The pain was difficult to bear. Often, I
wanted to cut my arm clean off to stop the
pain coursing through the right side of my
body like a red hot iron rod.
The turning point came when I realized
that my mind played a powerful role in my
own healing. Activists often embody the
dysfunctions they seek to heal out in the
world, operating with anxiety, frustration,
neglect and sometimes cruelty toward one’s
own self. How many women, especially
women of color, have been burned out,
beaten down, or let the work happen on
their backs or over their dead bodies? The
pain taught me to break this cycle and treat
my own body with the same compassion
and care as I treat others. I learned that
true non-violence begins with kindness and
care for one’s own body and spirit.
Today, I continue to experience flare-ups
of chronic pain as a result of my arrest
injury. But I remember that I am experiencing only a small taste of what others
must endure when they stand up for what
they believe. Some people lose their limbs;
others lose their lives. I am grateful that I
was given the tools, resources, and love
from friends and family to heal and continue my path.
What were your greatest accomplishments
at Yale Law School?
At Yale Law School, I learned how to make stories of
injustice legible in the courtroom and the halls of power. I
clerked on the Senate Judiciary Committee where I worked
on civil rights issues, filed landmark lawsuits as part of my
clinical work on behalf of Latinos residents swept up in
immigration raids, and traveled to Guantanamo, Bay Cuba
to report on the military commissions.
In my proudest clinical case in law school, we represented St Rose of Lima Church, working with Latino parishioners who had the courage to challenge racial profiling
and excessive use of force by local police officers. We developed a multi-pronged campaign that brought these stories
before the media, the courtroom, and the government. By
the time I graduated, the US Department of Justice had
found a pattern and practice of profiling, discrimination
and incidents of brutality, the officers responsible for the
worst abuses were arrested, and the police chief removed
from power. A coalition of faith communities and secular
advocates ran a campaign to engage the power of storytelling and advocacy to transform a corrupt police department — and it worked.
My conviction was confirmed. When we find the stories
that can change hearts and minds, and then wield those
stories strategically to challenge institutions of power, we
can build the movements that change the world.
How have you continued making films in the legal field?
Between the people, the police, the courts, the faith leaders, the media, that clinical case felt incredibly cinematic. It
was visually and emotionally engaging, and I started to
think of a way to use my tools as a filmmaker with my legal
TOM LYNN /REUTERS
Valarie Kaur attends the memorial for the victims of the shootout at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, August 10, 2012.
A few years ago, Sharat and I founded the Yale Visual Law
Project at Yale Law School, where we make films and train
law students in the art of visual advocacy – how to use storytelling for social change. We show students how to use
film and video on behalf of clients and campaigns.
In our pilot year, we made two films: Stigma about
African-American youth subject to stop and frisks in the
streets of New York City and Alienation about families
swept up in immigration raids in Baltimore.
We recently released our latest film The Worst Of The
Worst about the practice of solitary confinement in
America’s supermax prisons. The film shows how supermax
prisons harm all who walk through the doors by using personal stories of the people inside: a former inmate trying to
rebuild his life but haunted by memories from the prison, a
guard suffering from PTSD and the buddies trying to help
him, and a desperate mother on a mission to support a son
who spends 23 hours a day in isolation. It reflects my belief
that changing the world requires more than battling individual bad actors; it requires challenging those institutions
of power designed to bring out the worst in us. Within
months of its release, the film has played a role in reforming the supermax prison in Connecticut and emptying its
The Yale Visual Law Project is now beginning its fourth
year at Yale Law School. We have sister organizations at
other law schools too. My hope is that more lawyers and
advocates will partner with filmmakers to use storytelling
for social change campaigns.
SPONSORED B Y