- Building Solidarities. Collaborate & talk with each other, our students, impacted communities, & organizers about meeting this moment with creativity, community, & an open heart.
Isolation, social and economic insecurity, and a pervasive sense of powerlessness are core features of our existence. We are too often taught to be suspicious of all but the most conservative collectivities (e.g., faith and family) and to value individualism above all else. Law did not create these conditions, but it has served as a key tool in the spread of market-centered norms, unchecked by concern about social and economic justice. Law has permitted and promoted material and spiritual suffering globally.
We believe that solidarities are the essential antidote to the loss of community, conditions of insecurity, and feelings of powerlessness. Within the United States, we live in a movement moment, in the wake of the anti-globalization protests of late-1990’s, the anti-war mobilizations of the 2000’s, the Occupy movement, #Not1More against immigrant detention and deportation, the black youth movement and the rebellions in Ferguson and Baltimore. In the spirit of those mobilizations, as well as the slow work of organizing in all of our communities, we seek to build solidarities, with other law teachers, with our students, and with friends and neighbors as we navigate an unequal social landscape structured and sustained by law. We have the capacity to open our hearts to genuine connection and to teach, talk, and practice more courageously, so that we may work with each other, students, and communities to collectively understand the conditions we face, imagine alternate futures, and forge strategies and tactics for making them real. Finally, we believe it is essential to think beyond the “backlash” narratives in the legal academic literature that inhibit collaboration between lawyers and organizers in the field.
- Advancing Resistance. Bring lived experiences, the material conditions under which people live, & histories of collective resistance of marginalized people into the classroom.
Although legal casebooks and syllabi often contain background materials and facts about the cases that students study, the voices of expertise remain the professionals: the judges, the lawyers, and the professors. Students should also be exposed to the lived experiences of those most directly affected by the laws and policies that we study, expanding the definition of expertise and pushing towards an understanding of how law affects people and how people affect law. In recent years, there has been a turn in mainstream legal academia towards pedagogy that is both experiential and more grounded in everyday experiences of the law. Teaching with a dedication to these values begins there, but it also means confronting the ways law protects the privileges of the elites and their institutions while marginalizing and subjugating people of color, women, the poor, queers and other oppressed people both individually and systemically. Advancing resistance in the classroom might mean literally bringing the voices of marginalized people and movement actors into formal study through classroom guests, trips outside the classroom, or virtual communications. Or it might mean looking beyond individual narratives to recognize the history of collective resistance and the potential of collective understandings to shape legal meaning and to change social and material conditions. For example, a study of voting rights in the United States is incomplete without an accompanying study of how social movement actors in the 1960s, including organizers who took part in Freedom Summer in Mississippi, challenged and shifted national understandings of citizenship by engaging in collective education, mobilization, and reconceptualization of what it means to be poor and black in America. Students should be exposed to the power of conversation, the power of collectivity, the power of revisiting how things are done in the face of path dependency. Listening, self-critique, humility, and dialogue become legal skills necessary for advancing critical resistance and social change.
- Broadening & Deepening Discourse. Name the Politics of Law & Expand the range of discourse in the classroom to include radical & left politics, & the imaginations & critiques of marginalized communities.
As law teachers we have a responsibility to broaden and deepen the discourse in the classroom by naming the politics of law, and broadening the political discourse in law schools, which tends toward the narrow, from libertarian and conservative to liberal, with a strong emphasis on law and economics approaches. Even those of us who claim left politics have a difficult time introducing meaningful structural critique of the law in our teaching. As a result, radical critiques and radical imaginations, including those central to communities of color, are left by the wayside. A place to start is to name the politics of law—its relationship to white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, and neoliberalism. The typical absence of this naming obscures the hegemonic political project of law, making us all subservient to its politics, disabling us from real structural critique or imagining alternatives for law and lawyering. From there we can imagine radical alternatives.
Take for example the issue of criminal justice: although law school faculty may introduce critiques of mass incarceration or the role of race, the critiques assume that the system is broken. This assumes an idealized past, which we know does not exist, or that the system is not functioning as it is intended. Law school faculty shy away from the idea that the system is working as it should, that criminal law is precisely intended as a tool of social control in favor of the status quo. The failure to include structural critique of this sort—commonplace in outsider communities, social theory and left critique—disallows us from engaging in systemic critique or discussing ideas with growing social currency, for example, prison abolition. From property to contracts to criminal law, similar dynamics occur in every area of law, where radical critique questioning the legitimacy and ideology of the system itself is obscured from sight. We must bring these critiques into our everyday discussions of the law.
- Radical Interventions. Embolden law teachers to teach, talk, & practice law & lawyering differently.
Teaching about law and justice with integrity means assisting law students, lawyers and society as a whole in developing radical new approaches in which law can be used for justice, liberation and transformation of our world. In order to participate in the transformation of our world, law students, faculty and graduates need to learn the fundamentals of how lawyers work for justice with communities mobilizing for change. In our experiences, lawyers fighting for justice share many of the following characteristics. They develop and maintain a deep commitment to working with, not for, marginalized groups of people. They commit to learning from and with marginalized groups of people. They continuously study and develop theories of how just change comes about. They are willing to join in challenges to power even when doing so makes the lawyers uncomfortable. They acknowledge and struggle against their privilege. They humbly acknowledge the tremendous gifts that struggling for justice with others confer on lawyers. They learn how to step back and let organizations of people lead. They create alternative ways of practicing law. They accept less power, recognition and compensation. They incorporate a human rights and global justice perspective into their work. They continually develop a range of skills to help return power to the people and communities from whom it has been unjustly taken. They demonstrate a willingness to be partner with groups and advocate in a variety of ways including supporting protest, legislation, community education, media, organizing and litigation. They accept that real change can be messy and chaotic so they develop the flexibility necessary to continue forward with people who are struggling to upset the status quo. They make sure to get out of the office and courthouse and participate in community gatherings and meetings. They recognize the importance of living a sustainable life so they can persevere over the long haul. Because these characteristics are so critical, our law schools must create opportunities for all of us to learn more about how social change comes about and how lawyers — and law students — can participate in these struggles.