WOMAN: TPS help us to live in this country with no fear.
TINA MARTIN: How can the legal system disrupt people's lives?
WOMAN: Sí, se puede.
CROWD: Sí, se puede.
MARTIN: How can it bring about constructive change?
12 Harvard Law School students embarked on the Legal Lens Project to explore the stories of people caught up in the legal system, and people using the law to change things for the better.
"Legal Lens" on Local, USA.
For many, documentary filmmaking and the legal system may seem far apart.
But in reality, they share a common feature.
MARTHA MINOW: It may seem strange, but the closest activity to law, and law practice, is documentary filmmaking, because we have to deal with the actual reality.
This is not fiction.
MARTIN: In January 2019, 12 Harvard Law School students from six countries embarked on the Legal Lens Project.
♪ I've always been fascinated by film, and I think coming into law school and seeing that that's one of the courses that was being offered by the school, I was really excited.
When I heard that we had a documentary filmmaking class on offer at the law school, I knew that it was something that I had to be a part of.
MINOW: In law school and legal education, I think we don't do enough with storytelling with a focus on actual people-- we often get very abstract very quickly.
Most of being of service in the world as a lawyer requires engaging with people and being able to persuade and being able to understand their stories.
MARTIN: The students produced short films about the laws impact in five areas.
Neighborhood gentrification... PEDRO MORALES: We're getting entire blocks bought by these developers.
We have gone from rents of $500 to $3,000 a month.
And then they say, "Oh, you know, ten percent will go to affordable housing."
But affordable for whom?
MARTIN: Incarcerated veterans... MAN: When I got out, there was, like, no debriefing whatsoever.
I mean, they trained us to go out and kill.
And then all of a sudden, it was like "Okay, now forget about it, go back and live a normal life," which was kind of, like, impossible to do.
MARTIN: Climate change and environmental racism... PETER FRUMHOFF: The Exxon terminals in Everett are an accident waiting to happen.
DAMALI VIDOT: If this hurricane were to hit the terminal, this oil is coming into our neighborhoods, it's in our water, it's in our basements, in our streets, where our kids are walking to school.
MARTIN: Immigrant lives... WOMAN: The first thing I checked was Facebook, and they said Trump ended TPS for El Salvador and they just give 18 months to leave.
The majority of TPS holders here in Harvard are from El Salvador.
Who they think will clean this university if immigrants will have to leave?
MARTIN: And pregnancy, motherhood, and discrimination.
LISA NEWMAN: My baby had just died and here my supervisor was screaming at me, more concerned with me being out of work on maternity leave.
♪ I went to HR and I was told I was being emotional.
MARTIN: With the guidance of acclaimed producers, directors, and editors, the students worked to find the heart of each story.
Participating in this class was, quite honestly, the best experience of my law school education.
We as students were really challenged to think big, to dream big, and to think creatively.
MINOW: We knew we couldn't teach law students in a short span to become filmmakers-- I have too much respect for the activity-- but to allow them to participate as the storyteller with professionals, and to learn the significance of storytelling, what does it take to tell an effective story, and how we learn and remember through stories.
The students, I think, are now really going to be much more alert to that as a dimension of their lives, as well as their dimension of their work as lawyers.
MARTIN: In this episode of Local, U.S.A., we will see three of the five short films.
♪ We know... you're pregnant and I don't know why you felt you couldn't tell us.
I'm really sorry.
REBECCA PONTIKES: Pregnancy can profoundly change the way a woman is viewed in the workplace.
Hard to believe you're somebody's mommy now, huh?
PONTIKES: We have societal ideas about who mommy is and who a good worker is, and they're not compatible.
No, no, no, no... PONTIKES: Motherhood and pregnancy are one of the last hurdles we have to get over before women can really have equality.
♪ MAN: Kate is amazing, isn't she?
I mean, I don't know how she does it, all those children... I-I have two... - It's so impressive.
- You have four.
PONTIKES: If we're still interpreting the law through the lens of a stereotype, or, you know, structural inequality, it won't do what it was actually passed to do.
♪ NEWMAN: Ooh, look at your hand right here.
That's a really good picture of your hand inside me.
- There's mama when you were pregnant!
- Mm-hmm, yep that's me when I'm pregnant right here.
