Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center

On Monday night I went to hear Morris Dees and Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama. The SPLC is noted historically for bringing cases that bankrupted many Klan groups. Now, the SPLC focuses on hate groups throughout the United States. Dees and Cohen filled Benaroya Hall, the venue for the Seattle Symphony — not surprising, perhaps, in this very progressive city that is largely horrified by the rise of hate speech and hate crimes under Trump.

Morris Dees and Jeff Sessions are both from Alabama, both old Southern white guys [Dees is 80, and Sessions is 70]. They are a bit similar — both have white hair, a Southern drawl, and I suspect the manners typical of their era in that region of the country. But they couldn’t be more dissimilar in their beliefs and how they view “justice”.

Dees is viewed as a saint in progressive circles. Politico has a more nuanced portrait:

I can’t help noticing that the charge against hate crimes is being led by these old lions of the Civil Rights Movement — Cohen is in his 60’s. I hope they have some younger lawyers who can become as good at raising money for the cause as they are litigating cases. The ACLU does have a lot of good young lawyers; for some reason, most of them are women. I’m also concerned that the 1960’s era Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Movement, Anti-War Movement, was amplified by multiple vectors: black and liberal Protestant church pastors, musicians like Joan Baez and Peter Seeger and Woody Guthrie and the Weavers, politicians like Bobby Kennedy. I simply don’t see that kind of broad-based opposition against the ugliness of Trump and his followers.

The SPLC apparently has a ton of money, which makes me pause in thinking about becoming a donor. I am a strong supporter of the ACLU, which covers some of the same kinds of cases and has less of an endowment. That said, the presentation was impressive, and lord knows the urgency is real. Hate speech and hate crimes under the Trump administration are only going to get worse.


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