Moving beyond SCOTUS

Niko Bowie @nikobowie on Twitter

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“This past week has seen a repudiation of the court-based theory of change that has defined legal liberalism for several decades in the US: a theory that elite lawyers will always be able to use elite reasoning to persuade elite judges not to let things get out of hand. Our government is dominated by graduates of law schools—where they learn how liberal victories since 1954 have been won not by organizing, movement building, or legislating, but by arguing so persuasively that no judge can resist bending the arc of history toward justice.

This week reveals one obvious downside of legal liberalism: judges can ignore it. It’s terrific when the people in charge agree with you that everyone should have contraception, healthcare, or a livable environment. But what are you supposed to do when they don’t?

More importantly, legal liberalism has also displaced the US left’s infrastructure & vocabulary of popular power. For decades, liberals have confidently responded to injustice with “see you in court.” But the same voices are famished for alternatives when courts are the problem.

Rather than look for leadership from dissents or Capitol poetry, we need to learn from people who have spent these same decades building power in *spite* of a hostile legal system. The recent victories of the labor movement, modest as they are, should be studied and replicated.

To reverse this week’s court decisions we need national laws. To enact national laws we need political power. To build political power we need to collectively commit not just to the biannual ritual of voting, but also to the day-to-day grit of organizing the people around us.

In contrast with legal liberalism, organizing is a theory of change that doesn’t trust people atop hierarchies to share our values. Rather, we must build our relationships with one another into the disruptive leverage necessary to compel skeptics to follow our lead.

The labor movement is currently perfecting the art of organizing, whether structure-based or momentum-driven. Its tactics aren’t new but modeled after histories of working women, people of color & abolitionists who built political power with strikes & boycotts, not just lawsuits

Libraries document specific strategies ordinary people have used to change legal structures worse than today’s: books like @rsgexp’s No Shortcuts, Marshall Ganz’s Why David Sometimes Wins, Frances Fox Piven’s Challenging Authority, and Barbara Ransby’s biography of Ella Baker.

This is the “history and tradition” we should cultivate. The major question for the left is not how to persuade Justice Kavanaugh or Senator Manchin to listen, but how to persuade our neighbors and coworkers to commit to collective action.”

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