NEWMAN (voiceover): I got a strange performance review from my boss.
♪ Saying that I wasn't working on what I was supposed to be doing and accusing me of being late to meetings.
And I said, well, the reason why I was five minutes late was because I had a pregnancy concern, I was in the bathroom.
And she said that for now on, any meeting I go to, I had to sit facing a clock.
And this was basically the start of a pattern of my supervisor being very abusive to me.
Because she didn't like the fact that I was going to be having kids and going on maternity leave.
PONTIKES: When women become pregnant, in our collective imagination, there's a shift in their priorities.
I need to be home for dinner with my son every night.
We'll need to discuss it with the partner committee.
PONTIKES: You're of more limited use because you're assumed that you're gonna put your kids first and not return the client's call.
WOMAN: Most of the women who become mothers don't raise their hands as much.
I think women can pay a pretty high price, actually.
I mean, statistically, if you look at it, they lose a lot of income over their lifetimes.
And that that's just, that's infuriating to me.
NEWMAN: All right, kids, time to go to school!
My second pregnancy was unfortunately a miscarriage.
♪ I had to have surgery.
When I went to go talk to my boss, she slammed her hands on her desk, and just in this tone of such hatred, screamed at me, "How many more kids do you planning on... do you plan on having?"
Because this is going to affect my work projects.
My baby had just died, and here my supervisor was screaming at me, more concerned with me being out of work on maternity leave.
I went to HR and I was told I was being emotional.
♪ I decided I could not be here anymore.
I shouldn't have to be at a place where I'm being forced to choose between my health, the health of my baby, and my job security.
(ultrasound pulsing) PONTIKES: There's a lot of different states in the country who have varying protections for women.
Massachusetts didn't have any.
The only way that your employer was obligated to modify your job was if you were disabled.
One of the most profoundly disturbing stories was one told by a woman named Alejandra Duarte.
When she was pregnant, her supervisor made her push 300-pound carts probably in an effort to make her quit.
She ultimately miscarried her child and she has not been able to have another one.
Legislature's committee on labor and workforce development heard testimony on a bunch of bills today, including one to protect pregnant employees.
I was very fearful of the situation I was in and, most importantly, the one thing I had in my mind was my baby's health.
I remember the first time I gave testimony, it was about my story of pregnancy discrimination.
After I gave my testimony, the chairman of this committee said to me, "Where did this happen?"
and I said at Smith College.
The entire room, I'll never forget this, went quiet, you could hear a pin drop.
Smith College, which is supposed to be a haven for women, a women's college, certainly was not a haven for me.
NEWS ANCHOR: House lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a bill that would protect pregnant workers in hopes to eliminate discrimination.
PONTIKES: We modified the law.
It explicitly says to employers there are several presumed reasonable accommodations for women.
One of those is light duty, one of those is time off to attend to pregnancy appointments if required.
Lisa's case is a really good example of why the law needs to say you have to accommodate pregnant women because it would have just shut that supervisor down immediately, and she would have just said, "Okay, I have to comply with this rule and that's what has to happen."
♪ Doing all this advocacy work has, in many ways, been like therapy for me.
Just sitting in that room when Governor Baker signed that bill into law was the most amazing feeling.
I had my older daughter with me in that room so I wanted her to experience what it was like being there and fighting for a cause.
NEWMAN'S DAUGHTER: Is that me?
NEWMAN: That's you right here.
- That's me!
NEWMAN: That's you and there's Rachel holding you.
I think you're two days old here.
Two days old.
PONTIKES: A generation ago, we just didn't want laws that said "Women can't do this and men can."
Okay, we got that.
♪ Now we have to look at how we as a society construct our ideas of what pregnant women can do, about whose responsibility it is to help and support pregnant women because right now, businesses don't think it's their problem.
Half of the planet gets pregnant.
Half of the planet has some of these needs.
And half of the planet also needs to work.
(laughs) ♪ (ultrasound heartbeat pulsing) FRUMHOFF: The Exxon terminals in Everett are an accident waiting to happen.
If a storm of the size of Sandy hit Boston, toxic chemicals would be leaked from those terminals into the river, affecting local communities.
♪ DAMALI VIDOT: If this hurricane were to hit the terminal, this oil is coming into our neighborhoods.
