8/13 | Amna Akbar, Derecka Purnell, and Cornel West on the Role of Law in Progressive Politics

Amna Akbar, Cornel West, Derecka Purnell, and Bernard E. Harcourt

read and discuss

the role of law in progressive politics

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Jerome Greene Annex, Columbia University


Pronounced in March 1990 and published that year, Cornel West’s essay, “The Role of Law in Progressive Politics,” was deeply influential on young lawyers at the time and has continued to shape the way we think about rebellious lawyering today.

Dr. West proposed that radical lawyering could serve as a necessary complement to social movements and organizing. He suggested a back-and-forth—almost a dialectical relationship—between movement work and radical lawyering: only bottom-up, grassroots social mobilization could transform society, to be sure, but it had to operate in tandem with progressive legal practice. Radical lawyering was necessary to facilitate and preserve the gains, to prevent conservative backsliding, to instigate even more social movement.

Cornel West tied the defensive work of rebellious lawyering to the positive task of instigating, fostering, and supporting social movements. This was, to many of us, inspiring. It put into words our own experience, or at least our aspiration: to use “the defensive work of progressive lawyers to help lay the groundwork for the next upsurge of social motion and movements.”

In this public seminar, we are joined by Amna Akbar, Derecka Purnell, and Cornel West to revisit and rethink Dr. West’s landmark article on the role of law, of the Critical Legal Studies movement, and of radical lawyering in movement politics.