This is a Time to Look Forward and Fight, Not a Time to Despair
by Paul Bland
The election season that seemed to many of us as if it may never end has finally come to a close. For many of us, the outcome was not what we had hoped, or predicted, but it is one we must all work with moving forward.
We, and many others who work for justice, have won some great victories in recent years to begin to make America fairer. But as Roger Baldwin famously stated, no civil rights victory ever stays won. And so it is today – we cannot take any recent steps forward for granted.
It is important to recognize that when things seem their most bleak, we must remember: We have been here before. Each time, we worked through obstacles, developed smart strategies and made some progress despite seemingly insumountable odds.
The courts have often served as a defense against injustice and abuse. They will need to do so again. Public Justice will continue to fight in the courts to protect our environment, our civil liberties and America’s workers and consumers. In recent years, we have seen some administrative agencies (particularly the wonderful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) do great work. But if the CFPB is hamstrung or even imperiled, that doesn’t mean that consumers should go unprotected – it just shows how crucial it is to have an energetic, creative, strategic, thoughtful and most of all, hard working community of advocates to fill that gap.
We are not strangers to threats to our work. In recent years, the civil justice system (and particularly the class action device) were under grave attack even despite having a President who was so often on our side. Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court seemed poised to deal terrible blows to workers and consumers with three different cases that could have signaled the end of most class actions and would have been disastrous for plaintiffs seeking their day in court. Indeed, many prominent legal scholars thought the court would do exactly that. But we survived through hard work and superb advocacy . . . and a lot of over-reaching by corporate America.
And, we’ll survive this, too.
In one crucial way, the Mission and work of Public Justice is consistent with what the electorate wanted. One exit poll puts it all together. On the question of “who cares about me,” President-elect Trump received a lower score from 58% of the electorate. On the question of who has “the right experience,” he received a lower score by 90% to 8%. But on the question of who “can bring change,” he won by 83% to 14%.
Here at Public Justice, we also want to see change! We want to see Corporate America to stop cheating people, to stop discriminating against people, to stop wage theft, to stop polluting. We want to see factory farms operate more cleanly and humanely. We want to ensure that schools do much more to protect women and girls from sexual assault, and to protect all students from all forms of bullying and harassment (including abuses of LGBT students). We want change, and we are excited to see large numbers of Americans say that they seek it as well.
Also, please remember, more people voted for an agenda of fighting climate change, of having a progressive Supreme Court, of regulating overreaching by banks, than voted against it. The Electoral College in this election (for the second time in five elections) does not reflect the popular vote, or the majority of actual voters (as of the count, at this writing, Secretary Clinton received more than 150,000 more votes than the President-elect). Putting aside the complex rules that govern our Presidential election, we will fight to ensure that this is not a silent majority, but one that fights for its rights.
It is also important to note that whatever happens in one election, change cannot be stopped, and the clock cannot be turned back (for long, at least) to the 1950s. If the new Administration tries to pretend that climate change is not real and will not fight it, the scientific laws that govern the actual world will take no heed, and the problem will become worse. And the percentage of young people who have been swayed by the propaganda of fossil fuel companies is quite small: the percentage of millenials who do not believe in climate change is tiny, and will shrink as the evidence mounts. Similarly, a platform of deregulating banks will not win over large numbers of young people burdened with student loan debt. There has been a cultural shift with respect to the basic rights of the LGBT community, and most Americans, and particularly the vast majority of millennials, will sharply reject, by overwhelming majorities, efforts to strip the rights from LGBT persons. Trying to live in the 1950s is not sustainable, and we will fight to make sure that our clients receive the full protection under the laws of today.
And the growing diversity of America cannot be voted away by the fearful. America is becoming an increasingly diverse society. There is a strong element of this election that is about turning back the clock on progress. We’ve seen this kind of thing before in America, and while the costs have been terrible, the country has grown and worked through it. Just as the Civil War gave rise to reconstruction and the appearance of the KKK, and the great civil rights legislation of 1964 and 1965 helped fuel the Nixon Southern Strategy, our first African-American President and anxieties and resentments arising from race motivated a lot of last night’s votes. And in the last year, stereotypes and misogyny (sometimes veiled, sometimes blatant) repeatedly underlay attacks on our first woman major party Presidential candidate. We reject that mindset. We proudly represent the family of a person of color murdered in a jail, and we proudly represent many workers who were discriminated against by employers, among other similar types of work. We look to expand our work, and fight for greater racial and gender justice. Notwithstanding the reactionary elements to this election, we will fight to protect diverse populations, and we expect to win.
We’re already planning our roadmap forward.
Public Justice’s board of directors will convene on November 16 to look at how we can continue bringing, and winning, the most impactful cases that will create lasting change – regardless of political circumstances – for years to come. It is often the courts that offer a beacon of hope when the political forces in Washington are at their darkest and most frightening. We’ll work to make sure that remains the case, and that Americans from every walk of life have a voice, and an advocate, in the courts.
We cannot allow one election, or one person, to chip away at our civil liberties, or close off our courts. We cannot allow corporations to cheat, deceive or mistreat workers and consumers. And we cannot allow the disappointing results of this election to deter us from our work.
We’ve defied expectations before. Together, we can do it again.