“THE FIGHT”

Encore: November 20, 2020

DOC GOES BEHIND THE SCENES TO SHOW ACLU LAWYERS AT WORK

There couldn’t be a more important moment to have a conversation about the ACLU. Perhaps it’s their 100 years of commitment and their crucial work in protecting all of our civil rights during the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the work they’ve done to protect voting rights. Tonight, a new documentary, takes us to the frontlines of “The Fight” from inside courtrooms and all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court-  to witness, firsthand, the litigation of four hallmark cases in which ACLU attorneys attempt to preserve immigration rights, reproductive freedom, the rights of transgender individuals to serve in the military and making sure we all have the ability to vote leading up to the election. The film’s co-director and producer, Elyse Steinberg and Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s national immigrants’ rights project and one of the stars of the film- join us with a preview.

For more information on how to watch “The Fight,” click here.

Aired on August 4, 2020.

TRANSCRIPT

> AND JOINING ME NOW ARE THE FILM'S CODIRECTOR AND PRODUCER, ELYSE STEINBERG AND LEE GELERNT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE ACLU NATIONAL IMMIGRANTS RIGHTS PROJECT, AND ONE OF THE STARS OF 'THE FIGHT.'

WELCOME TO YOU BOTH.

HI, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING US.

YEAH, THANK YOU FOR HAVING US.

YES, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

SO, I WANT TO START, THERE'S SO MANY PLACES TO BEGIN UNPACKING THIS FILM, BECAUSE THERE'S SO MANY ISSUES THAT GET COVERED, BE BUT I WANT TO START WITH TIMING, BECAUSE NOTHING EXISTING IN A VACUUM AND TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

AND I WANTED TO FIND OUT, WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT 2017 WOULD BE THE RIGHT TIME TO MAKE A FILM ABOUT THE ACLU?

THANKS.

SO, THE WAY THIS FILM CAME TO BE WAS THAT IT WAS SEVEN DAYS INTO TRUMP'S INAUGURATION, WHEN HE ENACTED HIS MUSLIM BAN.

AND ON THAT NIGHT, I JOINED THE PROTESTERS THAT WERE GATHERING ON THE STEPS OF THE COURTHOUSE AND INSIDE, LEE WAS ARGUING FOR AN EMERGENCY STAY OF TRUMP'S ORDER.

AND WHEN HE EMERGED WITH HIS FIST RAISED HIGH, I WAS JUST STEPS AWAY FROM HIM AND I COULD SEE THE EXPRESSION ON HIS FACE, IT WAS JOY AND EXHAUSTION AND TOTAL SHOCK AT THE CROWDS OF PEOPLE THAT WERE CHANTING 'ACLU.'

AND IN THAT MOMENT, I FELT THAT THIS WAS THE FILM THAT I WANTED TO MAKE.

I WANTED TO BE FOLLOWING LEE AND THE LAWYERS AT THE ACLU IN THEIR SEVERAL RIGHTS BATTLE AGAINST THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOR THE NEXT THREE YEARS.

I FELT LIKE THIS IS GOING TO BE ONE OF THE GREATEST SEVERAL RIGHTS BATTLES OF MY LIFETIME AND THAT IT NEEDED TO BE DOCUMENTED.

LEE, HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT NOW WAS THE RIGHT TIME TO OPEN UP THE DOORS OF THE ACLU SO THAT PEOPLE COULD SORT OF SEE NOT ONLY HOW THE ORGANIZATION FUNCTIONS, BUT WHO ARE THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE LETTERS A-C-L-U?

IT WAS A DIFFICULT DECISION FOR THE ORGANIZATION, CERTAINLY NOT MY DECISION ALONE.

I THINK THERE WAS A LOT OF HESITATION TO LET CAMERAS IN.

FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS, INCLUDING ATTORNEY/CLIENT PRIVILEGE.

BUT I THINK WHAT ULTIMATELY WE DECIDED WAS THAT THESE WERE FILMMAKERS WHO WERE GOING TO BE SENSITIVE TO THOSE CONFIDENTIAL DISCUSSIONS WE WERE HAVING AND BE WILLING TO WORK AROUND THAT.

