There Are No [Easy] Answers

We also have dirty immigration lawyers who are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process. —  Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, October 12, 2017.

Last night, I spoke to a group of public interest . . .  law students about being a good lawyer in these troubled times–using the Sessions speech as my starting point. In the lengthy Q&A, almost every single question was about how to keep going in this work, how to not normalize things, how to know which battles to fight, etc, etc. . . . I’ve seen it with my own students–they are learning the law at a time when the law itself is under attack. . . . Try as I might to spin it as being more important than ever, even heroic to gain the skills that will slow down and push back against the harm, it was obvious that it is just a really, really hard time to be a law student. Those of you out there teaching or mentoring law students or . . . new attorneys…please be extra mindful of how hard it is, and how uncertain some are that the work going to make a real difference.

Class was really tough last week.  We had read Michele Gilman’s “The Return of the Welfare Queen” and Lucie White’s “Notes on the Hearing of Mrs. G.”  I had planned a good class using narrative theory to identify the characters, traits and masterplots embedded in the themes of these articles, and to construct a critical theory based on class and economic justice.  I will no doubt teach that class at some point.

Because as I reviewed the students’ journals (which they submit a couple of hours before class), and as the students themselves came in, chatting with each other and with me, I realized this class session was going to be different.  The students were revved up and frustrated and angry.  They were eager to talk about how bad things are and how hopeless they feel.  And they were hopeful that through our discussion, we would arrive at solutions — things that would really address the issues we have spent the semester exploring.

We have identified the systems, my students are saying.  We recognize the master plots and stereotypes and archetypal characters.  We recognize the different narratives – the white supremacist narrative of “still n—a;” the patriarchal narrative of the “Charmed Circle”; the classist narrative of the worthy poor and the Welfare Queen. We see it all. Now What?

Of course, there are no solutions.  Or at least no easy ones — not without dismantling our First World Capitalist White Supremacist Patriarchal Judeo-Christian society. (Which is seeming inevitable, actually, though not without a lot of devastation in the process.)

The fact is, my friends, we are in the middle of a slow burning (in some cases literally) social, cultural, and environmental apocalypse and I have been handing out special goggles so my students can see just how apocalyptic things really are.  That’s great except for the fact that the apocalypse is still burning all around us, and all we have to fight it are these special f-ing goggles! We are really tired of wearing them, but it’s really hard to take them off, now that we know what’s out there.

So I did not try to convince my revved up, frustrated and angry law students that “no really, this stuff works:  we can make a difference! Don’t forget what Margaret Mead said (; or why Dick the Butcher wanted to “kill all the lawyers,” (  Instead, we just talked about how hard and bad it all is, and how really it feels just awful a lot of the time.  And other than the fact that misery loves company, I don’t think any of us felt much better by the end of class.

This week is “Fall Break” so we don’t have class.  And I will take a week off from blogging too.

I am tired and discouraged, as are all of you, I know.  But I’m not done; none of us are.  Sometimes, we just need a break, to regroup and figure out what comes next:  what is my deep gladness, what is the world’s great hunger, and how can part of my deep gladness feed part of the world’s great hunger? I am working to figure that out.  And as the resister known simply as “Robert” reminded us all back in February:

“Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song.”

Let’s all take a breath.  And then, back to the music!

One thought on “There Are No [Easy] Answers”

  1. Thank you for sharing this Carolyn. Today I started my non-clinical course Domestic Violence Seminar with a mindfulness practice and exercise because after last week’s class, students who work in field and clinic were near to tears about how hard it is to speak about violence against women and criticize the factory-like approach that the legal system takes to human tragedy. I shared with my students Rhonda Magee’s wonderful ABA Journal article Justice Begins with a Breath which was reprinted later and can be found at and did some breathing and the “savor a raisin” exercise. It only took about 10 minutes total.

    I needed the opening exercise because I then needed to discuss Domestic Violence and Firearms and be calm and centered during a conversation about the 2nd Amendment.

    It is hard not to be hypervigilant and not be overwhelmed by the abusive use of power that is cascading upon us all from the top.

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