Law School As Activist Revenge
We need to go to law school. As activists, we are absolutely dependent on an industry of law that we know very little about & have very little influence in. Prison is serious stuff and to have so little available help within our own ranks is not acceptable or safe. Our friends and lovers are shuffled around in a system that leaves them wondering what they were actually charged with and/or convicted of and what exactly the evidence against them was...this must stop.
Law School As Activist Revenge
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
We need to go to law school. Seriously. As activists, we are absolutely dependent on an industry of law that we know very little about and have very little influence in. Prison is serious stuff and to have so little available help within our own ranks is not acceptable or safe. Our friends and lovers are shuffled around in a system that leaves them wondering what they were actually charged with and/or convicted of and what exactly the evidence against them was. Our family are left in utter darkness about procedures and are reduced to begging for legal information from attorneys paid $200 an hour. I seriously believe we need more activist attorneys. NOW.
I have been an activist my whole life. And this idea of going to law school as revenge on the system, so to speak, for unjustly handling the poor, and the racist incarcerated numbers, has haunted me my whole life. I am mad they just killed Tookie. I am sick of the illegal wiretapping and spying on Americans. I have long watched attorneys access important things normal people can't. It is an industry. Law is a fraternity. As the Washington BAR states, it is a "privilege" to sit for the Washington State BAR exam, so that you can get licensed to practice law. It is not a "right."
Like the medical industry, the legal industry is monitored by a national system so that the nation is not saturated with doctors and lawyers, reducing their fee-bearing weight. From what I can tell, the way law schooling works is the accredited law schools are allowed to take in large first year classes at over $20,000 a year in tuition right now (for low end private law schools). So the law schools take in huge first year classes, raking in a lot of money. Then they cut that class in half by the next year. And again, cut the class by a 1/3 for third year students. So by the end, there is a pyramid shape, where the law schools take in a ton of money for a huge first year class yearly, then less money for each succeeding year class. And the reason for this is the BAR will only allow law schools to graduate a certain number a year or else they will lose their accreditation. The BAR controls the flow of attorney numbers into the nation via law school accreditation and needing to pass the BAR exam to practice law legally. I have heard that the American Medical Association works in a similar manner insulating the medical profession.
You need to realize that this forced pyramid shaping means falsified grading systems. If you had a class of brilliant 2nd year students, 1/3 have to fail, even if they were straight A students. I was stunned when "normalized grading" in my law school made my classwork which never fell below 96 in one class into a C for my semester grade. The explanation was there were only something like 5 slots for A's, and only a small slot for B's as well, so some of the A's actually went into the C's. At a 96 average, I was getting C's! Talk about competition. Some people who got B's failed! Even now, after asking over and over, I still do not get the "normalized grading" I was subjected to in law school. I just knew what line I had to keep my grades above to pass and that is where I aimed and landed.
But all hope is not lost. There are alternatives. When I first applied and was accepted to law schools in 1993, I literally was applying as revenge. I was sick and tired of begging for my food stamp benefits after some computer error somewhere and preferred to do things like argue for increased benefits for families through law and the legislature. My individual pleas for justice were getting lost and I wanted to start representing myself if no one else was going to. Yet I was locked out of every place I tried to assert myself and told to get professionals to be my "advocate." Like many of my poor friends, I was put off by the whole college thing. Hell, I had not even been able to graduate from high school (even though I got good grades, due to an unstable home life) and I took my GED at age 27. But once I started getting into college, I realized the power of being able to "speak the language" in a way to be heard. I began to realize the more I learned, the more coherent my arguments were getting and the better my resources I was citing.
In the beginning, when I began in community college at age 27, I just kept saying something was wrong based on gender and poverty and this whole welfare mother thing and I could not get a grip on it. I started seeing patterns my mom faced, as I faced them again now as the parent not the kid, as a single mom in poverty, and I began to hear things in college like "institutionalized poverty" and "sexism" and realized these things were what I was seeing and experiencing here and I started to notice patterns. And I started to read others' work that had also come to some of these same conclusions after connecting the dots in their own lives, as I had done in mine. College gave me a language many times. Things I had been grappling with, I was pleased to know had names! Things like "class oppression" and "capitalism" were already identified concepts and I was so thankful to find that out. It simplified things for me greatly to be able to use that kind of codified language to speak about really heavy emotional things I had been ineffectively communicating about up to then.
I would say the issues of feminism, racism and classism are the things that really drove me to college. I needed to know I was not alone in what I was coming to as my conclusions, I needed to find others like me to not give up. In a women's re-entry program in Santa Cruz, Ca., my life was permanently empowered and radically altered when I found out you could use schooling as a tool of action, rather than experiencing it as an oppressive nightmare, as I had felt about high school. The Women's Re-entry Program at Cabrillo College really made us search inside. They forced us to dream. And no easy dreams. They made us reach for the hard, distant dreams. It was in that community college program, led by brilliant activist feminists, that I grabbed at the star of being a lawyer. I have relied on lawyers since I was 8 years old in a protective custody institution that had guns and guards and bars on windows and barbed wire fences. I have been dependent on lawyers much of my life, in the scariest of times, and I resent such dependence and want more freedom to know what is going on there in Legal Land... behind what Kafka calls those "big doors marked Law." Unbelievably, in community college at age 27, in a radical women's studies class, I vowed to go to law school as my dream. I had no family, was on welfare, had a 3 year old, no high school diploma, no spouse or child support, and owned nothing. I tell you this so that those of you thinking this does not apply to you because you are too disenfranchised, and could never go to law school, will think again. And I clawed my way through a 4 year degree at a university after obstacles galore, and then at age 33 graduated from college and was accepted at three law schools.
