At our best, we’re that fence.Saturday, December 14, 2019
Long before I joined EBCLC’s Community Economic Justice Clinic as a law student advocate, my great-uncle Alexander Hoffman, who we called “Sascha”, was showing the East Bay what true community lawyering looks like.
Sascha was an activist attorney in Berkeley during the 1960s, representing the demonstrators who opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Vietnam War, and assisting Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. Most of his work wasn’t in the courtroom, though, but behind the scenes – engaging in activism and backroom planning with the Black Panthers, bringing news to Huey Newton while incarcerated, and relaying his messages to the rest of the Panthers’ leadership. After black militant inmates organized a work-stoppage at San Quentin to protest conditions, one of the strike leaders said of Sascha, “[h]e stood as a fence between you and oppression and abuse.”
I share this story because this is how I think about the role that EBCLC plays in Berkeley and Oakland. At its best, EBCLC stands as that fence – continuing the fight against oppression and abuse of the most marginalized members of our communities here in the Bay Area.
Zeke Wald, Berkeley Law class of 2021
Photography by Brittany Hosea-Small
As an EBCLC student, I’ve been able to work directly with community members to impact change, including by helping to draft a policy designed to mitigate aspects of the housing crisis. Often, policies start from the top – from lawyers or politicians who research a problem and try to make it better. That process has value, but to bring about real, impactful, targeted change, we must engage with the voices of the actual communities that are impacted. We need community lawyers to ensure that policy actually responds to and engages with the real problems that folks are facing, and that those folks are a part of the process and not just a population that is impacted. We need community lawyers to ensure that policymaking and progressive lawyering are movements of, not just for, the communities we serve. That is what EBCLC stands for.
My time at EBCLC has taught me a great deal about what it takes to be a community lawyer, and how to engage with and listen to the voices of community members as a fundamental building block of our profession. Law school can feel very disengaged from the issues that we see in the world around us and being at EBCLC reminded me of the grounding that brought me here in the first place. EBCLC helped me feel like more than just a hopeful attorney, but like a community member – engaged in the issues that we face together and lending my voice as part of a broader movement. I hope that EBCLC continues to stand as a fence between the communities we serve and oppression and abuse. I am quite confident that it will.
EBCLC Community Economic Justice Clinic Student
Berkeley Law Class of 2021
EBCLC is dedicated to raising up the next generation of public interest advocates. We are grateful for and inspired by students like Zeke, who have picked up the mantle of justice to fight poverty and keep our community whole.