A Message from the Director: Dreams of Justice

Aurora Martin, CLS Executive Director

Columbia Legal Services joins others across the nation to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today. It has been 50 years since Dr. King’s inspiring “I have a Dream” speech and 50 years since the “War on Poverty” was also declared by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The 50 year anniversaries of such twin historical events challenges us to not only hold on to the dreams of justice Dr. King spoke of, but it must also awaken and stir us into action.

Perhaps it is just as well, that before I end the day, I take a moment to say that I firmly believe Columbia Legal Services’ work for justice is very much tied to the march for justice that Dr. King inspired millions of people to partake in, and that must continue on today.

Columbia Legal Services' work on behalf of some of the most marginalized people in our state continues to tell a story of the inextricable link between poverty and injustice - and their inextricable link to generations of racial injustice. There is much work to do and we must have the sense of urgency that Dr. King spoke of 50 years ago:

“We have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

With the filter of today, we must figure out what divides our communities and keeps our clients at the margins, and reflect on how we can most effectively fulfill our role as counsel for the poor in Washington. Columbia Legal Services has achieved a series of tremendous wins on behalf of clients who have, because of our work for justice, stood against what they may have once perceived as insurmountable injustice. Although we may ride out the cycles of stability and instability as an organization, as lawyers for justice we must always wrestle with the discomfort of what more there is still do. At different times and in different circles, we have challenged ourselves to think about our role in alleviating poverty and where we aim our legal tools to remove the structural barriers of poverty – is it physical poverty, social poverty, material, political? It is probably all that and more, as Dr. King so pointedly describes in his sermons.

Whether it is the immigrant worker who works in the fields afraid to lose their job, or the inmate doubly imprisoned as she serves out her sentence and fears for her own safety behind bars, families and children who remain transient but overlooked on the homeless count, or the elderly mentally disabled man living on the edge and holding on to Disability Lifeline -- Dr. King’s dream stays with us today as CLS continues to work for justice so that a more inclusive and equitable society is possible.