Coming to Brandeis, I had ambitions to join the work of the United Nations and similar international organizations because of my belief in their missions to provide a more cohesive and progressive global political atmosphere. Throughout my classes in the international and global studies department, as well as the politics department, I have since changed my viewpoint on these organizations. I now interpret them as being soldiers for neo-globalization that subtly call for the exploitation and marginalization of previously colonized countries.
Through research and readings, it is apparent to me that the current structure of our international organizations places the capitalistic endeavors of Western states and countries with large amounts of capital or resources over the concerns and cultural sensitivity of the global south. While human rights issues are rightfully being brought up in many Western states, it is these same Western states that are forcing the global south to undergo structural changes to become more “progressive” when the effects of these changes really only ever economically benefit the aforementioned Western states. Along with the hyper-criminalization of the leaders of underdeveloped states, I believe, these changes work more toward creating an unbalanced world focused primarily on the exploitation of resources and consumption.
I have found that, while these organizations say that their intentions are for the betterment of the global community, corruption and bureaucracy appears to have a stronger grip. The need for consensus without an already equal world translates to veto powers and certain states becoming major decision makers in a way that makes the function of diplomacy in the way we know it almost futile.
Consequently, such findings have led me to look for work and organizations that have a principle of improving itself and allowing change in their goals for a more just world. Organizations need to have not only a goal of achieving social justice, but have it built into their system to consistently improve upon itself and dismantle the power hierarchies that may persist through its structure. Stagnancy is what leads so many good-meaning organizations to becoming perpetrators of power imbalances and contributing to the system of problems itself rather than dismantling it.
Through my Brandeis experience, I have been led to look for organizations that work to directly aid marginalized people as they navigate systems that subliminally exploit them for their labor or resources and subject them to further subjugation. I enjoy the work of my internship for this reason, as the Court Service Center acts as a liaison that addresses the direct concerns and issues of people who cannot access the justice system due to lack of money or resources. The Court Service Center interacts with real people who have real issues that are always reduced in priority or importance because the person behind the issue does not have money. Consequently, in my internship, I look to consistently provide extra support and a sense of understanding on top of legal aid for these people who are unable to navigate a complex family court system, and hopefully work towards achieving better family dynamics.
I have learned that the world of social justice work is full of people who wholly aim to help, but are faced with systems and bureaucracy that stall progress for marginalized groups. Within these social justice organizations, and particularly ones affiliated with the government, there comes a whole array of bureaucratic issues that limit the scope and depth of how help is distributed to those who need it. Issues ranging from current restrictive laws, to budgeting problems, to a misunderstanding or ignorance of the plight of minorities all severely hurt the social justice world. Each and every day, there are more people who face discrimination, marginalization and require aid to deal with their life’s issues, but frequently there is a backlog of people who are still receiving help. The social justice world therefore is full of constant issues that need solving and that require new and progressive ways to solve them.
I have learned the importance of a work-life balance and the significance of training yourself everyday to be as open and helpful to the widest array of people. Social justice work inherently asks for those who aid to not discriminate in who receives their help. The more professional and bureaucratic those who help become as they rise in status, the more classist and unintentionally hierarchical they also become. This inability to understand and fully be compassionate to those who need the help seeps into the inner mechanics of social justice organizations, consequently hurting the process of social justice as it transforms into a function that works with the systems of oppression. Therefore, it is so incredibly important to go through constant training and ensure that there is personal growth in the ways in which social justice organizations are helping marginalized people. They must be able to evolve, expand, and invest in progression, which may mean changing their old practices of seeking or providing aid for marginalized people.
The advice I would give to someone else pursuing an internship in the social justice field or family court system is one that I try to implement myself: to not become desensitized to the slowness of current social justice organizations and to consistently seek ways and organizations that contribute to new forms of social justice work. Additionally, to expand my own knowledge of languages, barriers to access to justice, and subtle systematic micro-aggressions so as to be the best representative for litigants and those marginalized.
I can see how easy it is to find a position with a social justice organization and simply just trust the organization’s intentions. But through this internship, I have become much more aware of the success that comes from doing the work to find gaps in justice and providing comprehensive and compassionate aid as an inherent personal aspect of my career, regardless of where I am. I have seen through my supervisors just how important it is to understand the litigant, to not judge people, and to constantly stay educated on what else a litigant may need.
Through this internship, I see how it is the direct aid—the help that asks the individual what exactly they need—that is so important to social justice work and what I personally look for when joining the social justice world.
The Lowell Court Service Centers were created out of an “access-to-justice” study, which found that there exists a significant gap in achieving justice in the family court system due to differences in access to legal aid and knowledge. Lower-income populations that would represent themselves in family court more often encountered difficulties understanding and navigating the courtroom, as well as following proper legal procedure, compared to those with access to lawyers or legal aid. The majority of those that come to the court service centers for help systematically are not able to afford legal representation or guidance, and are consequently placed at a disadvantage in ensuring their own quality of life.
Dysfunction and generational inequalities is what necessitates families to seek help with Family Court, but our current justice system punishes those that inevitably are not able to transcend that dysfunction into proper legal self-representation. Effectively, the system that is set up to solve issues for families is also the system that subliminally punishes them for their issues. The access-to-justice study found that the solution of a center where help was guaranteed for free would alleviate the gap that persists in the justice system in which capital and access to legal aid often does more to help than the justice system itself.
The court service centers aims to aid lower-income self-representing individuals with the correct petitions, access to language interpreters, and knowledge in how to navigate and work the family court system. I am responsible for helping clients file for domestic violence petitions, child support and custody petitions, restraining orders, eviction defenses, and divorces. Many of these litigants come in with emergency situations in which they need emergency temporary orders, but lack the access to the knowledge or help to receive them. They are dealing with monumental events in their lives, but are unable to effectively navigate a court system that is made to be complex, formulaic and oftentimes unsympathetic to the multifaceted issues litigants face in and around the home. I aid these clients with the legal filing process and inform them on the case process while offering language support and legal knowledge on the way.
The small steps that are leading to the closing of that gap of access to justice are the individuals who are representing themselves in the most efficient way and are ensured justice and fair representation due to the help from the court service centers. The court service centers are free and public alternatives to the high costs of legal aid that deter many lower-income families from ever receiving justice with family court. In this way, the justice system is becoming more equitable as the court service centers strips away the layers of classism and income discrimination that dominate court. Progress will be when the factors of wealth and privilege are stripped of their grip on the justice system, where representation is guaranteed and legal procedures are made understandable and accessible to people of all walks of life.