So I entered law school originally as a 33 year old single mom of a 9 year old, with no spouse, and no close family with reliable interactions. I did all my own babysitting and we joke my son went to law school at age 9 because he literally went to classes with me all the time. He knows more "legalese" than most kids and adults, as every night it was me and him alone and I had him reading me legal flash cards in the 5th grade nightly! He was such a fixture in my contracts class that my professor began handing my kid copies of the daily quiz, as well, and really treated him with respect. And my son started actually responding in legal terms on the written quizzes he would hand in during class! It was interesting. My son got really into my law classes. He would say things to me like he was "adversely possessing the couch" when he would take up the whole thing when I wanted to sit down! When I told him to fold the laundry and he didn't do it, he would retort, "yeah, I heard your offer for that, but I did not accept with any consideration." He definitely was getting these concepts as he lived emersed in that world with me for a few years.
I was so poor and alone, and things were so unbelievably hard the first time I went to law school. Many of my street performer friends said I was selling out. Many of my activist friends wrote me off as joining the system. I was going towards law with a belief in the system, that the system could save the world, in ways, based on the concept that the legal system was fair. I was innocent in ways. I was ignorant for sure. But now I am 45, and I want to go back to law school. Why? Not because I have faith in the system, but because I have no faith in the system. And I am sick of watching people drown and have their lives wasted due to not having active, aggressive legal representation. We need more Johnny Cochran-type attorneys in activism. I am sick of people representing my friends in a half-assed manner when serious activism, and serious state resistance, is involved.
When I first went to law school, I wanted to make sure it was accredited and I needed full financial aid and scholarships for the outrageous $16-20,000 yearly tuition. At this point, I do not give a crap about the accreditation of my law degree. I just need the degree to sit for the BAR exam. Once you pass the BAR in one state, you can go to another state and take a different BAR exam than people taking their first BAR. So, for example, the People's Law School in Los Angeles ( http://www.peoplescollegeoflaw.edu/) is not accredited, and it is dirt cheap at $4,000 a year in tuition. If you get a JD from the People's Law School, you are allowed to sit for the Ca. BAR. If you pass it, you can practice law in Ca. But you can also then go to say Oregon and Washington and then just apply to get additional state BAR licensing, which is different than first time BAR licensing. Some states have easier BAR exams than others. Some slackers go to the weakest BAR exam states to get licensed first, then circulate into other states via this additional licensing thing. The reason this is important is say the Wa. state BAR will not let me sit for the BAR and get licensed with an unaccredited law degree from the People's Law School in Ca. It doesn't matter if I instead come back to Wa. state with a license to practice law in Ca. Then I go into a different track. And CAN sit for the Wa state BAR exam based on the other state's licensing me rather than based on my law degree. At least that is how it has been explained to me.
We have all seen how powerful political commitment can be. The Vietnam War showed us that a military superpower could not take down a people united and determined. The Iraq War is pretty much teaching us the same lesson. I believe if we had a powerful, committed force of attorneys in the activist enclaves, we would be safer. And more influential in ways that can help forge access to more freedoms. I am sick of watching activists stumble around in the dark once trapped within the criminal system. I don't want to go to law school to become a public defender, paid by the state to work against the classist, racist state prosecutors. I want to go to law school to be a PRIVATE COUNSEL that is available and speaks plain English to her activist clients.
When I was struggling through law school classes that literally hurt my brain, I kept thinking, "Kirsten, Dan Quayle graduated from law school... you can do this." I had a boyfriend once who would never do my auto mechanics for me and made me learn each thing that needed fixing. At first I resisted, but he kept saying guys who are not that smart were mechanics, why couldn't I do it? And that really stuck with me to overcome my fear of mechanics. And I feel that way about law too. Sometimes idiots like Dan Quayle are attorneys, it could not be THAT hard. I started thinking, could law school be harder than, oh, raising a kid in the shame of poverty? And I realized there was no way it could be harder. So that is the way I still think about the law industry. Some idiots are in it, it cannot be that hard!
I have decided to apply to the People's Law School in Los Angeles. I have no idea how I will pay for it. But it is $4,000 a year, that is perhaps doable through scholarships, if I start applying now and voraciously. A law degree is called a JD, or Doctorate of Jurisprudence. It is considered a graduate degree. Most law schools require a four year college degree with a certain GPA to apply to law school. They also require an intense and expensive exam called the Law School Admissions Exam, or LSAT. (By the way, there is an LSAT fee waiver system if you look into it). At the People's Law School, they are most concerned with your commitment to social justice and your abilities to succeed in their program. They do not require an LSAT score nor do they require anything above two years of prior college. They will require you to take certain college standards tests to prove you are able to handle the school work at the law level. And they will also make you take the Baby BAR after your first year, I believe. I think the Baby BAR is an exam that the unaccredited law school's first year class has to take to prove they are up to par with other law students.
I have already taken the LSAT and have a 4 year degree from an accredited college with a high GPA, and I have also already taken first and second year law classes, and passed them at an accredited law school. I am talking to the Ca BAR now to find out if any of my previous law school credits can go towards the new program towards my JD, which would make the program less expensive and shorter for me than the usual 4 years required. Strangely, the effect of the Katrina massacre, the spying scandals and the FBI roundup of environmental activists has had on me, has been to make me want to go back to law school to get my damned JD - to sit for the BAR - to get access to the legal system - to help get active representation based on passion and commitment, not money - into the activist community in the proportions needed. My activist comrades, won't you join me in applying to the People's Law School? If not you, who? If not now, when? You can go download their application right now at ( http://www.peoplescollegeoflaw.edu/). We need activist lawyers in the courtrooms to defend activism outside in the streets.
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