query: combining organizing and legal strategies
Discussion list for COMM-ORG
colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Sat Oct 20 12:39:15 CDT 2007
[ed: thanks to Melinda for replying to Andrew's query.]
From: "Melinda Chateauvert" <mchateau at aasp.umd.edu>
Randy Shaw's The Activist's Handbook (University of California Press, 2001),
particularly the chapters on the Tenderloin housing clinic where he works.
Shaw isn't a fan of litigation as an organizing strategy though. Cases take
too long, don't involve enough people, tend to limit participation to
experts, and the steps between filing and appeal are often too obscure to
maintain organizing momentum. Not that it can't be done, but litigation
poses specific issues for organizers.
Some of these problems are being replayed in a current debate over the
meaning and importance of Brown v. Board. A few (whacko, imo) scholars
(Klarman, Golobuff) hold that Brown wan't all that important and the civil
rights movement would have happened anyway without the decision. Of course
that opinion ignores entirely the mechanics of how the Montgomery Bus
Boycott -- and most other direct action campaigns -- was won. Rosa Parks and
staying off the buses for 381 days are pretty stories but didn't desegregate
them. When the boycott began the NAACP legal department filed suit (Browder
v Gayle); the Supreme Court, relying on Brown, ruled the city's segregation
ordinance was unconstitutional. (Even then the buses weren't desegregated:
the downtown merchants, facing a second holiday season of low sales from the
boycott, pressured Mayor Gayle to desegregate.) Granted the case went
through to the Court extraordinarily fast, primarily because Alabama's white
resistance hadn't re-grouped to fight the case. Mary Berry has a good
discussion of this scholarship in her review of Golubuff:
African American Studies
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
> This is a COMM-ORG 'colist' message.
> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
> [ed: please feel welcomed to copy COMM-ORG with responses to Andrew's
> query. A bit from me below.]
> From: Andrew Schoeneman <mistershoney at yahoo.com>
> I am looking for resources in the area of organizing combined with legal
> strategies. My organization is a legal aid program whose staff includes
> non-attorney organizers, including me.
> We are trying to clarify the relationships that exist between my
> employer, which is in essence a public interest law firm, and community
> groups to whom we provide community organizing support as well as legal
> advice and and even representation when necessary. One such group is in
> the process of formulating by-laws, electing officers, etc., and it
> seems like a good time to agree on the terms of this relationship.
> I suspect there are other organizations out there who combine legal and
> organizing strategies, and have at some point addressed the balance
> between the roles and responsibilities of being a lawyer/law firm and
> the practice and philosophy of organizing.
> I'd appreciate any responses either to the listserv or to me at
> andrew at justice4all.org.
> Andrew Schoeneman
> [ed: Rinku Sen's book, Stir it Up, has some case studies on integrating
> legal services and community organizing.]
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