On Thursday morning I headed to Haymarket station to meet dozens of City Life members to protest no-fault evictions by tax-payer owned financial institutions. Part of an on-going campaign to help people stay in their homes and promote affordable housing, City Life has been organizing weekly protests in front of Boston’s housing court. The protest successfully educated hundreds of individuals walking through the busy downtown district, as well as the lawyers and court staff walking into the courthouse. Potentially more importantly, it empowered clients preparing to present eviction defenses on their own against represented landlords and banks.
I stood to the side handing out information as City Life members shared their stories, spreading public awareness around the reality of no-fault evictions. One woman spoke about how she has just received an eviction notice after paying her rent on time every month. She fought tears as she shared her fears about living on the street, especially with her two young children. With year-long waitlists for affordable housing in the city, getting evicted from your home can make one homeless overnight.
However, another man had a powerful contrasting story. He explained how he had almost been evicted after his landlord faced foreclosure and investors were looking to buy up the property. However, after sharing his story, community members mobilized by City Life came to his aid, protesting outside his home. No investor bought his home at auction and years later he still lives there. His story is just one example of City Life’s powerful community organizing model.
I learned about City Life from a friend in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. I’d come back from a summer internship where I’d spent part of my summer working on a Native American rights case currently being heard by the Federal District Court. It was interesting and important work but I felt incredibly disconnected from both the individuals I was representing and the social justice issues involved in the case. I therefore came back committed to finding ways to integrate my legal engagements with local community movements attempting to transform unjust social and economic structures through many different avenues, only one of which might be litigation.
My current work around economic justice requires a better understanding of the communities I am a part of and the recognition that lawyers, working through traditional legal structures, will play only a limited role in social change. And so I attended my first City Life meeting.
For me, experiencing community organizing efforts as a law student and in my new community has been an incredibly powerful, empowering, and humbling experience. There is a lot of important work going on around our communities, by lawyers and non-lawyers, and many movements are looking for allies from powerful institutions.
So, get out of the law school, and Harvard Square, and find your own City Life.