It's in our water, it's in our basements, in our streets, where our kids are walking to school.
♪ FRUMHOFF: The products stored in their facilities cause climate change.
Recent studies have shown Exxon's known about the risks of climate change for at least 40 years.
And the fact that they haven't taken protective measures, to limit the risks of oil spills is, to me, outrageous.
And the lawsuits that we're now seeing are an important tool to try to move us in that direction.
♪ NEWS ANCHOR: A Boston-based environmental group is suing ExxonMobil for allegedly polluting the Mystic River, failing to prepare for rising sea levels which could submerge parts of its Everett terminal.
VIDOT: I started getting into activism a few years ago.
I had no idea what I was doing, to be totally honest with you.
That's awesome, I'm so proud of you!
(voiceover): I just wanted to make sure that I was doing whatever I can to have a voice at the table and create change.
I started to hear about what's was going on with ExxonMobil and I said, "I'm all in."
The pollutants that they're putting into the water are known to be a health risk, whether you're breathing it in or touching it.
You have to expose yourself to health complications because we refuse to hold these giant corporations responsible?
And we're expendable because, what, because we're poor, because we're immigrants?
(No audio) that.
♪ All we wanted from them was for them to release some of their studies as to what it is that they're releasing into the water and how they're complying with their guidelines.
Can we see a copy of your permit?
All that stuff-- we just wanted information.
We weren't saying-- we weren't doing anything out of the ordinary.
We had every right to ask those questions.
♪ MAN: Are you the manager?
TERMINAL DIRECTOR: I am the terminal director.
MAN: So I'd like to hand you this letter.
It's 162 signatures from elected officials, community residents, and community organizations that are concerned about the environmental impacts and about Exxon's inability to address climate change-related impacts at this facility here in Everett.
VIDOT: We went to Exxon and they refused to take the letter.
TERMINAL DIRECTOR: I will not accept that at this time.
VIDOT: They closed the door on us and locked us out.
So we took each of those sheets and we taped it to the window.
They can't say they didn't receive it.
We taped it in there, it's there.
Um, and then the police came and we had to leave.
We need to be talking about climate change.
We need not to be intimidated about it.
There's plenty of evidence that their scientists have known about the risks of climate change, including its effect on sea level rise, well before they built that terminal.
So ExxonMobil not only didn't act to address those risks, but sought to deceive the public about the risks.
They spent millions of dollars creating a disinformation campaign including these, what they call advertorials, false paid ads sowing doubt about the risks of climate change.
And it made me immediately think about what the tobacco industry had done.
Do you believe nicotine is not addictive?
Cigarettes and nicotine clearly do not meet the classic definitions of addiction.
FRUMHOFF: They succeeded for decades trying to sow doubt about the health risks of cigarette smoking.
COMMERCIAL NARRATOR: More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.
FRUMHOFF: It's exactly what fossil fuel companies have done.
BOB CORKER: It's my understanding that you believe that human activity, based on your belief in science, is contributing to climate change.
Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.
♪ FRUMHOFF: Many of the early lawsuits against tobacco companies failed in the sense that the rulings were in favor of the defendants, not in favor of the plaintiffs.
But some of them led to what's called "discovery" in legal terms, which is the release of internal company documents.
And the evidence that tobacco companies lied about their products, changed the perception of who is responsible.
And over time, juries and judges began ruling differently.
Exxon knew about the risks of their products, and they made the problem far worse.
And that is important in the court of law, in the court of public opinion.
We cannot have outsiders come and rebuild our city.
We have come for help.
It is you who have the power to change the future of our city.
VIDOT: Through the activism I met people that just really inspired me to run for office.
And so I did, with their support.
I was sick and tired of feeling powerless and confined in a system that so often ignored the needs of me and my neighbors, blatantly disregarding what we needed in our communities.
(applause) FRUMHOFF: I think the evidence that companies have contributed mightily to the problem and the evidence of their actions, their disinformation to avoid taking responsibility for the damages are very strong.
The fact that it's being taken up is very heartening.
And I'm excited and hopeful.
♪ VIDOT: If we can hold ExxonMobil accountable for their lack of regard for this community, then that's what we need to be doing.
And I feel I have... a responsibility to be able to do that for everyone else that doesn't have a voice, that is not seen, that is not heard, to be able to speak up against it.
