Putting communities in the driver’s seat: Building knowledge and power on strategic litigation

“We have the feeling that strategic litigation is something very big and distant, out of reach for most grassroots collectives.” – Survey Response  
Growing the knowledge and power of communities takes nourishment and grounding support to let civil society thrive. Photo: Veeterzy

Communities should be able to use litigation as a tool for change in their fight for racial, social, and economic justice. Right now, that’s not the case, but our work is changing that.  

We are planning to facilitate activities, produce resources, and hold spaces for meaningful exchange that are tailored to the needs and challenges communities are facing when it comes to integrating litigation in their campaigns for change. In other words, we want to create resources and tools that are truly useful, and not just what we think would be useful, so that communities feel empowered to make informed choices about when and how to use litigation.  

To avoid “reinventing the wheel” with the resources and activities we produce, we launched a survey asking a series of questions on what communities, organisations, and groups still need in order to build their confidence, knowledge, and capacity to leverage strategic litigation in their work. This initial survey will remain open for input until 16 September 2022, so, if you have not already done so, there is still time to send us your thoughts and reflections! For now, here’s a glimpse of the input we have received so far.  

Many of the people responding to the survey express difficulty in accessing adequate resources, sharing that they are unable to “proactively build their knowledge,” leading many to rely on networks of legal service providers, litigating organisations or legal counsel. This is especially true for those working at the grassroots level.  

Whilst many stress the powerful potential of coupling litigation with public advocacy and campaigns, they also express concern over the unequal power relations that often transpired between legal counsel and communities, movements, and local-level organisations. One survey respondent reports that their experiences with strategic litigation groups had felt very extractive, like they were shopping for cheap cases to widen their portfolio rather than actually help.”  

Accessibility issues in existing resources and structural barriers to engaging with them feature highly amongst survey responses. For example, many report that activities and resources are often not accessible to them and the communities they work with, nor are they adapted to grassroots movements’ and communities’ internal structures and working methods. According to responses, this widens gaps in the knowledge and capacity of these groups to engage with strategic litigation and their ability to access judicial remedies. Respondents also point to the difficulty of accessing clear information and guidelines on what strategic litigation is, what it can and cannot achieve, how to identify and build pathways to litigation, and how to make use of strategic decision-making.  

We are receiving great insight into the concrete needs of communities, movements, and organisations that have completed the survey so far. This highlights the need for more resources that can give organisations the right tools to build their own knowledge on strategic litigation, while shedding light on potential opportunities to work around and overcome the structural knowledge barriers they face. For instance, to ensure the sustainability of any potential litigation work, responses call for resources that could enhance their collective capacity, together with spaces for knowledge sharing, skills exchange, and mutual support. Such resources need to be developed centring the perspectives, collective experiences and praxes of grassroots communities and movements.

Particular attention is drawn to the need for a diversified pool of accessible resources and tools; ranging from guides, factsheets, explainers, videos, and podcasts to workshops and drop-in clinics. They also press for opportunities for exchange and information-sharing in order to “help grassroots actors understand the potential of engaging in strategic litigation work, but also build their confidence in campaigning and advocacy, rather than elevating legal strategies to be superior to grassroots activism.” We are so grateful to receive such granular and incisive input from respondents, which helps us understand how best to empower these organisations and communities. 

Does the input we have received so far reflect your experience? Do you have ideas that you would like to add? We would love to hear from as many communities, organisations, and movements working on racial, social and economic justice as possible. So, if you have not done so already, please fill out our survey before 16 September 2022! 

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