Give Her Liberty

Eleanor Eisenberg dances off into the sunset

Eisenberg: No! Not when there's work to be done. I'm a workaholic. I'm leaving here, but I plan to stay involved with death penalty issues, and with the so-called marriage amendment.

NT: You're not especially narrow-minded. How did you find Arizona?

Eisenberg: I headed east from California.

One of the Valley's best known civil servants bids us adieu.
Lyle Moultrie
One of the Valley's best known civil servants bids us adieu.

NT: That's not fair.

Eisenberg: Frankly, I sort of think of Arizona as a Third World country. Look, last summer we couldn't drink the water -- a true indication of a Third World country. The levels of intolerance here are almost unbearable. But I think the people of Arizona are more intelligent and tolerant and thoughtful and democratic than the Legislature is. It's a happenstance of demographics that the Legislature is dominated by East Valley folks. This past year was just awful. I never deluded myself that I was moving a civil liberties agenda forward in the Legislature. This year has been an exercise in futility.

NT: You mean all the campaigning against immigrants?

Eisenberg: The only word I can think of to describe that campaign is "mean." Just plain mean. Well, I could also think of "stupid." And the attacks on the courts! I think it's largely political; the rallying cries for the upcoming election will be judicial activism and the invasion of immigrants.

NT: I want to talk some more about your court case. The cops busted you for resisting arrest. They were afraid you were going to hurt the president.

Eisenberg: I was filming police beating up a kid.

NT: Which is probably why you got hauled off to jail?

Eisenberg: That was my thought.

NT: You're five feet tall! Did they think you were going to kick Bush in the shin?

Eisenberg: That came up at the trial. We had a videotape of the officer whacking me with his horse. He testified that I hit the horse. Then when my attorney challenged him, he said, "Well, she shouldered the horse." Later he said I braced myself on the horse. Finally, my attorney said to the officer, "How many versions of this do you have?" And he said, "These are not versions, they're adjustments."

NT: High fives all around for Mr. Cop. But how do you shove someone with a horse?

Eisenberg: He came around behind me and hit me with the horse.

NT: And you'd just had foot surgery!

Eisenberg: It was my second outing after my surgery without a cane, and I'm very grateful I didn't have my cane with me. I can't imagine that he wouldn't have said I hit him with my cane.

NT: They handcuffed you, then lifted you over a barricade, which pissed you off because you didn't want people looking up your skirt, according to your lawyer.

Eisenberg: My lawyer was very concerned about Arizonans' attitudes about the ACLU, and about me being a New York Jew. You know, there was one point where one juror wrote a note to another juror --

NT: That's not allowed!

Eisenberg: No, they can't do that, but there was a look on her face that we all thought meant she'd written the word "Jew." One of the jurors in my trial said, "I don't have anything negative to say about Jews. Unless you think 'pushy' is negative." I'm familiar with the phenomenon of backhanded insults. [The trial] was a travesty of justice. And it's not why I'm leaving the ACLU.

NT: It seems like it took an awfully long time for your case to go to court.

Eisenberg: There are a lot of problems with the court -- and that's not a political attack on them. It's something more profound than that. I don't even call it the criminal justice system; it's the criminal vengeance system. And this country is awful on so many levels including the costs to us. The courts are just too crowded with criminal and civil matters.

NT: Let's talk about nicer things. I understand you were once a Martha Graham dancer.

Eisenberg: How did you know that? Where do you get your information?

NT: I'm a journalist, Eleanor Eisenberg.

Eisenberg: Well, it's true. I was a Martha Graham dancer. And that's all I want to say about that today.

NT: What will you do now? I can't imagine you sitting in a Barcalounger, sipping tea.

Eisenberg: I don't like tea, but I do have an awful lot of novel reading to catch up on. I still dance -- international folk dance. And I'm going to travel. My life has always been committed to social justice and to public-interest law. So I'm not going to give that up. I don't know if it sounds arrogant or not, but I was sort of born with the justice gene.

NT: If you're worried about sounding arrogant, don't answer this next question: What's your legacy?

Eisenberg: A stronger, more integrated ACLU. I hope I've helped spark a revival of true activism -- because we certainly need it. I hope I've given other people the courage to stand up and be counted; that although there are consequences, you have to do it anyway. I hope I've made it safer for people to speak out, and easier for people to enjoy the flip side of the First Amendment, which is to get information. Because we don't get news or truth from the media anymore.

NT: We're doing our best, Eleanor.

Eisenberg: Well, some of you are, and some of you ain't. Either way, I can't help but think that it's not gonna be too long before there's real justice and fairness in the world. I have to believe that.

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