AND THE OTHER THING THAT HAPPENED, I THINK WE COLLECTIVELY MADE A DECISION THAT THERE WAS SO MUCH GOING ON IN THE WORLD AND ALTHOUGH WE WERE STARTING TO GET THE ISSUES OUT THERE IN TRADITIONAL MEDIA, THAT IT WAS ALWAYS GOING TO BE SO MUCH CLUTTER GOING ON THAT WE NEEDED ANOTHER WAY TO TELL THE STORIES OF OUR CLIENTS.

AND SO, I THINK WE CAME TO IT INITIALLY WITH A LOT OF RELUCTANCE TO LET CAMERAS IN, BUT ULTIMATELY, THE FILMMAKERS GAINED OUR TRUST AND WE DECIDED THIS WAS A WAY TO REALLY GET THE HUMAN COMPONENT OF THESE ISSUES OUT THERE IN A DIFFERENT WAY AND TO LET THE STORY OUT SO WE COULD REACH AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE.

WELL, ELYSE, FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, BECAUSE ONE OF THE THINGS I THINK THE FILM DOES REALLY WELL IS IT HUMANIZES THE STAFF, THE PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY CREATE OR MAKE, I SHOULD SAY, MAKE THE ACLU GO.

WHY WAS THAT IMPORTANT, TO SHOW THE HUMAN FACTOR, AGAIN, BEHIND THE LETTERS THAT WE ALL KNOW SO MUCH AS THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION?

YEAH, I THINK GOING IN THERE WAS A BIG QUESTION IN MY MIND IS, WHAT IS THE ACLU, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE THAT ARE THE FOREFRONT FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT FOR OUR CIVIL LIBERTIES?

AND WHAT EXCITED US ABOUT TELLING THE STORY WAS SHOWING THE HUMAN MOMENTS, SHOWING T THE -- SHOWING IT THROUGH THE PERSONAL END.

SHOWING THE SMALL DETAILS THAT REALLY DEFINE THE FIGHT.

AND SO WHAT YOU SEE IN THIS FILM, YES, YOU'LL SEE LAWYERS GOING UP BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT AND GIVING ORAL ARGUMENTS, BUT YOU'LL ALSO SEE THEM FUMBLING AND STRUGGLING AND, YOU KNOW, WHILE THEY'RE CALLING A CLIENT, THEIR KIDS INTERJECT AND WE ALL CAN RELATE TO THAT, AS BEING PARENTS RIGHT NOW OR A DECISION COMES DOWN AND YOU KNOW, THEY'RE STRUGGLING WITH THEIR PHONE CHARGER, AS LEE'S AWARE OF, AND I THINK IT'S THESE SMALL HUMAN MOMENTS THAT WE CAN RELATE TO AND I THINK THAT, YOU KNOW, I FEEL LIKE HISTORY IS MAN ANY FEST THROUGH THE STRUGGLE OF INDIVIDUAL.

WELL, LEE, SORT OF AS ELYSE JUST ALLUDED TO, WE GET A VERY INTIMATE LOOK.

WE'RE INTO SOME OF THE LAWYERS HOMES, WE'RE MEETING THEIR KIDS, ET CETERA.

CONSIDERING THAT SO MANY OF THESE LAWYERS ARE WORKING ON CASES THAT ARE, WHERE THE STAKES ARE JUST SO HIGH, HOW WAS IT THAT PEOPLE WERE, I GUESS, COMFORTABLE ENOUGH AND ABLE TO OPEN UP IN THIS WAY, WHY DO THEY, I GUESS, FEEL IT WAS IMPORTANT TO DO SO?

BECAUSE THERE HAD TO HAVE BEEN A DRIVE FOR THE PARTICIPANTS, AS WELL, TO BELIEVE THAT THIS WAS OF VALUE AND THIS WAS WORTH DOING.

YEAH, WELL, ONE OF THE THINGS WAS THAT ELYSE WAS VERY CLEVER.

AND SO SOMETIMES SHE WOULD CALL ME AT MIDNIGHT AND SAY, CAN I COME OVER?

