I struggle to explain exactly the path I see my life taking after graduating next May. I know exactly the type of work I want to do, but it was has never been clear if that career path actually existed. My philosophy background and experience with service and solidarity groups on campus inspired me to look for a way to live out the mantra of social justice hat we speak of regularly on campus. I am walking away from Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) with more technical skills and legal knowledge, but also a broader knowledge of the reality of discrimination that exists toward low-income residents of Boston. I’m more confident in how to approach and to communicate with people who are living through crisis situations.
Not only was I able to explore my interest in a future as a public interest attorney, but also as a community organizer. The intersection of community and legal work, with the politics of the city is something that can crucially affect the outcome of a case, and thus, the future of a family, neighborhood, and community. While working in the Housing Unit, the appeal of community organizing as opposed to legal services is to be able to interact and support clients through more of the personal aspects of an eviction or foreclosure. I found that the more I knew about the intricacies of housing law, the less personal I was when interacting with people because I could envision the future legal outcome before the fight even began.
Community lawyering is a model that synthesizes the work of grassroots community groups with attorneys to meet the needs of a neighborhood. The GBLS and City Life/Vida Urbana model is known as the “sword and shield” model that offers people the ability to advocate for themselves through public pressure, rallies, and marches (the sword) while being protected by a legal team (the shield). Some of the most empowering moments of my internship were at the City Life meetings where new members were sworn in to the group with a ritual one of the organizers does with a replica sword and shield. The new members are asked, “Are you willing fight to stay in your home?” and when they respond with enough energy saying “Yes we will!” the crowd responds with “And we’ll fight with you!” What a way to meet your neighbors and start to fight a personal crisis- with an entire community supporting you.
Written by Marisa Marshalka, BC Class of 2017