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Using the Law as a Tool for Social Change – Bridget Gramme | Ashoka U Big Idea Talk

Using the Law as a Tool for Social Change - Bridget Gramme | Ashoka U Big Idea Talk



you the two most powerful warriors are patience and time this is such a profound observation by Leo Tolstoy and yet it totally conflicts with the reality that is our everyday life doesn't it I have to confess the other day I was totally outraged because the uber driver showed up four minutes later than the app said that he would be there not so patience but this is the reality of our life today we expect a car to just show up at the touch of our fingertips we we have a 24-hour news cycle we want to read it on our phone we want it in 140 characters or less we want instant gratification and patience and time are in short supply so as a public interest lawyer I experienced this conflict between Tolstoy powerful warriors and the crazy whirlwind that is today's society on a daily basis at the center for public interest law our mission is to harness the power of the law to institute positive social change and changing the law is a long and complex process and that's by design our Constitution ensures that we have checks and balances to make sure that we can't just change the law on a whim I'm sure many of you participated or at least followed the March for our lives a couple weeks ago and these amazingly inspirational students have taken us with them on their own journey to change the law right there on their own mission and they've brought this 24-hour news cycle with them we all are feeling like this urgency of now like nobody wants another school shooting but how do we recognize you know first of all like what exactly how many laws have to actually change before we can you know Institute the reforms that these students are demanding is it one federal law is it fifty laws of all the different 50 states is it the Second Amendment itself is there room for middle ground so how do we bow this urgency of now with due process and with the reality that is our political system today with the intense polarization that means that are raising to the surface by hearing about this issue and I passionately believe that those of us in higher education have the power to bridge these gaps and we have the power to answer these questions we can rise above this politics as usual with our expertise and we can empower our students with the tools that they need to turn those eyes I also believe that lawyers have unique powers as change makers I realized that we do have a bit of a difficult reputation when I when my daughter was in kindergarten I signed up for a career day her teacher came up to me and said mrs. Graeme you're a lawyer but you're so nice and I think that's real and you know for those of you that are social entrepreneurs in the room you may have heard you know probably your lawyers are the ones telling you no you can't do that no you can't do that and you don't have to look too far in the news to see a story about a lawyer behaving badly but I really believe that lawyers are changemakers and we really sometimes litigation and the you know the judiciary branch is is the most powerful way that you can make you know a method of change when you have lawmakers who are just fighting with each other and they just can't get it done to make policy and just a quick plug for a podcast is my very favorite it's called we're perfect I don't know if any of you have listened to it but that if you want listened to that podcast to give you some real example of how litigation can make social change so at the center for public interest law what we focus on is creating change at a systemic level in California by focusing on occupational licensing agencies so this is a picture of dr. nasir who I'm sure most of you know this story and we felt the outrage of a doctor who is abusing his power and he was breaking the law but what happens if the law itself is not powerful enough to prevent doctors like this from practicing so I want to tell you this story about my Center the Center for Public Interest thought and it's experience went one story about its experience reforming the law in California so in the late 1980s my center put together this report about it was called physician discipline in California a code blue emergency and basically it was an in-depth study of the Medical Board of California the Medical Board is a an executive branch agency and its job is to protect the public from bad doctors to investigate and discipline bad doctors but this report found shockingly alarmingly that there were thousands of invest of reports and complaints to the Medical Board about doctors that were that were you know misbehaving and they basically were ignored and this Medical Board was not doing anything about it and it also found that the board really lacked the authority in the law and it lacked the resources to really be able to go out there and investigate these bad doctors and do something about it and there was a culture at the board it was more about protecting or you know helping doctors as opposed to protecting patients and so this report put together a whole a wreck a list of recommendations for reforming the law how can we create systems change how can we change the law so that the Medical Board is empowered and required to go after these bad doctors and protect patients in California and those reforms made their way all the way to a bill in Sacramento so how many people in this room by show of hands think that that bill was passed on the first try okay you were right even though it was covered by all the major newspapers in California and they recommended the bill and they supported the bill that bill was killed in about 20 minutes by the California Medical Association which is a trade association who represents doctors and the bottom line is they were not interested