Monday, January 14, 2008

A is for Advocate


Either the delta is busting out the box with its kaleideskopic chaos, or we shave it down so it fits obediently inside. These are two modes to rationalize the unfamiliar when you're far from home. We arrive to a land whose history creates the expectations for the work we will do. At the airport with some time to kill, I checked out an exhibit on the Jackson Movement . I was reminded that I tread on hallowed land, where the most important human rights battles were fought and won not 50 years ago. Coming from Queens college, we embark on the 16th year of this trip. Going back further, we remember Mr. Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered by the KKK in Mississippi during the freedom summer of 1964. Andrew Goodman was a student at Queens College.

Indeed our trip invokes a history that deserves more than synopsis. There is the history of slavery, the movement, and the apartheid that continues to fester on the periphery.
School test scores in MS are dreadfully low. Blues music is great. Next comes hospitality, and catfish. Some housing is in dreadful condition, and some clubs can be excessively violent. But is this all we can say about the delta? A plus and minus tally of the south is fatal to its autonomy. This land must speak for itself! As we enframe mississippi, we risk depriving a movement of its beauty.

From all of this, a question emerges about what we are doing in our role as advocates. Are lawyers speaking for the voiceless? This is problematic. On the other hand, it's unacceptable for a milquetoast advocate to stand alongside a movement while the system eats it for breakfast. There have been examples of both realities on this trip.

The short answer is that big old ears are the most valuable tool. For community workers, legal listening begins by remembering that courts provide relief, but not liberation. returning a plaintiff to the status quo ante through compensation (the state prior to damage) is not necessarily a delivery of justice. So as we learn to apply the law, how, when, and where to apply the law are vital considerations. Will we push a struggle through the system, or inject legal issues into the struggle? The latter means organizing. (This is not what we are taught at CUNY per se. ) It is the life affirming and therapeutic dialouge that brings people together in community, builds power, and breaks down hierarchies. For each of us, this process will look different. No doubt each struggle is unique and individual as each person. But seriously open your ears.

1 comment:

Davida said...
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