As someone who considers themselves an organizer and advocate, I recently found myself reflecting on the life and legacy of late civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis. In his final directive to us, he urged us to “get into trouble, good trouble.” What strikes me most from his directive is that he never told us how. So, let’s talk about how to make good trouble.
Whether your advocacy is motivated by racial justice, environmental rights, or threats to free and fair elections, all of our communities are at risk of disenfranchisement. As attorneys, it is incumbent upon us to use our roles as respected voices and subject matter experts to bridge gaps of injustice. Determining the “how” is up to you, but nothing will change until each of us decides. By assessing what drives you to do this work, you will find authentic ways to make good trouble and impact your community.
Becoming a change agent can manifest in several ways:
- through your personal choices;
- by engaging the local community;
- by exercising our civic duties; and
- by supporting organizations that do powerful work.
Protect the Environment
If your passion is protecting the earth, good trouble may look like vowing to minimize your carbon footprint by making sustainable purchasing choices (e.g., buying goods made with biodegradable materials, supporting brands that upcycle materials). You could encourage your city council to enact green solutions and galvanize support around that initiative through social media and organizational affiliations. Two great nonprofits doing work in this area are the League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund. These environmental organizations advocate for sound policies through education, philanthropic work, and voter mobilization.
Promoting Free and Fair Elections
If your passion is promoting free and fair elections, then good trouble may come in the form of participating in organizations that combat voter suppression. These organizations tend to be nonprofits and are always so excited to have lawyers as volunteers. Currently, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law operates 1-866-OUR-VOTE, the nation’s largest non-partisan election protection hotline. On election days, volunteer lawyers answer questions from callers about voting and also track voter suppression. Personal outreach through your alumni or social network to recruit is an excellent way to recruit a team of volunteers! Many people overlook the role of local elections boards in ensuring election integrity. Civically, educating yourself and others is a great way to elect leaders who value democracy over partisanship. Locally, you can volunteer as a poll watcher during local and municipal elections.
Good trouble for promoting racial justice may look like advocating for criminal justice reform. You can donate and volunteer for electoral campaigns of candidates whose platforms include racial justice reforms and exercise your civic responsibility by engaging others in your network in discussions on reform ballot initiatives. Additionally, you can form a collective of prominent attorneys to meet with your county’s district attorney to discuss ways to implement restorative justice initiatives as an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system. To learn more about ways to engage in criminal justice reform in your community, the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation is an excellent resource for learning more about criminal justice reform and championing establishing these programs in the community you serve.
In the words of Congressman Lewis’s mentor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” While much has changed since 1968, more things remain the same. Today, our country is experiencing tumult from centuries of violent racial animus toward communities of color, contentious elections, and environmental devastation. Our collective experience of 2020 has brought clarity to what “good trouble” means. It means recognizing that the arc of justice bends because of us. It bends because we courageously have the difficult conversations that make progress possible. It bends because we use our time and our talent to support causes that protect the most vulnerable. It bends because we make it so.
Good trouble will not be convenient, but I promise it’s worth it. It’s time to get to work, time to raise our voices, and time to make some trouble. Good trouble.