The Impact Fund Delivers Hope in the Form of Impact Litigation
2017 was a painful year.
We experienced existential threats to our planet from climate change made real by fire and flood. We faced political threats to our country from foreign interference and domestic terrorism, and physical threats to our communities from hate groups and gun violence.
We also endured more intimate attacks upon on our very identities. We feared that skin color or facial hair would get us harassed at the airport or on our way to work. We worried when our teenage son donned a hoodie or when our teenage daughter left for college. We even felt afraid when simply expressing our gender identity.
For too many of us, fear became harsh reality. At times it was almost too much to bear.
It is easy to feel discouraged, but 2018 offers a new perspective. If we look carefully into the fear and suffering, what we find will lift our spirits and strengthen us for the fight that remains. For buried deep within the muck and the rot of last year lie thousands upon thousands of tiny seeds of change.
In the early days of 2017, my coworker hung a sign with the words of the poet Dinos Christianopoulos on her door: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
Faced with so much injustice, in 2017 many of us woke up and spoke out—attending protests, organizing acts of resistance and compassion, some even running for office. Many of us woke in as well—searching inside ourselves for ways to be of service and make a difference, volunteering and giving our strengths and resources in record numbers.
For some, the act of resistance came via the courts.
At the Impact Fund, we are proud to have supported many Americans—and a few outside the U.S. as well—who have found the courage to speak truth to power on behalf of their families, their communities, and their planet, via impact litigation. These groups range in mission and geographic focus but have one thing in common: they recognize the wisdom of using impact litigation as an effective tool in their strategy for change.
Along with the Bairs Foundation, we believe in the importance of creating an even playing field to ensure access to justice. Today—with so many of us under siege, and with weakened remedies to hold the powerful accountable—this is more important than ever.
Here are just a few examples of cases challenging injustice taken on by our grantees:
- Unlawful treatment of protesters at Standing Rock, at a Black Lives Matter protest in Berkeley, and at a protest after the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge
- Heartless treatment of immigrant mothers and children detained in ICE’s Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania
- The failure of the US Government to act on climate change
- NYPD profiling of Muslims in New York
- Mistreatment of immigrants at the hands of the prison industrial complex in Colorado and Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona
- Arsenic-laced drinking water in rural California
- Unfair and destructive bail systems hurting families in Texas
- Voter suppression of Native Americans in North Dakota
- Preventing the opening of a mine in the Superior National Forest in Minnesota
- Gender discrimination against female police officers in Colorado Springs
- Fighting Big Ag in Hawaii and GMO corn in Mexico
For 25 years, the Impact Fund has provided funding for lawsuits like these that aim to make a broad impact in economic, environmental, racial, and social justice. Our volunteer committee of national legal experts vets the legal strategy, team, and context for every case we consider—evaluating everything from the theory behind the claims to the chance of success in the courtroom. We also train and support these brave advocates and attorneys in best practices we’ve learned from our own advocacy and from those we support.
When these cases are won, we help to spread the word of their success so that others will be inspired to follow their lead. In cases where the attorneys are justly compensated for their years of hard work with fee awards, they pay it forward by repaying our grants. Every repayment means another worthy group can be supported, and the cycle continues.
In the past year, we’ve heard from others who are interested in leveraging the power of public interest impact litigation for social justice. They understand the same core truth that drives us in our work: impact litigation is a mighty tool for effecting social change. We couldn’t be happier to have them join us.
If we look closely—into grassroots organizations, local communities, and nonprofit organizations fighting for what is just—we can see the seeds of hope that are our future. These seeds of hope may be hard to see now, as they may be small, buried out of sight, and blocked from our vision by our fear.
What we may not realize is that the struggles of the past (particularly this past year) serve as fertile ground for these tiny seeds of hope, and they are growing—bit by bit and day by day. A new cycle grounded in equity, understanding, and compassion is bursting forth. Let us do all we can to tend these seeds so that they grow into strong and mighty limbs of justice.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).