In this, our first newsletter of 2022, I would like to start by taking a moment to look back. NLSLA closes out each year with an in-depth report on our advocacy—a roundup of our most impactful work for the year. As I read the 2021 report, I was taken aback by how far we had come in coupling our direct advocacy on behalf on individuals and families with powerful systemic advocacy on behalf of entire communities.
For legal aid organizations, striking this balance is often a delicate dance. We exist in order to help people who cannot afford a lawyer to fight for their individual rights. But this work also places us on the frontlines of the social justice issues of our time. By helping individuals, we are often the first to recognize patterns of injustice that require systemic advocacy and impact litigation.
Last year, after representing several families whose children faced discriminatory discipline in Antelope Valley Schools, NLSLA sued the California Department of Education for its failure to properly monitor and address this type of discrimination in districts across the state. After helping families who were left without access to emergency food assistance because the county failed to process applications on time—and obtaining records showing thousands of vulnerable families were facing similar challenges—NLSLA sued the county, demanding it comply with its obligation to grant expedited relief. In the same year, NLSLA mounted an unprecedented advocacy effort to save hundreds of mobile homes in Carson, challenged a discriminatory hiring practice at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and sued the owners of a federally subsidized housing complex for leaving elderly tenants stranded in the 16-floor building without a single working elevator.
These are just a handful of examples of last year’s impact work, all of it informed by direct advocacy on behalf of the more than 100,000 individuals who called our hotlines, found us online, and walked through our office doors. To me, this is what the pursuit of justice looks like: helping individuals while keeping our eye on the systems that impact their lives. I look forward to what that pursuit will bring us in the year ahead.