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Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice

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In 1993, shortly after his inauguration, new President Bill Clinton nominated his old friend and classmate Lani Guinier to the prestigious and crucial post of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. In the face of concerted opposition - what one friend of Guinier's called "a low-tech lynching" - Clinton backed down, not only withdrawing her nomination, but having refused throughout to give her an opportunity to speak out in her own defense (and his). The result was a civil rights setback of monumental ...
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New York, NY 1998 Hard cover New in fine dust jacket. NEW HARDCOVER WITH FINE DUST JACKET. SHIPS FROM WA-USPS. EXPEDITED SHIPPING AVAILABLE. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 336 ... p. Audience: General/trade. NEW HARDCOVER WITH FINE DUST JACKET. SHIPS FROM WA-USPS. EXPEDITED SHIPPING AVAILABLE. Simon & Schuster, 1998. 20th Century; African-American; Biography; Biography & Autobiography; Civil rights movements; History; Non-Fiction; Political; Political Science; Public Affairs & Administration; United States Read more Show Less

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New York, NY 1998 Hard cover First edition. First Edition New in new dust jacket. Signed by author. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 336 p. Audience: General/trade. Simon & ... Schuster, New York, 1998. Hard Cover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. First Edition. 8vo-over 7?"-9?" tall. First printing. Inscribed by author and dated 5/27/98 on the title page. E-29 Read more Show Less

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Overview

In 1993, shortly after his inauguration, new President Bill Clinton nominated his old friend and classmate Lani Guinier to the prestigious and crucial post of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. In the face of concerted opposition - what one friend of Guinier's called "a low-tech lynching" - Clinton backed down, not only withdrawing her nomination, but having refused throughout to give her an opportunity to speak out in her own defense (and his). The result was a civil rights setback of monumental proportions. Now, in this book, at once a memoir and insider's account of what really happened behind the closed doors of the Oval Office, the Justice Department, and the U.S. Senate, and an insightful look at the past, present, and future of civil rights in America, Lani Guinier at last breaks her silence. Unsparing of her own mistakes and shrewdly perceptive about the overt and hidden agendas of those who opposed her, Professor Guinier shows how the president promptly abandoned his ambitious agenda for civil rights at the first hint of criticism from the media and Congress - and how the civil rights movement suffered a major setback as a result. Above all, Guinier goes on to describe how her experience at the hands of the press, the White House, and her congressional enemies has given her both a new voice and a renewed faith in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. Using her own nomination as a symbolic point of reference, she shows just how weak and divided the cause of civil rights has become, as its leaders have all too often been silenced by the very people they should be challenging.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Guinier on why she lost the nomination for assistant attorney general.
Hanna Rosin
She succeeds in bringing the modern struggle to life, describing the fight against majority efforts to dilute the black vote, mostly in poor sections of the South....The newest incarnation of Lani Guinier does not limit itself to voting....She is hinting here at a more radical, activist vision of grand Marches on Washington. -- New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Legal scholar Guinier describes the experience that made her famous and the lessons she learned from it: President Clinton's withdrawal in 1993 of her nomination as Assistant Attorney General for civil rights, under withering attack from conservatives. Guinier, recently appointed Harvard Law School's first tenured black female professor, insists in this half-autobiography, half-treatise that Clinton actually did her a favor, despite her anger over the way she was treated by hostile critics, a press too lazy to verify attacks levied against her, and a president who had once been her friend. "From a momentary crisis," she writes, "I retrieved the opportunity to become who I am": someone who now strives to emulate Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela by "pushing forward from behind." Guinier describes how she has relearned lessons from early in her career as a crusading lawyer for the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP, that lasting social change comes from the bottom up, from an energized citizenry, rather than from top-down fiats from legislators or administration bureaucrats. Guinier repeatedly hits readers over the head with lectures on participatory democracy and building from the grassroots. Also, her narrative would make more sense if she had placed her most important chapter at the beginning rather than near the end. In it, she defends her belief in proportional representation, which so outraged right-wing pundits in 1993. Her arguments for systems in which, basically, representation is based on the percentage of votes received, rather than winner-take-all, seem perfectly sensible. Certainly, just as her outnumbered defenders argued in 1993, there is nothing in hertheories, which are modeled after numerous current and historical examples, to justify the vilification she received. Despite her tendency to pedantry, Guinier is an original and stimulating thinker whose ideas, in contrast to her last wide exposure to the public eye, may now get the broader and fairer airing they deserve.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684811451
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 3/3/1998
  • Pages: 338
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Introduction

Introduction

It's taken me many years, but in my conscious moments I don't regret any of it. Not the decision of the president to nominate me. Not the collapse of the president's support in the face of intense, ideological attack from the right and the center/right. Not the microscopic personal scrutiny I received in the press both before and after. Not the subsequent valedictory treatment I received from people I didn't know, but for whom I clearly came to represent so much. Especially not the belated discovery that this betrayal was not about me, but about the collapse of a movement. None of it.

