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Column: Wake Up! The Time Is Now. (New York Metro)

By Donna Lieberman — Barack Obama rode the lessons he learned as a community organizer through a grueling campaign to unite Americans to move our nation in a new direction. That example should hearten anyone looking to make a genuine and lasting difference in our communities here in New York.

With change coming to the White House and a new majority in the New York State Senate, the time to restore our liberties is now. We must take advantage of this “I Have a Dream…” moment and fight for the change that a free, fair and just society requires. Make a call, write a letter, knock on doors, lobby a lawmaker. It is time to say yes to civil rights and civil liberties and really mean it.

Now is the time to:

Stand up against the inhumane Rockefeller Drug Laws that have imprisoned thousands of people for non-violent drug offenses. Gov. David Paterson has criticized these ineffective, racially-biased laws, and now our state legislature should finally have the courage to overhaul the draconian system. But we need to push for it.

Close the door on the Bush administration’s Real ID Act – an internal passport that threatens privacy and imposes a massive financial burden on the states. Our representatives must know that New Yorkers reject this phony substitute for real security.

Fight for families. Last year the Assembly passed a bill to give lesbian and gay couples the ability to marry, but former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno blocked it from a vote in the Senate. With Bruno’s departure and fresh blood in the Senate, New York could become the first state to enact a law legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. You can say yes to fairness and help protect families in New York.

Preserve reproductive freedom. Though the new administration should put the brakes on the steady decline of the Supreme Court, our right to choose needs stronger protections in New York, which still regulates abortion as a crime and fails to protect women’s health. The Reproductive Health Act will guarantee that women have the right to control our own reproductive decisions.

Of course, while we have great hopes for the new administration, we’re not giving the president-elect a free pass. Far from it – the New York Civil Liberties Union and American Civil Liberties Union will be as vigilant monitoring an Obama administration as we were with the Bush administration.

We must force our elected officials, federal and state, to restore the rights and civil liberties that have been so eroded these last eight years. The challenges are many, but with grit and hard work, we can have a more just society

Donna Lieberman is the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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