Terribly important civil rights work can be terribly upsetting, I’ve found.
When I signed on to be a student in the Wayne Law Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Clinic with the ACLU of Michigan, I had no idea that fighting against the injustices of our world would mean submerging myself in a sea of injustices and swimming around.
Upon starting at the ACLU of Michigan, I learned about Allison Ben, a pregnant single mother being evicted for being a victim of domestic violence. I immediately jumped at the chance to help her.
Though we worked feverishly on her case, Inkster Housing resolutely refused to dismiss her eviction while her abuser grew more and more determined to terrorize and control her.
Over the last few months while I’ve worked with Allison, I’ve had some dark days, days where all that work sometimes seemed to make so little difference in her life. I confess that I felt my hope for society waning, slowly but surely.
So imagine my surprise when my faith in humanity was restored in a small cramped district court room.
The day of Allison’s hearing on the motion to dismiss her eviction finally came. Driving to court, I already felt angry, angry with the sun for shining when Allison had been through so much and now had to sit in court to await her fate.
But pulling up to court, I saw something that made my heart swell: a small but dedicated group of activists in front of the court house to protest Allison’s unjust eviction.
Members of Detroit Eviction Defense, Michigan NOW, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Alternatives for Girls and neighbors had all turned out to support Allison.
If I wasn’t already profoundly moved by their presence, the look on Allison’s face when she arrived really proved how much their support meant; for someone who feels like the world is working against her, seeing that she has friends rallying behind her brought Allison to tears.
Not only did the group march outside the court, but they also came in to the courtroom to observe the proceeding. When Allison’s case was called, she stood to move to the front of the court and the entire group—and myself—stood up with her.
Hon. Judge Sabrina Johnson looked quizzically at the crowd and said, “Why are you all standing?” A young man replied, “Solidarity, ma’am.”
The judge chuckled and said, “She knows you’re all here for her.”
The only word I have for that moment: powerful.
Thankfully, Inkster Housing finally relented and decided to dismiss the eviction. Judge Johnson encouraged Allison to continue to protect herself and her children because they are “the most important people in the world.”
As wonderful and important as that dismissal is to Allison, I think the outpouring of community support was the real victory that day.
When those in positions of authority turn their backs on the most vulnerable people, it is essential that we, the community, take up the cause and fight for justice.
Allison Ben finally had a taste of that solidarity, that support, and that justice. It turned out to be just what I needed, too.
Key News and Documents
Read our letter to the housing association urging them to treat victims of violence fairly.
Read about Allison Ben
ACLU Issues: Women's Rights
Guest post by Pamela Wall, Clinical Law Student