How I came to this point is the story of this book. This book is about the battles fought in the belief that our racial history and our commitment to equality and democracy are essential parts of the same story. It has not always been a pretty story, nor one that follows an inevitable path. This book is not, however, an effort to settle scores. It's the story of the efforts of men and women who believe fundamentally in the promise of the American creed and who act on that belief in their everyday lives. These are people whose lives are without notoriety or fame, but in whose willingness to take risks we see the honor of real heroism.

They are ordinary people in that they do not hold elected office or wield formal power. They do not enjoy great wealth, easy access to the media, lengthy résumés, or "big jobs." Like so many others who have changed the course of our history, they appear ordinary to the unobservant, but on closer scrutiny they are extraordinary in the way we all benefit from the actual work they do.

These are the people, some of whom were once civil rights activists, clients, or sympathizers, who still struggle to connect with others to make a difference, not just for themselves but for their families and their community. These are people who struggle within their own neighborhoods to create the possibility for others to be treated with dignity, to be given an opportunity to speak, and, even more, to be given a meaningful chance to participate in making the decisions that affect all of our lives. These are people with considerable power, but their power depends on commitment and sustained struggle, and not just isolated struggle. These are people whose voices are too often missing from public debate about issues on which they are expert. Their voices are missing not because they don't want to speak but because they don't get a hearing.

When I was trying voting cases as a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund during the 1980s, many of these people were my clients. When I say "my clients," I am referring to more than a single person or group of people who retain a lawyer to represent them in a legal case. The term is a metaphor for those whom civil rights lawyers, including myself, undertook to represent when we joined the civil rights movement and fought for civil rights issues. We were lawyers, often playing traditional roles in court or behind the scenes as legislative advocates. But we were also deeply connected to the interests of those whom we sought to represent. Their interests, as we saw them, were not simply an improvement in their individual material conditions or social status. We did not see ourselves as merely litigating on behalf of a set of special or unique interests. We represented ordinary people, who fought for the chance to become active citizens in a genuine and inclusive democracy. We believed that if our clients could participate in making decisions that affected their lives, they would change those decisions in ways that enriched all of us.

Participation matters, after all. A seat at the table and a voice at the podium enables each of us to become part of something larger than ourselves.

Self-reliance is an important survival tool. But participation among and with others offers more than simple survival. It nourishes and reinforces both the individual and the community. When individuals participate as citizens, they often realize their fullest potential, supported and affirmed by others. The act of participating in concert reinforces the individual dignity and sense of purpose even of those who fight and fail.

My civil rights clients understood this all too well. They were people who fought back not simply because they were personally aggrieved, but because their injury connected them to a community and a movement that was both as narrow as their local interests and as broad as a nation. My clients were most powerful when they could tell their own stories not having to translate their emotions, their hurts, their hopes, or their fears through the formal categories of a single lawsuit. They understood and believed more deeply than most in the law, but they also knew it is democracy on which the law rests. And democracy demands the ability to participate, the opportunity to act in close association with others, and the right to a hearing. It was only when they could speak plainly through collective actions Americans of any color would understand that their voices were in fact heard.

It was while my nomination to be Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights was pending in 1993 that I saw, from the inside, the ways in which the commitment to a civil rights vision that is inclusive, democratic, and empowering often means that against you are arrayed the powerful forces of privilege, both public and private. That experience allowed me to understand why meaningful participation is so important. it also reminded me, in the most personal way possible, that the civil rights movement, in too many ways, has left that understanding behind.

In seeking the nomination, I wasn't fighting for a specific legal remedy or a specific legal cause, but I experienced the kinds of things my clients did, in a different context. I now knew firsthand what it meant to have no voice. My clients, who fought for the right to vote, were fighting for a voice. By playing according to the rules laid down to me, I surrendered my voice to others. In this book, I describe how I lost and then reclaimed my own voice by interweaving my story with those of others -- the men and women who taught me, through their own example, the redemptive value of collective action and the importance of voicing individual grievances within a larger, community-based struggle.

In retrospect, much has crystalized for me since the nomination. I came to see my "dis-appointment" as an opportunity rather than a defeat. While I was rejected by the political mainstream as a nominee for public office, I was affirmed by others as a "scholar with a heart," what The New Yorker called an "Idea Woman." I became myself. I could now speak in my own voice. I could also use this experience to invite others into the conversation.

This, then, is also the story of my own intellectual and political growth and how the nomination debacle moved me to another stagea broader public platform and a more complex but ultimately satisfying personal and professional identity. In losing a hearing I was pushed back to strength. I discovered the strength that comes from promoting a more inclusive social justice agenda. I found my own voice in listening to others lift theirs.

Copyright © 1998 by Lani Guinier

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