On July 15, 2021, Shaadie Ali became the first Muslim Arab American to begin the position as the interim Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Wisconsin. The Native Milwaukeean is passionate about environmental justice for the Middle Eastern population, advocacy for the upcoming elections, and youth pipeline leadership through the ACLU.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1920, “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” The ACLU is actively supporting the public policy analysis, lobbying, and advocacy efforts that advance individual rights in our state and federal legislature.

Searching His Passions

Shaadie Ali, 25, was born in Milwaukee and raised in Greendale for the majority of his life. His father was born in the West Bank of Palestine and immigrated to the United States in 1989 to study at the University of Milwaukee, WI. There he met Shaadie’s mother who is half American, half Iraqi. Shaadie has been inspired by his background and Middle Eastern politics all his life. He became very involved in the social justice scene and politics and, in particular, is really interested in police accountability and surveillance, specifically in Muslim communities. One of the cases he was particularly interested in as a teenager was around the surveillance of Muslims by the NYPD in New York, which was run by the ACLU. He states, “I was very moved by the ACLU’s participation in that suit. I reached out to them asking if there is any way I could help out.” Shaadie was invited to the Student Alliance meetings hosted by the ACLU. Shaadie became an active member of the ACLU and created a community with other students of color. Shaadie states, “ the ACLU meetings allowed me to meet other organizers of color which was particularly important for me, growing up in a white suburb. It was the first time that I was really in an environment with other people of color, my age, who were family. There was a sense of community I got from being there, in addition to feeling like I was participating in movements.”

The Journey to his Current Position 

Shaadie was a part of the ACLU throughout high school and then moved on to participate as a Board Member of the ACLU in college at the University of Madison-WI where he was studying geological engineering. 

Shaadie states, “I was very interested in environmental justice, specifically around energy, specifically oil, natural gas, petrochemicals, and water…because, in my mind, there was a significant nexus of interests between that and Middle Eastern politics. I also knew that I wanted to get involved in Middle Eastern politics, but I thought maybe the way to do it is through sort of a robust understanding of science.”  After being a part of the ACLU for 10 years since he began participating in high school, Shaadie was offered the position of being the interim Executive Director of the ACLU. 

Hopes and Dreams Moving Forwards in the ACLU 

Shaadie currently sees himself as an organizer since that is where his heart is and the approach he’s taking moving forwards. He states, “Organizers are good at feeling out the situation and sort of being what the moment requires of them. It’s whatever, wherever I can be helpful. I want to be there.” 

Since Shaadie is an interim Executive Director his time is limited, once the ACLU hires a permanent Executive Director, he will likely be stepping out of this role during the time that he has left. One objective that is very near and dear to his heart, is to support youth programming work. He states, “I think that the ACLU in Wisconsin is unique compared to other ACLU affiliates because it has a really strong sort of youth outreach component. And that youth outreach component produces a really strong pipeline of leadership. For example, Angela Lange, the Executive Director of BLOCK, got her start in the ACLU alliances.” There are people all over the state who received their start in leadership through the ACLU because the organization had the capacity to invest in those individuals when they were young.  

Another goal Shaadie would like to include in the few months he has left is the ACLU’s work on voting rights. He is very excited to set voting rights programming up for success in 2022, and 2024. Even though Shaadie’s interim position may be ending in a few months he aims to have a process and procedure for the next coming election. He states, “ I think 2022 is going to be a really critical election year, not just for us in the state of Wisconsin. But because it will set up a lot of systems. And we’ll, you know, set up things in place in governance, that are going to be brought to bear on the 2024 election, both in terms of who’s in certain positions of power, and in terms of how precedents are established for conducting elections during a pandemic.” 

He also hopes to focus on socioeconomic status and economic justice.  He states,  “it’s very important for us to be able to talk about the fact that constitutional rights and equitable rights don’t just mean a sort of freedom  from state violence especially when referring to the racial wealth gap.”