of the same goals, but in different ways. I look forward to creating a synergy that ensures the overall vitality of our community, and JACL as well.
Our work in Washington, D.C., is key. As I often mention, I grew up in the Midwest, mostly in Ohio, a very purple state. We see the divisions here in Washington, and even within JACL itself. But what is clear from our redress experience of 30 years ago is that there is clear opportunity to work together toward justice. We cannot let that success of 30 years be forgotten — that can be the story we continue to share, as it brought political opponents together and even divisions within JACL and the Japanese American community banded to work together.
I want to emphasize in closing that you are also all partners. As a member of the Japanese American Citizens League, you have made the commitment that American civil rights is important, and we as Japanese Americans have something to say. We together will do our part to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.
I look forward to working with you in this new year.