I HEARD THERE WAS A BIG DECISION OUT OF THE WEST COAST, CAN WE COME OVER TO YOUR HOUSE AND FILM AND I WOULD SAY, I DON'T KNOW ABOUT THAT, AND SHE SAID, WELL, THE OTHER LAWYERS ARE LETTING US COME OVER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

I WOULD CALL THEM, AND THEY SAID, OH, SHE SAID THE SAME THING.

IT WAS PART OF HER BEING CLEVER.

IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WASN'T AS MUCH AS THAT, BUT THERE WAS TRUST BUILT AND WE REALIZED WE WANTED TO KEEP THE CLIENTS, YOU KNOW, AT THE FOREFRONT, BUT ULTIMATELY, THEY WANTED TO GET SOME SENSE OF WHAT IT WAS LIKE FOR US IN THESE TIMES LITIGATING AND WE NEEDED TO GIVE THEM SOME ACCESS.

BUT I DON'T THINK WE WOULD HAVE DONE IT IF WE HADN'T HAD THAT TRUST, THAT THEY WERE TRYING TO SHOW HOW MUCH PRESSURE WE WERE UNDER AND HOW MANY HOURS A DAY WE WERE WORKING, BUT NOT SORT OF JUST GOTCHA KIND OF THINGS.

AND SO, THAT'S WHY ULTIMATELY WE CAME TO FEEL LIKE WE COULD ALLOW THAT KIND OF ACCESS.

WELL, LEE, LET ME ASK YOU, THEN, HOW DID YOU DETERMINE WHICH CASES THAT ELYSE WAS GOING TO BE FOLLOWING?

BECAUSE THEY ENDED UP BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT, AND, I MEAN, I DON'T THINK -- I'M NOT A LAWYER, BUT I'M ASSUMING THAT THERE'S NO WAY YOU CAN KNOW WHEN YOU FILE A LEGAL BRIEF THAT THIS IS SOMETHING THAT'S GOING TO END UP BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES.

YEAH, I THINK I'LL LET ELYSE ANSWER THAT, BECAUSE I THINK SHE REACHED OUT TO DIFFERENT PEOPLE AND, YOU KNOW, I THINK MORE PICKED IT BY THE CASES BUT THERE WERE CERTAIN CASES THAT FOLLOWED THAT DIDN'T END UP BECOMING AS BIG AND THOSE MAY HAVE DROPPED OUT OF THE FILM, BUT ELYSE, DO YOU WANT TO JUMP IN?

WHAT WE DID WAS FOLLOW THE FIGHT.

SO, WE BEGAN FILMING WITH LEE AND HIS MUSLIM BAN CASE, WHICH THEN BECAME THE FAMILY SEPARATION CASE AND PLANTED OUR CAMERAS AT THE ACLU NATIONAL OFFICE AND WE WAITED TO SEE, WHAT WERE THE CASES, THE BIG CASES THAT THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION AND THE ACLU WOULD BE FIGHTING?

AND SO THE STORIES ENDED UP BEING IN THE FILM WERE THE BIGGEST CASES THAT WE DOCUMENTED WHEN WE WERE THERE.

VOTING RIGHTS, ABORTION RIGHTS, TRANS RIGHTS, IMMIGRATION RIGHTS, THESE WERE THE BIG CASES THAT WE FOUND WHEN WE WENT THERE AND WE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT WE COULD GET, BUT IN THE END, WE FEEL LIKE WE CAPTURED THAT CENTRAL STRUGGLE THAT WE WENT INTO THE BEGINNING WITH THE FILM TRYING TO DOCUMENT.

WHAT DID IT LOOK LIKE TO FIGHT THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS?

AND I THINK OUR FILM GIVES A GLIMPSE OF THAT.

I'M SPEAKING WITH THE CODIRECTOR AND PRODUCER OF THE DOCUMENTARY FILM 'THE FIGHT,' ELYSE STEINBERG AND I'M ALSO SPEAKING WITH ACLU DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR THE NATIONAL IMMIGRANTS RIGHTS PROJECT, LEE GELERNT.

