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tips

Make legal services an ally and a resource
1.  Lawyers are "case driven" so 
  • they don't instinctively form "advocacy" bonds with their clients.  Their goal is to win "cases" not to win issues.
  • they don't recognize systemic causes or see the systemic impacts of their work.  Therefore they often settle a "case" and screw up a legal principle (this is the source of the adage: "bad facts make bad law")
  • if you want lawyers involved-give them a "case" not an "issue"
2.  Most lawyers want to grow up to be judges and so:
  • they are concerned with notions of context, balance, and precedence in calculating their actions
  • they want to maintain working relationships with centers of power and so few want to break the china to change underlying power relationships.  You need to be elected in order to become a judge.
3.  Lawyers are not inherently smart.  A lot of lawyers get thru law school by memorizing.  Status inconsistency (higher status than warranted by ability) makes some of them into petty despots.  Having Esq behind your name does not confer insight.
4.  Legal service lawyers are underpaid, under supported, and under perked (compared to their private sector peers) leading to an attitude that, maybe....
  • i can do better for me (my family)
  • clients are getting as must justice as the system can afford to provide
All that said-their network, their resources (diminished by budget cuts, but still more than organizers can get), their mission and their occasional flashes of brilliance argue for reaching out to them and bringing them more into the advocacy arena.  The organizer rule continues to be "lawyers on tap, not on top."

Bullied by a trade name?

From time to time over the years I've been told that a tenants organization is "not allowed" to use a building name in the name of the group...  Right now there's a controversy between software maker Canonial and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (an internet civil rights group) over the name "Ubuntu: and the Ubuntu logo.  The dispute sheds some light on this tactic.  EFF says "you don't understand trademark law."  here's more and more.

An insight for activists: find common ground with your neighbors
State Impact PA has a story about anti fracking activists who got tired of pissing off their neighbors and so changed their mission to be clean air activists.  "To clear the air, some Susquehanna County residents leave the fracking debate behind" describes how making friends with your neighbors around common issues can pay dividends (especially in a small community. "...the media blitz angered her neighbors, the Teels, who said it ignored the economic benefits of drilling. The reporters, the activists and the industry haven’t gone away, but things have started to change. he Teels and Switzer disagreed about what happened to their water in the past, but now they’re part of a new advocacy group that agrees it’s time to curb air pollution. Switzer remembers the first time Ron Teel came to her home for a meeting."

Encouraging Participation
  • For older adults the key may be "mobility"  A new study of social activity and senior health finds they are linked by mobility.   "Good cognitive functioning and having less depressive symptoms seemed to be prerequisites for social activity. Thus, it is important to recognize and take into account those older people who have memory problems and are melancholy, and may need extra support to participate in social activities..."  Collective social activity researched in this study included, for example cultural activities, acting in organizations, traveling, physical activity in groups, and dancing. When participating in these kinds of activities, a person acts together with other people and may experience a sense of belonging to a group and a feeling of being liked and accepted.

An Organizer's Dilemma

    Have you had this problem of community members not understanding what you do? An article profiled in Science Daily focuses on the lack of understanding of what "professionals" do. Here's the take away: "In most cases, these professionals had to educate prospective clients on job responsibilities, while managing... "impracticable" and "skeptical" expectations." 

    If they think that mainstream professionals have problems defining their roles for "clients", they should try explaining the role of organizer or advocate to a skeptical "client" The problem of forming an empowering change oriented relationship with a community member is probably at least two fold:
  • the community member has only ever been a CLIENT, ie. someone who receives services from a "professional", and
  • organizers and advocates only have role models who are "professionals" ie. people who have specialized knowledge as models for their practice.
    I know that early on in my work, I adopted my now characteristic "casual"  appearance and speech intentionally to distinguish myself from "the lawyers" who "had the answers". Naively I thought that I would be able to accompany community members on a "journey of self discovery" so that they understood how their world really worked. (see Pablo Friere
The problem is that few community members have the luxury of embarking on that journey...even with an organizer or advocate....  They need to solve a problem!   "Tell me the answer...." like there's a big book somewhere that has all the answers and if they just knew where to look, they could do our jobs! 
    Finding the balance between sharing "information" and "discovering" a way to break out of an unjust system imposed role are two really different skills that we need to manage in our relationships with the community members we work with. Nancy's recent incident with an asbestos question gets to some of these issues-on the one hand providing info about where to focus the concern and on the other hand encouraging the community leader to make the presentation in her own words and pictures. As Nancy told me "that's empowerment."


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