Attorney’s activism evolves
Spokane attorney Breean Beggs said his activism, inspired by growing up United Methodist, has evolved over the years.
In college, a 1959 quote of Martin Luther King Jr. informed him of the need to be “tough as a serpent and soft as a dove.”
|Breean Beggs, attorney and advocate with tough mind and tender heart|
“When we advocate for causes, we need to balance having a tough mind and a tender heart,” he said. “We need to organize and educate people to bear witness, agitate and tell truth to power. We need to march and protest, but also need to engage and appreciate legislators so they write the laws we need.”
After graduating from Whitworth at 22 and feeling no one was listening to his answers to the world problems, Breean decided to go to law school to be “tough as a serpent” by suing people.
“I did that a while,” he said. “I won some and lost some, but realized the legal system is designed to keep money and power where it is.”
He also helped on campaigns. Occasionally his candidates won.
Realizing he would not win enough in courts, elections or media debates, Breean wanted to change minds. He decided to relate with and appreciate the needs and fears of people in power so he could persuade them to enact laws and policies that increase justice.
“To create the Kingdom of God, we need to engage with and empathize with people to change hearts and minds,” he said. “People in power can do what is important if they can be convinced.”
Lobbyists know they need to understand what legislators want in order to sell their bills. Activists can use the same tools.
“We are promoting policies for causes we believe in, so if we respect legislators, we can talk with them about those causes to make the world a better place,” he said.
So Breean has met with Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. He supports building a new jail, and Breean opposes it. By hearing each other’s concerns, they realized they may disagree on building a jail, but both support alternatives to incarceration.
In the Smart Justice Campaign, Breean and others are educating people about some alternatives.
“If we treat those in power as people who are children of God as much as we are, we may adopt some of their views, if we think they are justified. We are vulnerable, but so are they, and in that vulnerability there is the possibility they will adopt our solutions.”
That’s where being tough minded comes in. Breean means doing the “hard work” to “understand why we believe what we believe and why we want a policy.” It means connecting statistics and values. Statistics make problems and solutions measurable: How many people are hungry in the state? Where do they live? How old are they? What does food security look like?
When negotiating face-to-face, it’s important to know what language needs to be in a law and how it will affect people, said Breean, advising taking time, putting agreements in writing and reviewing wording with people who will be affected by the changes.
“A comma can change everything,” he said.
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Copyright © March 2013 - The Fig Tree
Published by The Fig Tree, 1323 S. Perry St., Spokane, WA 99202