Free to Speak Her Mind

But some Miami Cubans who support the ACLU's mission believe the local and state affiliates should be more flexible in encouraging free and open debate. "It is true that many of the things in Miami that chill free speech and create an atmosphere of intolerance are not government-sponsored," says Max Castro, a First Amendment advocate and researcher at the North-South Center at the University of Miami. "But you have the same thing as in the South in the Sixties. You had lynchings done. They weren't done officially. The problem is, when you trace the string back, you find there's some government complicity -- either that the guys who are wearing the hoods are employees of the sheriff's department, or the government looked the other way."

Another Miami Cuban, Francisco Aruca, has for years provoked controversy with his outspokenness, both as a radio broadcaster and a businessman whose charter service, Marazul, has shuttled thousands of exiles between Miami and Havana. He is also a former board member of the ACLU's Miami chapter. "If the ACLU could adjust itself to monitor pressures against freedom of expression that come from the private sector, it would be a welcome addition in Miami," he says. "It would be one more way that the institution could make itself relevant to the Cuban community."

That relevance -- or lack of it -- may be reflected in the ACLU's membership rolls: Just two of the thirty-one people on the state affiliate's board of directors are Hispanic. On the Miami chapter's board of directors, only three of thirty-five are Hispanic. "I don't know what to do to make more Hispanics join us," Blumner concedes. "Membership is open to everyone. I can say, 'Please join the ACLU. It's a great way to protect your freedom. It's probably the only way to protect your freedom.' But if that's not an interest, there's nothing I can do to change that. Freedom of expression doesn't seem to be a value that is culturally relevant. It's always surprised me. It seems like so many families down here escaped tyranny, and [you'd think] the first thing they would do when they came to this country would be to embrace the freedoms this country offers and to fight for this freedom because they know how precious it is and how rare. That doesn't seem to be a community ethic."

That attitude distresses some Miami Cubans. "Saying that freedom of expression is not a Latin cultural value -- I think that's wrong," contends Max Castro, who stopped actively supporting the local and state chapters of the ACLU because he felt his time would be better spent on other types of activism. "What we have here is an extremely polarized political situation that creates a lot of trauma and hurt and does foster intolerance.... The ACLU has done a good job in many cases of fighting against it, but it's too comfortable to say the Latinos are intolerant."

Blumner is the eldest of three children born to two New York City teachers; the family moved to Long Island during the 1960s, and then her mother quit her job to become a full-time housewife. Her ardent support for personal liberties, she believes, stems from her parents, who encouraged her as a child to set many of her own rules. "I never had a curfew," Blumner recalls. "I don't even remember having a bedtime. That was a prerogative left to me, and I had to suffer consequences as a result of my behavior."

Intensity of purpose has always been a hallmark for her. She now jokes that if she could only have spoken the minute she was born, she would have proclaimed her desire to be a lawyer and political leader. In elementary school she circulated pamphlets supporting George McGovern's presidential candidacy. In high school she founded a chapter of the Young Democrats Club.

She attended Cornell University's Institute for Industrial and Labor Relations, relishing the idea of union work (her father had been active in labor-union affairs) and entered law school at New York University determined to become a labor attorney. A stint with a Park Avenue law firm changed all that: She discovered that she loathed the private practice of law. "I could feel the creativity just oozing out of my body," she recalls. "I knew I could never do it; it's just too dull. It was awful in the law firm. I couldn't work in an environment where people expected me to honor them because of the money they were generating."

She also tried and rejected a career as a labor negotiator because the work demanded too many compromises. "When you negotiate, you're bluffing and you're zigging and zagging," she says. "I'm way too forthright for that. I can't look someone in the eyes and lie to them."

She joined the ACLU's reproductive rights project in the mid-Eighties, and helped to prepare legal briefs for the U.S. Supreme Court in support of abortion protections. Then she came across an opportunity to lead an ACLU state affiliate -- in Utah. "I don't think I could have pointed the state out on a blank map," she jokes today.

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