Shenna Bellows, 32
Executive director, ?Maine Civil Liberties Union
It wasn’t rock stars or teen idols that Shenna Bellows worshipped as a teenager, but civil liberties.
“I had copies of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution on my bedroom wall,” she said. “I wrote my first letter to the editor when I was in middle school.”
At 32, she has been the director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union for five years. Originally from Maine, Bellows left the state for Vermont’s Middlebury College to study international politics and economics. She then moved even farther to places that included Panama to serve in the Peace Corps, Nashville to work for AmeriCorps, and then Washington, D.C., where she spent two years working as the national field organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union Legislative office before returning to her home state in 2005 to take on the leadership position at Maine Civil Liberties Union.
“What I found to my surprise coming home to Maine is that Maine is a really good place for young leaders. Compared to D.C., I found more young women in leadership roles,” said Bellows. “I think Maine is a place where work ethic and leadership skills are really valued. It doesn’t matter where you come from.”
As the executive director, Bellows said her main duties include lobbying, fundraising and acting as the organization’s spokeswoman. Her work brings her to Maine schools, where she speaks to students about Constitutional rights, working with various groups on social justice issues – a week in early September included meeting with the South Portland police to discuss surveillance cameras, then up to the University of Maine to celebrate Ramadan. In other words, there is no such thing as a typical day.
“Every day is absolutely different, which is exciting,” said Bellows.
The social issues she works on includes marriage equality and reproductive choice – she is active in both the Maine Freedom to Marry Campaign and the Maine Choice Coalition – and immigrant rights. This year, Bellows said, immigration has become a big issue for the Maine Civil Liberties Union, which opposes any measures that single out immigrants or profile immigrants for discrimination.
“Maine’s population is changing,” said Bellows. “We’re becoming a more diverse population and that can create challenges for people. At the same time, Maine is a place where you can talk to anyone.”
For Bellows, one of the most meaningful parts of her job is the realization that one person can make a difference.
“When I listen to Maine Public Radio in the morning and hear about something I feel frustrated about,” she said, “often in social activism you can work to change that.”