Mike Brickner fell in love with social justice at an early age. While in high school, the graduate of CSU’s Master in Diversity Management program, was selected to attend a summer institute on public policy sponsored by the Junior State of America which provided a tremendous education on the social issues facing the United States and the policies that helped, and in some cases hampered, efforts to address these challenges.
“The program was the first time I saw how our laws and policies worked to perpetuate many of the injustices that concerned me. It instilled in me a passion for making that system work better for all people,” Brickner says.
He later attended Hiram College where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and immersed himself in campus activism, serving on the Student Senate and participating in the Model UN and Students Against Social Injustice among other organizations. As he was getting ready to graduate, Brickner saw a job posting for a part time field organizer position with the ACLU of Ohio and jumped at the chance to join the organization. He served as part of their voter protection operation during the 2004 election cycle working to insure that voting rights and access were being upheld by local governments and not inhibited by political campaigns.
“Low pay, long hours, no guarantee of full time employment? Sign me up!” Brickner jokes. “It really was a baptism by fire but the work I was doing and the mission of the ACLU really spoke to me. Insuring the right to vote for all Americans is one of the most important roles of democratic government and the ACLU has long played a lead role in defending and expanding access to the ballot.”
Brickner was ultimately hired full time and moved up the ranks, serving in various field and political roles before being named ACLU of Ohio’s Senior Policy Director. Along the way he also returned to school to get a graduate degree from Cleveland State, and he argues the diversity and psychological training he received has significantly enhanced his management abilities and helped him better work with the ACLU’s diverse stakeholders.
He currently coordinates overall legislative strategy, including developing policy proposals and leading education campaigns that further the ACLU’s mission. This includes advocating for reforms that will better protect civil liberties, voting rights and the rights of prisoners and the accused, among many other issues.
“This position allows me to utilize my passion for social activism to directly impact the laws governing society and make things better for all members of our community,” Brickner adds.
While he focuses most of his time today on directing the ACLU’s vision for policy and advocacy, Brickner still assists in campaign initiatives and had a lead role in overseeing the ACLU’s efforts during the 2016 Republican National Convention to protect free speech and the rights of protesters. This included helping to staff the organization’s “war room” where he and colleagues monitored protests as they developed, and the police’s response, to insure that speech was not being repressed.
“Free speech and public safety are not opposing values. Keeping people safe is an important and admirable goal, but we cannot allow fear to sacrifice our most precious right to express our political beliefs,” Brickner notes.