Alana Greer: The law is not going to save us

Your View is a recurring series of opinion pieces from members of The New Tropic community. To share your ideas, goals, and work about Miami with the community in a Your View piece, please submit it to [email protected].

The law is not going to save us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been incredibly proud to be a part of the South Florida legal community in these last few days. Low-ego, high-impact work is on display, and advocacy organizations like the National Lawyers Guild, Southern Poverty Law Center, Americans for Immigrant Justice, the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU, Florida Legal Services, Community Justice Project, legal academics, the criminal defense bar and more are devoting immense resources despite being stretched thin.

I cheered along with friends near and far as a New York judge put a temporary hold on pieces of Donald Trump’s reprehensible executive order Saturday night. But we can’t let these legal victories render us complacent.

For every group of volunteer lawyers huddled at an airport or courageous civil servant defying orders that you heard about, there was also a boardroom full of attorneys figuring out how to legislate hate. In the coming years, our courts will be an increasingly inhospitable environment for progress.

Trump inherited more than 100 federal court vacancies, seven right here in Florida. And as Miami now knows better than anyone, the unconstitutionality of Trump’s threats won’t matter if our leaders acquiesce without a fight.

But if we reset our view of the law from the solution to one of many tools of the movement, the courts can be transformed into sites of resistance.

Almost every major legal victory for oppressed communities you learned about in history class was precipitated and accompanied by sustained grassroots movements that shifted culture first. Communities working together to resist make it possible for lawyers to get the high-profile and urgently needed wins we saw this weekend.

Organizers in Boston and my late mentor David Grossman called the strategy the Sword and the Shield. Community members, the sword, put their bodies on the line at protests and make visionary demands for their people, while lawyers, the shield, use the law as a tool to defend and deflect in service of a broader theory of change. Not only does this make our legal strategies stronger, but it makes the wins more meaningful.

We should celebrate the victories in court, but then get out in the street and demand more. Use the momentum that legal strategies can create to strengthen organizing. Hold us as lawyers accountable to community. Question our strategies when they don’t center the voices of directly impacted people and those being targeted by white supremacy and patriarchy.

Want to support the legal fight? Give locally, and not just to lawyers. Support (and take the lead from) organizations run by directly impacted people like Florida Immigrant Coalition, WeCount!, Haitian Women of Miami (FANM), Miami Workers Center, and New Florida Majority.

The law alone won’t save us. But if we organize, hold our elected leaders accountable, take direction from immigrant, Muslim, and other impacted communities, and work together, we’ve  got this.