Doin' The Work: Frontline Stories of Social Change

Liberatory Lawyering to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline - Ashleigh Washington, JD & Ruth Cusick, JD

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Episode 64
Guests: Ashleigh Washington, JD & Ruth Cusick, JD
Host: Shimon Cohen, LCSW
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Doin’ The Work is offering our Racial Justice & Liberatory Practice Continuing Education Series through several of our partner universities. Go to to learn more and register. We hope you will join us!

Thank you to this episode’s sponsor! The University of Houston has a phenomenal social work program that offers face-to-face master's and doctorate degrees, as well as an online and hybrid MSW. They offer one of the country’s only Political Social Work programs and an Abolitionist Focused Learning Opportunity. Located in the heart of Houston, the program is guided by their bold vision to achieve social, racial, economic, and political justice, local to global. In the classroom and through research, they are committed to challenging systems and reimagining ways to achieve justice and liberation. Go to to learn more.

In this episode, I talk with Ashleigh Washington and Ruth Cusick, both co-founders of C4LL, The Collective for Liberatory Lawyering, about their work as movement lawyers to end the school-to-prison pipeline. I did a previous episode with C4LL collective member, Nicole Bates, and organizers Jewel Patterson at COPE and Edgar Ibarria at CADRE, where we focused more on the organizing approach, but in this episode, we get more into the movement lawyering work. Ashleigh and Ruth talk about how they use legal strategies in conjunction with organizing models and push the legal profession to use legal work in service of community liberation. They discuss how law and policy can be used as part of a larger organizing strategy to improve the material conditions for Black, Brown, Indigenous, disabled, and other marginalized students and families. They explain, using examples, how policy change is often not enough, without an organizing approach to ensure the policy change is upheld, as well as addressing harm that happens yet is considered legal. Ashleigh and Ruth talk about their shift from working in legal direct services, representing students and families being negatively impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline to their shift to movement lawyering in coalition with organizers, and the distinction between civil rights and education as a human right, where power must be built not just from a legal framework, but from a community shared-governance power model. They get into specific examples of how they respond when anti-Black racist harm is done in schools. Ashleigh and Ruth explain their new interdisciplinary practice approach called Barefoot Lawyering. They also share what is happening with LA Police Free Schools. I hope this conversation inspires you to action.
IG liberatorylawyersca
LinkedIn @The Collective for Liberatory Lawyering

Police Free LAUSD Coalition Report
From Criminalization to Education: A Community Vision for Safe Schools in LAUSD