Document Type


Publication Title

Barry Law Review

Publication Date

Spring 2019

Page Number



civil rights, advocacy, policymaking, state actors


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Law


A British politician, David Miliband, once said, "My advice is very simple: if you can win a small battle, it gives you confidence in the political process to take on bigger battles, and so it is very much a bottom-up grass-roots way of doing politics." While his perspective--of starting small and building up--is an often-used strategy used by advocates of all stripes, his quote does not give sufficient credence to the intrinsic value of these small battles. These efforts are an end unto themselves, as the smaller battles within each state are not just training to take on larger federal battles; rather, state-level policymaking has the ability to positively or negatively impact the lives of countless individuals. Miliband's perspective, like that of many advocates, is outcome focused. Rather, there is great value in analyzing the small battles as independent milestones in se- curing rights and bolstering protections for a number of communities and populations. Rather than assessing any one particular movement, the aim of this paper is to understand the tactics and weapons being utilized within state systems, to identify trends, and to draw predictions about states as players in the civil rights movement more broadly. First, this paper asserts that states are an important civil rights battleground. By assessing the development or stagnation of employment civil rights efforts through the lens of different state actors, this paper maps the landscape of these battles, allowing future advocates to pick the best path to forge onwards. Second, in contrast to Miliband, this paper views state civil rights efforts as a goal unto themselves. The process of advocating for civil rights offers important lessons, not just for pursuing federal efforts, but also for: (1) securing or bolstering affirmative protections immediately - for vulnerable populations; (2) enhancing future advocacy efforts at the state level; and (3) encouraging future advocacy within each state, at the local level. While many advocates might immediately apply these lessons to federal civil rights efforts, due to the perceived threat of the Trump administration,' recognizing the role states currently play in civil rights efforts and the role they could potentially play is valuable well beyond its applicability to the current administration.



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