in more oversight they really didn't want the board to be more you know empowered to go discipline their doctors and um and they're very very powerful in Sacramento and so they had the power to kill that bill so fast forward about a couple years later – an example of a doctor who really exemplifies the reason that the system change needs to happen so in 1990 on the front page of the Los Angeles Times there was a story about a doctor who was on trial who had who was who was convicted and this man his name was dr. claw vana he had lost privileges to practice in a hospital and in Los Angeles and so he opened up his own birthing clinic with serving immigrant women and people that did not have health insurance for the most part and he was administering this drug called pitocin which is a labor inducing drug even though he didn't have the proper fetal monitoring equipment that would make sure that these babies were not in distress and nine babies died in the course of about four years and so this man was eventually arrested and he was convicted and the evidence came out at the trial that the Medical Board actually had received dozens of complaints about this man and yet the board which was made up of mostly men mostly white mostly doctors did nothing and so the judge at this trial who you know and then it was put up on on the front page of the Los Angeles Times famously said how many more babies need to die before the Medical Board of California gets a doc together and the board did not have a dock together but the law was weak the law failed those nine babies so I tell you that story because it really innit it illustrates the way the three branches of government really worked together to create change so you have the executive branch which was the Medical Board you've had the legislative branch who has the power to change things but lacked the political will and then you have the entire the judiciary branch which really in this case turned the tide right and made maids a lot happen but it also illustrates some really important lessons that we've learned at the center for public interest law for making change levers that we've made and our Center has been around since 1980 so I just want to show you I call them the powerful thing so the first piece is price changing the law comes at a price we know this the high-priced lobbyists know this the corporation's know this and the fact is that society also pays a price and unfortunately people often have to die before we can actually get reforms through so in 1999 babies was too high of a price and the law changed in other examples just a couple years ago in order to get more strict reforms and disclosure laws for contractors in California a balcony had to collapse and six students had to die we have another example of ducked of dentists who are giving pediatric anesthesia during during dental procedures and for children died in California and not until that happen is the legislature considering new laws and 141 people have died in a school shooting since Columbine and the tide is starting to shift and that's what these marches are about but society has certainly paid a price the second P is patience and it's not endurance type of patience it's a strategic patience where you have to wait for the right window of time in order for these things to happen and as you can tell the lot is a slow-moving animal but it's something that can't be rushed the third P is partnerships then one of the most important partners that we have at the Center for Public Interest on all public interest advocacy are the media investigative journalists and I really don't think we could have achieved those reforms if we didn't have this story covered on the front page of the Los Angeles Times so that is really key there's power and knowledge and there's also power in relationships with other individuals or other groups who are focusing on the types of issues that we focus on so we try to partner with them as well and then we're recently we've been partnering with funders people who have realized that there really is this imbalance when it comes to advocacy before our legislators okay and the final P is professors and this is what I think is really the secret weapon and at 4°c pil i think the reason that we have been successful over the years is because we come from a university we have this level of Independence and credibility and it allows us to rise above this political fray and so but we really need support from academia I think and and this is what I'm really calling on all of you or your faculty or if you work with faculty to use the research that you do to translate into public policy and to are and to participate in our democracy to bolster our advocacy efforts so what what do we do to take action what matters to you you know if you want to all of you have you set of expertise that you can bring so think about what matters most to you if you want to participate in your democracy what drives you and then identify your levers and your own expertise that you have and finally just go out there and do it so Wednesday just marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination so I wanted to close with a quote from him this is from the Martin Luther King memorial and it says we shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice and I just I really think that exemplifies this point Martin Luther King knew that to be a change maker it takes a lot of patience so all of us in this room has some unique powers and I just want you to think about what that expertise might be and how you can bring that to democracy to amplify your voice but it takes patience with the law with the slow process that is the law and with the system that we have but we all just have to know that with patience and time we can all be the change [Applause]

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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