The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change?


Since 1976 have been working with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and various allied organizations. These groups work to advance the interests of low and moderate income people, which certainly implies significant social change. ACORN is based on the idea that the interests of low and moderate income people are advanced through their direct empowerment; the ACORN perspective firmly holds that litigating through the courts runs counter to this goal of direct empowerment.

Litigation validates the perception that ordinary people of low and moderate income have nothing to do with law reform and social change, and that such reform and change result only from the efforts of well-heeled attorneys and judges. Litigation perpetuates the notion that significant change occurs “by magic,” because ordinary people of low and moderate income frequently do not know or care what happens in the court rooms. When ordinary people perceive that they can change nothing or that they have to rely on “experts” or “magic” to solve their problems, they come to believe they are powerless, they do less, and they grow more and more powerless; which is to say, their original condition of limited capability for societal change is only exacerbated. The deplorable conditions of the status quo are intensified, not ameliorated.

Suggested Reading

Panel I: Defund Means Defund Andrea Ritchie (she/her) is a Black lesbian immigrant whose writing, litigation, and advocacy has focused on policing of women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. She is currently a researcher with