Protecting Dissent: SCHR Launches First Amendment Lawyer Bridge
Dissent is necessary to a functioning democracy. Without it, civilizations crumble under the weight of tyranny. The synergy between dissent and social justice movements is, therefore, undeniable. Many of the most significant advancements in social justice have been driven by individuals and groups who refused to accept the status quo. From civil rights struggles to gender equality campaigns, dissent has been the driving force behind breaking down systemic injustices. It empowers marginalized communities, challenges discriminatory practices, and paves the way for a more equitable society. When dissenting voices resound, those in power are held to a higher standard. They are compelled to justify their actions, policies, and decisions to a wider audience. This not only enhances the quality of governance but also reinforces the principle that no one is above the rule of law.
Justice Thurgood Marshall declared in his 1992 Liberty Medal Acceptance Speech:
“We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent from a nation that has buried its head in the sand, waiting in vain for the needs of its poor, its elderly, and its sick to disappear and just blow away. We must dissent from a government that has left its young without jobs, education or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because [We] can do better, because [We] have no choice but to do better.”
The Southern Center for Human Rights continues to rise to Justice Marshall’s clarion call, and through our new First Amendment Lawyer Bridge, we are working to ensure that Georgians who express dissent are protected from criminalization. The Bridge project, housed within SCHR’s Public Policy Unit, will support the expansion and maintenance of mass protester support infrastructure in Atlanta. For years, SCHR has collaborated with community organizations to support criminalized protesters and defend protesters’ first amendment right to freedom of expression and dissent, and now SCHR is working with partners to formalize and maintain a robust protester support infrastructure that will challenge repression for as long as it exists.
We are staffing the project with a Fellow who will work to refine, support, and expand existing systems for recruiting and pairing attorneys with criminalized protesters and provide technical and logistical assistance related to the representation of protesters. The Bridge will support attorneys by providing access to information that supports their effective representation of their clients, including information about relevant training, correctional facility practices and court management processes. The Bridge will support the community by creating public education materials and events and coordinating with local and national legal organizations and grassroots organizers as they use their skills and networks to protect dissent.
To learn more about SCHR’s First Amendment Lawyer Bridge, contact SCHR’s Public Policy Director Tiffany Roberts at [email protected].