NEW ORLEANS— Longtime community activist Julie Schwam Harris will receive the 40th Annual Ben Smith Award from the ACLU of Louisiana. This award honors people who have demonstrated a commitment to the advancement of civil liberties in Louisiana. It is named for the late Ben Smith, a founder of the ACLU of Louisiana and a civil rights lawyer who was arrested for his work to end segregation and for participating in mixed-race gatherings.
In addition to being the 40th year of the Ben Smith Award, 2016 also marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the ACLU of Louisiana. Then known as the Louisiana Civil Liberties Union, the organization was formed by a group of civil rights attorneys and activists including Smith, to “act against repressive measures which are sometimes introduced in our legislature, to guard against other abuses which occur within our state and to implement the safeguards of liberties.”
A dinner honoring Julie Schwam Harris will be held on May 14, 2016 at the New Orleans Marriott at the Convention Center in New Orleans. The keynote speaker will be Jarvis Deberry, columnist for nola.com/The Times-Picayune. The event will also honor the ACLU of Louisiana’s sixty years of service to the people and communities of Louisiana.
Tickets are available at www.laaclu.org/bensmith/
Julie Schwam Harris has a long history of activism, with a focus on the rights of women. In 2013 she helped organize a coalition called LAW, Legislative Agenda for Women, which advocates for Medicaid Expansion and access to the full range of health care; financial equity through equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage and paid leave; comprehensive sex education; and better prevention of and response to domestic violence and sexual assault. She also supports efforts on LGBT rights, voting rights and criminal justice reform.
During her many years working for the City of New Orleans (1994-2010), Julie formed many initiatives to ensure the basic rights of New Orleanians. For example, she set up and ran the Office of Public Advocacy which helped people with problems connect to government and other services. As a leader of Intergovernmental Relations, she supervised day to day operations of many offices and organized projects including working with the Justice Department regarding American with Disabilities Act compliance. She helped establish and then staffed a task force on domestic violence charged with developing the first domestic violence policy for the New Orleans police department She also coordinated lobbying for hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild the City of New Orleans from the early post-Katrina days when some leaders in Washington were still questioning why it should be rebuilt at all.
Julie has also worked to elect leaders who support a broader range of issues concerning women’s rights, and was active in the defeat of David Duke.