Jim Harrington


As Interviewed by Jordan Langmore, March 9, 2012

Jim Harrington: In His Own Words

My name is Jim Harrington, and I'm the Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, and I have been a lawyer since 1973 - you can do the math. Civil rights for 10 years in south Texas and the Valley, and then in Austin since 1983. Iím originally from Michigan.

I was working with the Texas Civil Liberties Union and we had a falling out. Actually, the staff was organizing to join a labor union and the board didnít like that. We had a labor dispute and then as a result I created the Texas Civil Rights Project

You can deal with [people who've been discriminated against] in different ways. By means of a story Iíll tell you one thing that people need to do that we donít do enough of. Itís an example of what you can do in your own life. One night I worked late and I was up until about two. I had to stop by Fiesta to buy some things for my kids. You know where that is, thirty-eighth and a half; itís a grocery store. So it was 2 oíclock in the morning, there were three of us in line, and the cashier was a young Hispanic women. I donít like to identify people by there ethnicity but this is relevant. The first person in line was a very poor Hispanic women, the next person was an Anglo women, middle-class, looked really nice, especially for two in the morning. And then there was me. So the cashier was awful, I mean she treated the poor women awful, you know, very embarrassing. So the Anglo woman goes up when it was her turn and it was night and day, you know the way the young girl treated the woman. So the Anglo women said, ďThanks very much, it was really nice the way you treated me, but the way you treated me is the same way you should have treated the women in front of meĒ. And thatís the stuff we need to do in our own lives, right, against discrimination.

Our economic structure drives the bias because it depends on . . . . . . envision, all right, our economic system looks like this, it looks like a triangle. In order to maintain that triangle you have to have that bottom, and in order to have that bottom you have to have it divided because if it were untied it would be better. So our capitalist system enforces dependence upon discrimination.

The one [case] I liked the most involved extending workers compensation to farm workers. See that women up there, her husband was killed, when he had a forklift, he was lifting up citrus in these big bins and the forklift stopped so he got off to fix it and the forklift fell and crushed him to death and he was there for hours before someone found him. And she was a plaintiff in the case challenging the exclusion of workers compensation for her husbandís death. Workers compensation is insurance your employees get when they are hurt on the job, so they get their medical bills taken care of. All occupations in Texas have workers compensation taken care of except farm workers. So we filed that lawsuit and brought them under that law. It was a very important change to the law.

We have bias everywhere, all the time. A series of cases that were most important in terms of structural change; we try to take cases that will change structures and not just single cases. One time we took on the grand jury system as not representing a cross section of society, which means generally they discriminated against people because of race, or ethnicity, or sex, or because relatively young people were kept off the grand jury. So when the district attorney took a case to the grand jury as to whether people were going to get indicted, the grand jury was typically white businessmen, they were interested in one kind of crime, property crime, and when you get a grand jury that represents the community they are going to be interested also in personal violence. You know things that go on that effect people that are not necessarily business folks. We have done tons of cases in terms of just race discrimination, sometimes unemployment, sometimes in voting, somethingís that come up in the first amendment context, and a lot of cases involving discrimination against people with disabilities

We raise money from foundations, and cases that we win, and a lot of people contribute. Every day is a different adventure about how to get money. When you were standing outside waiting we had a meeting, a phone meeting about opening a new office in Huston. We always depend on someone else with the spirit and hearts to help us out.