November 7, 2017
Post by Julia R. Wilson, CEO
One year ago, I was pathetically naïve.
I picked out a brown, pinstriped pantsuit that felt classic and maybe even (if I squinted at myself in the mirror) a bit timeless. I looked at photographs of my dearest grandmother, Daryl Henson, a fiercely independent woman who was born just two years after women secured the right to vote in this country. I found a white scarf in my drawer and thought about my older daughter, who would turn 18 on November 8th and would get to vote in her first election on her birthday. I felt electric with the possibilities.
Now one year later, I can hardly stand to look at the photo I posted that morning on my personal social media accounts before heading out the door. I think I actually somehow feel ashamed of that photo. It communicates something a bit too personal, or too raw, about what I thought was possible.
So on Election Day 2016, I put on my pantsuit and tied my white scarf over my shoulder. I felt buoyant as I went through my commute, smiling at first shyly – and then conspiratorially – with the other women in pantsuits in the parking lot and on the BART train. By the time I reached the streets of downtown San Francisco, I was brazenly high- fiving other pantsuited women as we walked by each other on the sidewalk – strangers and yet sisters.
Twelve hours later, I was perched on a stool, watching the TV shows on my computer alone in my darkened house, with my younger daughter asleep in bed. The pantsuit was crumpled in my hamper. I haven’t worn it since. I don’t know if I will wear it again.
I didn’t sleep that night. Around 5am, I sent an email to the entire OneJustice staff. I contemplated closing the offices for the day, but that didn’t feel right. I thought that our team needed to be together. So I invited everyone to take some time and then gather in our conference rooms in the late morning so that we could start to process what had happened and parse through what it might mean for OneJustice’s work.
We went through boxes of tissues that day. We cried and raged. We talked about power, privilege, and systemic racism and sexism in our country. We talked about the potential impact of the election on the communities that invite OneJustice into their fierce struggle for equality and justice. Staff members shared their fears, and we pledged to keep each other safe, no matter what the future might hold.
That day is seared in my memory forever. The election’s impact on our work could not have been more stark. In one set of candidates, we had a possible President who had served on the Board of Directors of the federal Legal Services Corporation, and a Vice Presidential candidate who was a civil rights lawyer married to a former legal aid lawyer. On the other side, we had a Presidential candidate who had called for the end of the DACA program and ruthlessly vilified our communities, and a Vice Presidential candidate who had called for the complete elimination of Legal Services Corporation on three separate occasions during his time in the House. We feared what our community was likely to face under the new administration.
On November 8, 2016, we actually thought we had a good sense of what was likely to come. It turns out that we accurately predicted some of the components, but we were off in terms of the timing. We did start planning that day and in the following weeks, including how to use the two California Pro Bono Regional Meetings that took place on either side on the inauguration date. We tried to forecast different scenarios – the end of DACA, risk of mass deportations, a Muslim registry, the elimination of federal funding for legal aid – and sketch out high-level responses.
Looking back over the past year, I realize now that we could never have truly been ready for what came next. How could we have imagined the waves of aggressive, discriminatory, and unconstitutional policies from the new administration? A proposed budget from the White House with no funding at all for legal services? The attacks on the core democratic values we hold so dear: the rule of law, equality and justice for all?
I am so proud of what the OneJustice network has accomplished – and withstood – over the last year. The LAX and SFO airport clinics in response to the multiple version of the Muslim travel ban. The expansion of our Immigration Pro Bono Network to stand with immigrant communities as they face rapidly shifting immigration policies, craven deportation reprioritization, and increased ICE raids in Los Angeles. The renewal of our grassroots network – Californians for Legal Aid – to raise awareness about the importance of legal services for Californians in need. The statewide DACA response sprint to assist young adults in the terrible 4 weeks before the end of the DACA program. The communities with whom we work – and our staff and volunteers – have undertaken amazing work in heart-breaking circumstances.
The past year has honed the OneJustice team to the sharpest edge. We have been buffeted and thrown about, but we also grew deeper roots that are now intimately intertwined with the roots of our partner organizations. Frontline collaborations forged in crisis have become lifetime relationships filled with trust and mutuality. We have highly organized rapid response checklists and planning systems that we continue to hone with each new disaster – whether natural like the recent Northern California fires or a man-made disaster, manufactured by the federal administration.
I would never choose to live through the past year again – not for anything in the world. I wish very much that our country and communities had never been forced through these experiences. But as we work to make sense of the past 12 months and to look forward at what we might face over the next year, there is one thing that I know in my bones.
We are no longer naïve. We have learned our lessons.
This year, we are ready.
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And we need YOU more than ever before! Please take a stand with us and fight for justice for all!
- Sign up for Californians for Legal Aid, our grassroots network raising awareness about the importance of legal help for those in need
- Sign up for the Immigration Pro Bono Response Network to receive news and alerts about immigration needs in California
- Donate today online to fund the fight in 2018 and beyond – thank you!