Partner Donald Tamaki paid tribute to the late Ed Lee, Mayor of San Francisco, at the Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus annual dinner on April 27, 2018.
Dear Anita, Tania, Brianna, Friends: Much has been said about Ed as a loving husband, and father, and as one of the City’s great and historically significant Mayors.
But I don’t think that even the staff of the Asian Law Caucus knows that for 13 years while Ed worked there, he played a crucial role in developing the organizing strategies that the Caucus has used for the past 40 years.
Even in law school Ed understood the limits of the legal system in effectuating change in Chinatown which had one of highest concentrations of poverty in the City, the highest population density, the highest rates of TB–where sweatshop and restaurant workers were paid far less than minimum wage.
You know–a legal challenge has a beginning and an end–and when the case is over, you hope that your client is in a better place–but that’s usually the end of it. Moreover, most of the root problems of the poor and powerless–are not redressable in court—they are instead the result of political, social, and economic inequities. The fact that City Hall used to ignore Chinatown was not a “legal” problem.
Ed knew how much more effective the Caucus would be if it combined its legal advocacy with community organizing such that when the legal case is over, there is a tenants’ union, a labor union, community institutions in place that will continue fighting to level the playing field, not only in the courts, but in every other arena that matters–transforming the struggle for justice from a singular legal complaint to a social movement that ultimately changes hearts and minds and shifts the balance of power and policy.
Ed pioneered combining aggressive legal advocacy with community organizing, an approach that continues to this day at the ALC. So while we laud this man’s tremendous accomplishments, let it be remembered that the legacy that Ed left behind with the Caucus and with this City is more about the future than it is the past.
By shining a light and reflecting upon Ed’s unflagging commitment to serve, it also lights the way forward—not only for the Asian Law Caucus—but for anyone who loves justice.