NOW, I WANTED TO SORT OF BUILD ON THE IDEA OF THE CASES THAT WERE -- THAT ACTUALLY ENDED UP BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT, BECAUSE IT'S NOT JUST THAT.

ELYSE, YOU ALSO SHOWED SOME OF THE MORE, I GUESS, INTERNALLY CHALLENGES MOMENTS FOR THE ACLU, AND THE BEST EXAMPLE OF THAT IS THE DECISION TO DEFEND THE RIGHT FOR THE UNITE THE RIGHT RALLY IN CHARLOTTESVILLE WHICH, OF COURSE, BECAME A FLASH POINT FOR RACISM IN AMERICA.

YES.

I MEAN, THE EVENTS OF CHARLOTTESVILLE WERE A KIND OF GUT PUNCH FOR US AS FILMMAKERS AND FOR THE ACLU, AND I THINK WHAT YOU SEE IN OUR FILM IS THE WAY WE EXPERIENCED IT AS FILMMAKERS AND AS THE LAWYERS WERE FOLLOWING, WE WERE GOING ABOUT -- THE LAWYERS WERE ARGUING THEIR CASES AND CHARLOTTESVILLE HAPPENED.

AND WHAT WE SAW WAS, YOU KNOW, IT WAS A PAINFUL MOMENT FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THERE WAS A LOT OF DISCUSSION AND THERE WAS A LOT OF DEBATE ABOUT WHETHER THE ACLU SHOULD HAVE TAKEN THAT CASE ON AND IT WAS CRUCIAL THAT WE SHOWED THAT DISCUSSION AND ONE OF THE THINGS I THINK I CAME AWAY FROM THAT IS JUST A LOT OF THESE RIGHTS SOMETIMES CAN FEEL ABSTRACT AND IN THIS MOMENT, IT FELT VERY REAL.

THESE WERE REAL LIVES, REAL THINGS AT STAKE AND WE WANTED TO SHOW THAT.

LEE, I ALSO WANTED TO ASK THAT FREQUENTLY, LIKE SO MANY OTHER BUSINESSES OR ORGANIZATIONS, WORK IN IT CAN FEEL VERY SILOED.

ONE DEPARTMENT DOES THIS, ANOTHER DEPARTMENT DOES THAT, SO, IT CAN FEEL VERY SEPARATE AND SILOED.

I'M WONDERING WHAT IT WAS LIKE, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU WORK MOSTLY ON IMMIGRATION CASES, TO SEE THE OTHER DEPARTMENTS DEVELOPING THEIR CASES AND FIGHTING THOSE FIGHTS.

YEAH, THAT'S A GREAT QUESTION, BECAUSE I THINK THAT WAS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WAS MOST FUN ABOUT THE FILM FOR ALL OF US, IS THAT WE'RE ON THE SAME FLOOR, WE GENERALLY SNOW KNOW WHAT WE'RE ALL WORKING ON, WE SEE EACH OTHER IN THE HALLWAY, WE TALK A LITTLE BIT, WE READ ABOUT EACH OTHER KINDS CASES IN PAPER, BUT I DON'T THINK WE EVER HAVE A GOOD SENSE OF WHAT THE OTHER PERSON IS ACTUALLY GOING THROUGH AND WHAT IT'S LIKE WHEN THEY'RE TALKING WITH THEIR CLIENTS WHEN THEY'RE ON THE ROAD, THE PRESSURES THEY'RE UNDER.

AND SO I THINK THIS WAS REVEALING FOR ALL OF US.

YOU'D THINK THAT BEING 20 FEET AWAY ON THE SAME FLOOR, WE WOULD KNOW EVERYTHING, BUT I THINK WE'RE ALL SO BUSY AND WE'RE ALL IN OUR OWN WORLD, AND THEN TO SEE WHAT EACH OF US IS GOING THROUGH AND THE SIMILARITIES, WE ALL WORK ON DIFFERENT ISSUES, BUT SO MUCH OF IT IS SIMILAR, DEALING WITH THE CLIENT, THE PRESSURE, YOU KNOW, BALANCING LIFE AND WORK AND ALL THAT.

