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“[T]hey could have had every firefighter in the world up there, and it still wouldn’t have been enough to help just with how much activity and how much fire is burning up there right now.” 

– Jake Murray, Alaska Smokejumpers, The Daily podcast 

The problem with the Canadian wildfires that continue to ravage our neighbor to the north and send deadly smoke billowing across the border is not that we don’t have enough firefighters; the problem is the climate crisis. Fires start more easily, burn hotter, and last longer than ever before. 

Same with evictions. The problem with evictions is not that that we don’t have enough lawyers; the problem is the affordable housing crisis. We could ask every lawyer on our staff to do nothing but defend eviction cases in court all day every day, and we still would not contain, let alone snuff out, the wildfire of evictions.  

Don’t get me wrong. None of this is to say that we don’t need more legal aid lawyers, any more than anyone would say we don’t need more firefighters. At LAJC, we are in the business of defending and protecting low-income people in their struggle to survive, and we are in court fighting for them on a daily basis. The more people we can defend, the better. 

But it is to say that, just like we won’t stop wildfires until we address the climate crisis, we won’t win the fight against poverty until we address the underlying problem of systemic inequity and racial injustice. 

It is that fundamental truth that drives LAJC’s mission. 

In this fifth and last email in the “More Poverty, Less Justice” series, I want to talk about how we accomplish our mission. We fight for justice by combining direct legal advice and representation to clients with community-driven systemic advocacy. We organize alongside community partners, file impactful lawsuits, advocate for broad-level policy change, and amplify our clients’ stories, all with the goal of building power in low-income communities and creating lasting change.

At LAJC we treat the underlying symptoms of poverty and injustice while working for a cure:  

  • We will defend you if you get evicted and work alongside the Public Housing Association of Residents as they fight for resident-led redevelopment and one-for-one replacement of public housing. 
  • We will fight for your release if you get detained, and we will help the Free Them All VA Coalition organize to close the Farmville Immigration Detention Center permanently. 
  • We will help you clear your criminal record, and we will work with the Expungement Council to win legislation overhauling Virginia’s expungement laws. 
  • We will appeal the denial of unemployment benefits, and we will sue the Virginia Employment Commission for illegally withholding more than one billion dollars in benefits. 
  • We will sign you up for health insurance, and we will also persuade the hospital to revise its financial aid policies so that people are not devastated by medical debt. 
  • We will help your child access special education services, and we will fight for full and equitable funding of public education through the Fund Our Schools Coalition.  
  • We will sue your employer for unpaid overtime, and we will support the Agricultural Workers Advocacy Coalition in its advocacy that workers who put food on our table don’t go hungry when there is no work. 

In other words, we are fighting the fire of poverty while building power with low-income communities to overcome the systemic racism and inequity that fuels it.

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