Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Any exploration of changing human rights advocacy starts with exploring the intentions of the advocate.
Most of my clients have experienced gender violence. Most typically my clients have additional barriers due to color, immigration status, disability and poverty. Their lives are burdened in ways that I can only imagine.
I, on the other hand, live very differently. Being a law school professor is a privileged life. I have the additional freedoms that whiteness brings. While empathy is important, effective advocacy for those unlike ourselves requires more.
I must be careful not to bring any arrogance to my advocacy; particularly where clients may not challenge me for fear of alienating the person who can navigate them through a complex and often hostile system.
So how has my advocacy changed? I am more mindful than ever to reflect on my own motivations. I am more mindful of the consequences of my actions, including my advice to clients. I must consider the newly changed circumstances of my clients' lives. My clients have become even more vulnerable. Immigrants are presumed to be undocumented and even those who are not experience harassment and violence. Risk of deportation has multiplied since January. Gender harassment has increased, as it has for all less powerful social groups. But what is causing much increase in my clients' underlying fear is that harassment and abuse are gaining acceptance as a cultural norm.
Fear in some form has been a near constant in my clients' lives. But the fear was more targeted: fear of reprisal from an estranged intimate partner or fear of being deported should they engage the legal system. While specific fears remain, a more generalized fear has sprouted from the uncertainty that the cultural shift has brought. Increased street harassment is a good example of one source of heightened generalized fear. So I must be mindful not to judge my clients' decisions made in light of these concerns and I must listen even more carefully to their words. Advising clients of what is or is not a reasonable fear has become more difficult. All of our experiences are shifting in the face of this unleashed hostility and incivility.
Mindfulness has never been more important in human rights advocacy.