SO, I THINK THAT WAS ACTUALLY, FOR US, ONE OF THE BEST PARTS OF THE FILM.

ELYSE, WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU, OR I SHOULD SAY, WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST, AS YOU FOLLOWED THESE LAWYERS AND OF COURSE THE CASES THEY WERE WORKING ON?

I THINK THE THING THAT HAS STUCK WITH ME MOST IS JUST HOW PERSONAL THIS FIGHT IS FOR THE LAWYERS IN IT.

YOU JUST -- YOU DON'T KNOW THAT AND YOU CAN READ ABOUT THE C CASES, YOU CAN CATCH GLIMPSES OF IT ON TV, BUT SPENDING THE TIME WITH LEE AND THE OTHER LAWYERS, I CAME AWAY WITH HOW MUCH THEY THINK ABOUT THEIR CLIENTS, HOW PERSONAL IT IS, HOW MUCH OF IT IS A MISSION.

I THINK, YOU KNOW, WE WERE TALKING ABOUT WHY DID THEY GRANT US THIS ACCESS, I THINK A BIG PART OF IT IS FOR THE CLIENTS, SO THAT THE WORLD CAN SEE WHY IS HAPPENING, WHAT'S AT STAKE HERE.

AND SO, I THINK, WITH LEE, YOU CAN SEE IN THE FILM JUST HOW, I MEAN, JUST BY HIS EXPRESSION, I THINK YOU GET A GLIMPSE OF THE PERSONAL COST ON HIMSELF, AS HE DOES THE -- THESE CASES.

LEE, ONE OF THE THINGS THE FILM MENTIONS IS THAT THE WORK OF THE ACLU IS OFTEN CYCLICAL, AND THAT CAN FEEL KIND OF AMAZING, AT LEAST TO A LAYPERSON LIKE MYSELF, THAT THESE ISSUES KEEP COACHI COMING UP AND UP AN AGAIN, THOUGH THEY ARE FREQUENTLY DECIDED, AS WE SAW IN THIS FILM, IN SUPREME COURT CASES THAT WOULD BE SETTING PRECEDENT.

CAN YOU SORT OF EXPLAIN A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT THAT MEANS?

YEAH, I THINK THEY VERY MUCH ARE CYCLICAL.

AND IMMIGRATION, IN PARTICULAR, I THINK, YOU LOOK BACK ON THE COUNTRY'S HISTORY, WE'VE HAD PERIODS OF REAL ANTI-IMMIGRANT HOSTILITY, DATING BACK TO THE LATE 1800s AND THEN WE'VE HAD PERIODS WHERE THE COUNTRY HAS BEEN MUCH MORE WELCOMING.

I'VE BEEN AT THE ACLU NOW CLOSE TO 30 YEARS.

THIS IS BY FAR THE WORST THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN, BECAUSE IT IS AN ATTACK ON ALL CIVIL LIBERTIES ACROSS THE BOARD.

THERE ARE OTHER ADMINISTRATIONS THAT HAVE FOCUSED ON PARTICULAR ISSUES, BUT I THINK THE SHEER BREADTH OF THE ATTACK, AND THERE'S JUST A DEMONIZING OF IMMIGRANTS.

THERE IS AN ATTEMPT TO SHUT DOWN THE BORDER TO ASYLUM SEEKERS.

THERE IS JUST A FULL-OUT ONSLAUGHT.

AND THE FAMILY SEPARATION PRACTICE IS THE WORST THING THAT I HAVE SEEN IN MY CLOSE TO 30 YEARS, I MEAN, THE ABSOLUTE BRUTALITY OF IT.

SHOCKING.

WELL, UNFORTUNATELY, WE DO HAVE TO LEAVE IT THERE, WE'VE RUN OUT OF TIME.

I'VE BEEN SPEAKING WITH CODIRECTOR AND PRODUCER ELYSE STEINBERG OF THE FILM 'THE FIGHT' AND LEE GELERNT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE ACLU NATIONAL IMMIGRANTS RIGHTS PROJECT AND ONE OF THE STARS OF 'THE FIGHT.'

THANK YOU FOR JOINING ME ON THE SHOW.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

THANK YOU.

Funders

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