On Wednesday this week, the Sugar Law Center held their annual reception and fundraiser called “ESSENTIAL: Advocacy for Community Justice”. The event started with the first annual Leonard Grossman Memorial Lecture given by civil rights attorney Michael L. Pitt.
All photos by Anne C. Savage. Click any photo to see larger versions. Please do not reuse without permission. Seriously. Be courteous. Ask first.
From the lecture program:
Michael Pitt has earned a nationwide reputation as a litigator and in employment and civil rights cases. He is also widely known as a civil rights advocate who has taken on enormous challenges and won.
He garnered wide acclaim and recognition for his leading role in securing justice and $100 million for incarcerated women who were sexually assaulted by guards in Michigan’s prisons. Following the verdict in one trial, each member of the jury rose in turn to apologize publicly on behalf of Michigan citizens.
In a room full of incredible civil rights attorneys, Pitt spoke about his successes in major cases. His firm’s motto is “Do well by doing good”, a message all of us should take to heart.
The namesake for the lecture series, Leonard Grossman, was a founding board member of the Sugar Law Center. His daughter was on hand to see the first annual lecture.
After the lecture, attendees enjoyed a reception with sumptuous hors d’oeuvres and live jazz. Then it was time to honor the 28 plaintiffs in the Sugar Law Center’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law, Public Act 4. Executive Director Tova Perlmutter and Legal Director John Philo both spoke. “There is a fight and the fight is a good fight!” Perlmutter told the audience. “We are here to honor the brave men and women that stood up and said NO! to this law.”
Perlmutter gave thanks to the UAW and AFSCME labor unions who have financially supported the lawsuit. “We have received more support from the labor movement than ever before,” she said. “Thanks to them and many other donors, we have the funds to take this lawsuit foward.”
During the event, organizers from Michigan Forward circulated petitions for a public referendum to repeal Public Act 4 and they were also acknowledged by Perlmutter. Michigan Forward is very close to securing enough signatures to halt the law and put in on the November 2012 ballot.
John Philo also spoke. “This law crystallizes much of what we see as the wrong path for this country over the past few decades,” he said, “Especially in terms of the transfer of wealth to the 1%. This is a mindset that says ‘blame the victim for the crisis’. We have a mindset that says ‘let’s all pitch in together’.
“The fight against this law,” said Philo, “crystallizes much of what is RIGHT. It’s bringing peole together to fight back and, in some respects, it’s about time.”
Then it was time to honor the 28 honorees, the plaintiffs in the suit to end this odious law. Most were present. Perlmutter described the plaintiffs as representing a broad cross-section of the Michiganders that are negatively impacted by the law. “No two are the same,” she said. “They are from all across the state. What they have in common is that they are all standing up to protect us, our rights and our constitution.”
Each honoree was given a certificate and a white pine seedling. The white pine seedling is a tradition in the Iroquois Nation and represents peace and coming together. During peace negotiations, First Nation warriors would put away their weapons and plant a white pine, it’s three branches representing the three components of their tribal government.
It was an amazing evening. I was inspired by the courage and fortitude of the civil rights crusaders, both attorneys and plaintiffs. It’s comforting to know that, in a time when forces from all sides are attacking our civil rights and the institutions we have put in place to protect them, there are people willing to sacrifice their time, their energy, and even, at times, their lives, on behalf of the rest of us.
If you would like to support the incredible work being done by the Sugar Law Center, you can do so HERE. Know that any contribution you can make is helpful. And oh so very worthy.