Public Advocates Inc. is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy and achieving tangible legal victories advancing education, housing and transit equity.
We spur change through collaboration with grassroots groups representing low-income communities, people of color and immigrants, combined with strategic policy reform, media advocacy and litigation, “making rights real” across California since 1971.
Communities that were once excluded and marginalized are energized by their collective power to shape public decisions and achieve justice. As a result of that engagement, all Californians have the building blocks to thrive and to create vibrant communities – excellent public schools, affordable housing, reliable public transportation, quality health care, good job opportunities, and economic security.
We believe that by engaging in strategic partnerships, policy and media advocacy and litigation, we will increase the capacity of grassroots organizations to shape public policy and discourse, and that we can also positively influence public opinion, the media, policy makers and courts to hold business and government accountable.
We do this to promote the expansion of civil rights and resource equity and create a mobilized community base to ensure that all Californians have the fundamental rights and equitable allocation of resources they need to build vibrant communities.
We choose to address areas such as education, housing, transportation and health that are fundamental to enabling individuals and communities to fulfill their potential, and we choose to challenge systemic problems in ways that will achieve maximum impact.
One of the oldest public interest law firms in the nation, Public Advocates Inc. was incorporated in fall 1970 and opened its doors in September 1971. Its purpose: challenge the persistent, fundamental causes and effects of poverty and discrimination that limited the opportunities of the poor and people of color. The firm, funded initially with generous support from the Ford Foundation, was conceived in part as a reaction to the rigid restrictions on the scope of California Rural Legal Assistance representation.
The need for a broad-based public interest law firm to address civil rights issues affecting the daily lives of low income communities was evident as soon as we opened our doors. The new Public Advocates engaged in a wide range of cutting edge legal issues – many of them still at the core of our practice – from school finance, urban development, transportation policy, food and nutrition issues, military base redevelopment, and language access, to employment discrimination in banks and universities, health services disparities, infant formula advocacy, telecommunications and discriminatory bar exam criteria.
Priorities and tactics were set to not only meet the challenges of the time, but also to have a broad and long-lasting impact.
Very early on more than a dozen actions were filed on behalf of clients such as La Raza Unida, the National Organization for Women, Officers for Justice, Self-Help for the Elderly, League of Women Voters, and the Sierra Club. Working at the national, state and regional level, the firm was initially best known for its litigation expertise and success in pursuing innovative legal strategies to protect low-income communities and civil rights.
From the beginning Public Advocates recognized the importance of collaboration with clients, communities and ally organizations, staking out the goal in 1971 that its work would be “with, not just for, their constituents,” and that commitment deepened over time. Outside the organization, more public interest groups arose, and the courtroom became a less hospitable place for progressive activism.
As Public Advocates evolved and matured, we developed a distinctive multipronged approach to civil rights advocacy incorporating policy advocacy, coalition building, communication and legal strategies.
We also recognized that we could be most effective when we created a long term strategy for engagement with a significant policy arena, and generated a legal strategy incorporating alliances, subject area expertise, and implementation and communication plans.
Public Advocates is proud of having served as an incubator for the launch of numerous significant issue advocacy organizations, as part of its role in building capacity for communities to engage in public policy advocacy and creation of broad based coalitions, including:
- Latino Coalition for a Healthy California: Statewide organization aiming to be the leading organized voice for policies, services and conditions to improve the health of Latinos.
- The Greenlining Coalition (now the Greenlining Institute): Broad coalition of fifteen multi-ethnic, business, consumer and disabled persons’ organizations committed to persuading corporate America to promote interests of inner-city communities and recognize the economic value of equal opportunity.
- HomeBase: Advancing regional strategies for addressing homelessness.
- Health Access: Statewide coalition
dedicated to insuring universal access to health care in California.
The firm has also contributed to the development of generations of public interest, bar, non-profit and other leaders who have served on staff and board, and in the well-respected fellow and intern programs. Public Advocates alumni, whom we call Pillars, have gone on to be leaders in a remarkable range of organizations.
Starting with a grant from the Zellerbach Family Foundation in 1971, Public Advocates has always put a high priority on its fellowship and intern programs, with significant responsibility and intensive mentoring to develop the next generation of public interest advocates.
Public Advocates has always had a strong personality. Over the years we have aimed to retain our independence, feistiness, cutting edge work and innovative legal approaches while building a reputation for genuine and effective collaboration.
We have also achieved a degree of financial stability, based on a combination of revenue from individual and firm contributions, foundation grants, state legal services funding, litigation fees, and interest on reserves.
We added a Sacramento office staffed with policy advocacy and community relations experts to deepen our influence on state policy and coalitions.
Throughout its history Public Advocates’ Board of Governors has had the benefit of the service of civil rights, bar, academic and community leaders motivated to sustain the organization’s bold approach to achieving social justice.
Now in our fifth decade, we continue to challenge the status quo by seeking legal victories and strengthening the voices of low-income communities, pursuing the civil rights that lie at the heart of everyday life.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has"
Margaret Mead, Anthropologist
(used with permission)
"If you don't like the news .... go out and make some of your own !!"
Wes "Scoop" Nisker, Newscaster
Government is a slow and tedious process. While it often includes citizen and neighborhood involvement, non-governmental, private organizations have created movements and interesting groups which can create positive change in our cities and towns.
I am fascinated by the way groups are created and how they influence public decision making. This blog merely recognizes them and forwards the description of these groups from their own websites.