December 2016 Bar Bulletin
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December 2016 Bar Bulletin

Stepping up: An Antidote for December’s Dark Days

 

KCBA members represent a variety of political perspectives. Each member’s views on policy issues affecting our community and our country should be treated respectfully and all members should feel welcomed and supported by their professional association.

Wanting to honor our diversity of political thought, I considered devoting this column to subjects that did not involve the outcome of the presidential election. However, given that the outcome portends a sea change on many if not all major policy issues facing our community and country, may have profound implications for all federal courts (and by extension our state courts), and could significantly affect social and economic justice advances that have occurred over the past eight years, it is difficult to find a “safe haven” topic.

So, I’ve decided to touch on an issue of concern to me that I suspect is on the minds of all KCBA members. For me, the most devastating outcome of this election is the message it sends about voter attitudes on issues of diversity, inclusion, equality and justice.

More than 50 percent of voters (including those who voted for Donald Trump and those who declined to vote for any presidential candidate) either accept or are willing to overlook his bigoted and at times hateful campaign messages about women, racial and ethnic minorities, Muslims, immigrants, the LGBTQ community and refugees.

Post-election reassurance that Trump’s campaign rhetoric is not indicative of his actual views is immaterial to those who believe that his election gives them a license to target individuals and groups who should be protected from discrimination, violence and injustice under the laws of our country. We’ve seen the power of this “license” play out in secondary schools, college campuses and communities across the country over the past several weeks, where blacks and Muslims in particular have been subjected to hate speech, including threats to their personal safety. And, for many, some of Trump’s designated advisors and Cabinet appointees underscore a concern that his campaign rhetoric was indeed a mirror into the attitudes and values that will shape his administration’s political agenda.

I suspect this analysis concerns all KCBA members because fighting injustice is central to KCBA’s mission. Promoting access to justice is what our members do through their generous donation of volunteer hours and financial contributions to support our remarkable network of Pro Bono Legal Services programs and the advocacy work undertaken by our Public Policy Committee. Indeed, as I’ve come to terms with what this election means for my community and how I am going to respond, I’ve reflected more than once on the remarkable work that is done by KCBA, its safety-net partners in the access-to-justice community, and our courts.

Many well-known journalists and political commentators have offered advice on how to address this issue. Drawing on what has been written to date, as well as conversations with family, friends and colleagues, I urge KCBA members to consider one or more of the following action items.

1. Hustle like Russell. If you are inclined to withdraw from any civic or political engagement for the next four years, including perhaps turning off NPR, canceling your newspaper subscriptions or leaving the country, stop and think about Russell Wilson.

This season in particular, his performance as quarterback for the Seahawks provides a compelling role model. Faced with injuries that would cause many to sit out the season while turning inward to rehabilitate, he elected to stay in the game and fight. He started off slow, clearly restricted in his ability to move the game forward.

On November 13, he led his team to victory against their archrival, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. On November 20, while leading his team to victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, Wilson broke personal and league records, including catching a touchdown pass in support of the cause.

The Seahawks are not moving to Canada. If you are concerned about the future for equality, justice and plain old decent civil discourse, stay and fight the good fight.

2. Take every opportunity to use your articulate, well-informed, legally trained voice to fight injustice. Write your elected officials and express your opposition to policies, regulatory changes, appointments and practices that undermine the rule of law, deprive individuals of due process, deny access to health care and interfere with equal access to justice.

Respectfully challenge your friends, family members and colleagues who make degrading comments about or want to “tell a joke” that is offensive toward women, minority groups, LGBTQ members, Muslims, Jews or disabled individuals. Explain why their words are dangerous and how they can lead to injury.

3. Take time to look in the mirror and question whether your efforts to fight injustice and hate speech are undermined by your own intolerance toward voters who disagree with you, simply because they disagree. Does it help advance social justice to be condescending toward folks who live outside the bubble? Is it fair or equitable to look the other way when people stereotype voters who supported Trump as demons, neo-Nazis or dumb****? Strive to always lead by positive example.

4. Remind yourself that with every election cycle there is a risk that the newly elected leadership will not share your political views or promote policies that advance the causes you believe are important for your family or your community. Take heart in the fact that the mid-term elections are only two years away and consider getting more politically involved, by running for office or seeking out incumbents or new candidates to actively support in the next election cycle.

5. Become more actively involved with KCBA and its partners that support the access-to-justice safety net in King County, including Columbia Legal Services and Northwest Justice Project. Expand your efforts to include other groups such as the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, ACLU, Planned Parenthood and Conservation Northwest that play a critical role in advancing civil rights, women’s reproductive rights, social justice and environmental causes.

Don’t overlook the important role the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) plays in fighting hate crimes and remember that you can have breakfast with Morris Dees, SPLC co-founder, at the 2017 Breakfast with Champions.

6. If you are inclined toward year-end giving, use the election as a reason to give generously and with purpose, focusing on those agencies, foundations and entities that advance causes in line with your values around tolerance, inclusion, equal opportunity and equal access to justice.

You will feel better during the dark days of December if you actively join KCBA’s efforts to fight injustice, in all its forms. Thank you for all that you do to advance KCBA’s mission. Happy holidays and best wishes for a peaceful new year.

Kathryn “Kate” Battuello is the president of the King County Bar Association. She works at the University of Washington where she serves as the director of external business relations for the School of Medicine. She can be reached at kbatt@uw.edu or 206-616-5879.

 

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