♪ BOY: So what is this film about?
MORALES: It is about how people have been displaced from their homes in East Boston.
BOY: We just keep seeing moving trucks everywhere because of all the people trying to make millions doing luxury condominiums.
♪ INTERVIEWER: How does it make you feel?
♪ MORALES: The history of East Boston... is a history of human migration.
And it was a place where you could find, at the time, very affordable places to live.
Perfectly suitable for a migrant like myself and thousands of others, so I made this place my home.
The people that I work with are here, the people I love are here, the children that my son hangs out with are here.
Although, I could be with my son anywhere and be home, I should have the choice of picking up and moving somewhere else... or not.
♪ (loud hammering) We're getting entire blocks bought by these developers.
Instead of having 15 apartments, now they have 45, 60 apartments And they're studios or one or two bedroom apartments.
We have gone from rents of $500 to $3,000 a month.
And then they say, "Oh, you know, ten percent will go to affordable housing."
But affordable for whom?
♪ In the meantime, when you have a single mother with children, and you're throwing them in the streets, and they ended up at the soup kitchen or the churches with us, nobody seems to have any responsibility for that.
♪ SANDRA ALEMAN-NIJJAR: Most of us here can't afford living in any of those apartments.
- There's so much stuff.
ALEMAN-NIJJAR: And I just have felt like, "Okay, "this is not a place for me to live anymore, I want to move out," but I can't.
I feel like I am so rooted in here and my children, too, and now I have the soup kitchen and I have all these friends, all my neighbors that are depending on this day.
MORALES: You're taking the fundamental necessity of food security, of shelter.
These are the most elemental things that any family of any color, of any creed, should be able to have in America.
How can this be legal?
We know it's not moral.
♪ WOMAN: Welcome to the Boston City Council's committee hearing on planning, development, and transportation.
MORALES: When you go the meetings sponsored at the city of Boston, it's nothing but a kangaroo court.
Our objective is to build a vibrant, transit-oriented, environmentally enlightened, mixed-use community... MORALES: And it's not lead by the commissioner, but it's lead by the developer, 100%.
In a supply-constrained market, where we desperately need more housing... MORALES: This is them promoting the development, This is not... there's no sense of, "Oh, let's hear the pros and cons of what would it mean."
♪ Fifty, 60% of the population is Latino.
None of this was circulated in Spanish.
These folks expecting them to read, in English, East Boston Times and The Herald?
They gotta be kidding me.
But I got a whiff of that, and suddenly they have Latinos speaking in Spanish, and they were not prepared for that, they were not prepared, they were scared.
PAUL JOHNSON: And they held up signs, you know, in Spanish and English, with regard to, basically, "Don't displace us."
MORALES: Because of how the community's responding, it's like, "We're sick of this."
"You're not listening to what people are saying."
And it's not just him, it's the government and our political representation is, like, painfully absent.
- Yeah, it's up to us, those of us in the neighborhoods, to protect our own interests.
♪ MORALES: All of this is the cost of a few people earning a lot of money very quickly without any care for what the cost.
INTERVIEWER: Who owns all of these yachts?
MORALES (laughs): No idea!
I know a lot of people in East Boston, I can assure you, not one of them owns any of these yachts.
It doesn't bother us that there's people with nice boats.
But it's like, "Where is the support for our people, the community?"
(voiceover): There are no rich people like them, powerful people like them, without people like us.
We feed you, we build your homes.
we wash your fancy cars.
There is no you without us.
♪ I had a mentor in college who was a lawyer himself and he said do not let your legal education strip you of your humanity.
♪ MINOW: I have always argued that it's important for us to be aware of the role of emotion in the law.
A legal argument may look like it's abstract and arid, but it's always very close to very significant issues in people's lives.
I think as a lawyer, for me, it really opened my mind to the different avenues and the different routes that you can take to implement change or to raise awareness about a certain topic.
In a lot of our national conversations, I think we focus so much on the things that divide us.
We forget to see all the things that unite us.
And I think that's what all the films in the series highlight.
Even the films in this series, all touch on different issue areas with different characters and different parts of life.
I think we do see these universal themes of yearning for belonging, you know, the struggle, and also the joys.
MARTIN: For more Legal Lens, go to worldchannel.org.
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