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Practical Lessons from One Program's Experience with Racial Justice Advocacy

The following article,written by ABLE Advocacy Director Aneel Chablani, was first published in 47 Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy 243 (September-October 2013). © 2013 Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

Practical Lessons from One Program's Experience with Racial Justice Advocacy

For poverty law programs struggling to maintain core services with fewer resources, the prospect of embarking on new racial justice initiatives or shifting focus to broader-based advocacy can create stress, anxiety, and even opposition from staff. Yet, as the articles in this Clearinghouse Review issue demonstrate, race equity advocacy is a critical component of our shared goal of reducing poverty and inequity. A failure to account for how race continues to be inextricably intertwined with poverty law issues will leave us ill-equipped in our efforts to have a meaningful impact on poverty in our communities. From this perspective, our diminished resources make even more critical our having to prioritize work with the potential for the greatest impact. Examining poverty law issues through a racial justice lens can make our impact on our communities deeper and wider.

At Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) we find that there is no set formula or one particular way to engage in racial justice advocacy. Varying in form with the issue, our work stems from recognizing race equity as a core component of poverty law advocacy and from committing to such advocacy. We have been fortunate to have a strong history of systemic advocacy from which to draw. ABLE was founded in 1969 with a systemic law reform mission. We took that mission seriously. -- In the 1970s we filed numerous class actions against race discrimination and segregation on many different fronts. We understood even then that racial justice advocacy was at the forefront of the war on poverty, and the strategy of choice was a frontal attack on the clearest reflections of racial inequities— facially discriminatory policies and practices. Forty years later, our challenge in poverty law programs is to bring that same commitment to race equity advocacy while developing creative strategies that reflect changes in the law, scientific research, and a keener understanding of the subtleties of race discrimination.

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