JHTL’s mission, as written in our constitution, is to promote the education, research, and publication of ideas and issues regarding technology. Given the inextricable linkage between technology and social justice, it is beyond time that we use our status as an honor board to provide a platform for discussion surrounding the continuous inequalities that remain persistent in our communities. This Black Lives Matter blog series seeks to highlight the deliberate disparate treatment of Black people and to provide a space for discourse surrounding technology and social justice issues
By: Marcus Kuhs, Editor-in-Chief
Chances are that if you are active on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, you have seen friends, family members, and classmates share articles and posts supporting social movements such as Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police. While it creates a virtual picket-line of solidarity, substantive change comes from physical activism. Sharing a colorful picture or a black screen, without any other action, is merely performative.
However, there are many things that you, right now, can do online to support community and legal activists in their fight against systemic injustice.
- Sign Virtual Petitions or Email Letters to Elected Officials
Signing virtual petitions is a lot like washing your hands. By itself, washing your hands won’t stop you from getting sick. You still have to wear a mask, cough into your elbow, and go to your doctor. But why not take the 30 seconds it takes to make that much more of a difference? Signing online petitions is chastised by some to be ineffective and lazy; however, given social media’s ability to spread links and information instantaneously, you can easily find thousands of virtual petitions and letters to sign. Law schools are centralized locations for organizations dedicated to advocating for racial and social justice causes; law students could collaborate with other like-minded students to create formal letters and correspondence to their local bar associations, school administration, and elected officials.
Another effective method of engaging in this form of activism is finding pre-written e-mails to be sent to district attorneys and city or state elected officials that auto-populate your name and information. Here is a list of petitions that you can sign right now that will auto-populate your information and make it super easy to show solidarity that is more than reposting a picture in an echo-chamber.
- Code Intake Forms to Facilitate Legal Aid Services
Because legal skills are nuanced and require specialized knowledge, law students and legal professionals should consider offering their skills to legal aid services and organizations. Legal aid organizations are notoriously overloaded with cases and clients who cannot afford legal assistance. Many of these clients are the very people most affected by racist and classist institutions that dominate the American political landscape and give purpose to movements such as Black Lives Matter. It is surprising how easy it is to code legal intake forms.
My favorite way to make intake services and forms is a free legal-centric app-building service called Community Lawyer. In about one hour, you could make forms that assist organizations in processing clients looking for affordable housing, criminal representation, and wage and hour representation. Using the same skills and app-building services, anyone could easily make an intake form to create a campus organization, organize a protest, or recruit volunteers for community initiatives. The possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination.
- Create QR Codes Linking People to Various Resources
Information that supports social movements needs to be communicated quickly and easily. Because legal intake forms and fact sheets regarding constitutional rights provided by the ACLU or National Lawyers Guild are typically generated as web links, they are easily transferable into QR codes. There are free services online that allow you to create a QR code that can be put on a physical flyer or e-flyer and posted anywhere and everywhere. Imagine attending a protest and disseminating information on one’s rights to engage in civil disobedience or advice on how to minimize risk during an arrest to thousands of people with just a picture on your phone. Or, imagine passing out a handful of flyers with a QR code linking protestors to an e-form instead of printing hundreds or thousands of flyers which would assuredly litter public spaces. Not only would the necessary information spread efficiently, but it will spread cleanly too.
- Participate in, Conduct, or Organize Virtual Legal Trainings
The National Lawyers Guild is a bar association committed to social justice and directly supporting progressive social movements. The Guild conducts various virtual workshops and information sessions that disseminate information on how to be a legal observer or how to engage in safe protesting techniques. Law students and legal professionals can hone their ability to issue-spot constitutional violations from law enforcement. Those without legal training can gain a working knowledge base that will keep them safe at protests and compliant with civil rights jurisprudence. It is also vitally important for allies to protest in ways that do not invite demonization and criticism from media outlets and non-supporters that demonize Black-led movements. Go to one, learn about the movements and strategies, and then teach others what you learned.
- Be Mindful of the Origins of Online Activism
Because retweeting and sharing posts and hashtags is so instantaneous, initiatives can become unwieldy and counterproductive to their original intent. For example, in early June 2020, Instagram became a sea of black screens posted with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and its derivatives. While the message was intended to show solidarity, it prevented protestors from taking to the streets and Black activists from accessing vital information. The goal of activism is not to appear “woke.” It is to be productive. Allies need to be mindful of the political space in which they are entering and participating in when engaging in online activism. If your post or hashtag is clogging up feeds and preventing access to information, do the right thing and delete your post.
Law students and legally conscious individuals are in a unique position to both accurately and effectively engage in virtual activism and assist other, non-legally trained people in being more effective activists. To defeat racist institutions and create an equitable society, it will require a steady stream of activism that is unrelenting and uncompromising. Many political moments that advanced civil rights for Black people and marginalized communities eventually garnered fatigue. What makes 2020’s political movement fundamentally different is that it has revealed strategies that allow activists to keep putting pressure on even after revolutionary energy has relatively subsided. The personal investment of online activism is low enough that millions of people have the potential to become more involved now than ever before.
 I am not being paid nor being solicited by Community Lawyer to say this. I used it to code a legal intake form for wage and hour violations for a final project for a class at Suffolk University Law School and it really is that easy to use.
Description of Author: Marcus Kuhs is a rising third-year law student at Suffolk University Law School and the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of High Technology. Marcus earned his bachelor’s degree in History and Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Massachusetts: Lowell where he wrote a senior thesis on radical and extremist political history in contemporary Italy.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.