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19. April 2015 · Comments Off on Winning the Word War: Rashid Relays a Reaction · Categories: Articles

Huma Rashid

By Andrew Van Gorp on 19 April, 2015

Today we are joined by Huma Rashid who grew up in Naperville near Greene Valley Forest Preserve. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from North Central College, Huma went on to study Law at John Marshall Law School and was sworn into the Illinois State Bar Association in 2012. Huma currently works in the Law Offices of Raymon G. Wigell, and additionally writes a successful column, Stop Asking Me Where I’m Fromhighlighting her experiences as a young and successful criminal defense attorney. Huma, Welcome.

Thank you for inviting me! I’m a follower of this blog and a big supporter of its mission to build stronger community bonds and knowledge base in DuPage county and the surrounding area. I’m glad to be able to add my voice to a place that is already so valuable.

Huma, a recent NPR article demonstrated the National Public Radio’s decision to begin referring to the population in the United States who do not believe in human-caused climate change as “deniers” instead of the word they have more often used for the group, which is “skeptics.” Can you illuminate our audience to the importance of this word choice in regards to the importance of word choice in a trial?

I remember reading that article, and I was encouraged by NPR’s decision. “Skeptic” is a much gentler word than “denier,” and given the environmental situation on our planet -which of course significantly impacts our social and economic structures – I don’t think gentility is required. “Skeptic” still carries with it the connotation of healthy reservation until a conclusion is established and supported. When it comes to climate change, we are well past that. The conclusion HAS been established, and supported. “Denier” is a much more appropriate term because it suggests that there is a proposition that is “true” (or if you don’t like the word “true”, you may say “that is very well supported”).

And you’re right, it brings up an interesting point about the weight that words carry, and thus the importance of word choice. As a trial attorney, I’m very sensitive to word choice – both the choice of words I make, and the choice of words my opponent (the State, or the federal government) makes.

Some people don’t understand that in the American justice system, the defendant does NOT have to prove that he is innocent; rather, the State has to prove that he is guilty. This burden of proof is established right when the State “indicts,” or accuses. 

Words that are found within the charging instrument (the Indictment) are also very, very important. 

For example, one statute reads:

“A person commits criminal trespass to a residence when, without authority, he or she knowingly enters or remains within any residence, including a house trailer that is the dwelling place of another.” 720 ILCS 5/19-4(a)(1).

When the State accuses a defendant of this (misdemeanor) offense, the State must prove all elements of the offense. That is, the State must prove that a defendant (1) knowingly (2) entered or remained (3) in a residence of another (4) without the authority to do so. So you see, word choice is crucial to the shaping of an argument.

When people who don’t believe in human-made climate change are referred to as “deniers” instead of as “skeptics” it shifts the understanding in the mind of all listeners so that the burden of proof is now upon the minority who don’t believe in human-made climate change to disprove climate change’s existence- instead of vice versa.

Yale University came out with a report in October 2014 entitled Climate Change in the American Mind. In the study, they found that a majority of United States citizens are favorable to a political response to slow the (now-inevitable) consequences of Climate Change. If this is true, why do some media outlets speak as though the opposite were true: that a large majority of citizens do not believe in human-caused Climate Change and would also be against political action to combat Climate Change?

It’s hard to say. There are probably many reasons that play into this. There are many business interests that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, which involves many practices that actively contribute to climate change. Off the top of my head, Big Agriculture springs to mind. For example, raising livestock, and the mass slaughter, processing, and sale of said livestock, undeniably contributes to climate change. But the meat industry has a vested interest in keeping things the way they are, rather than having the state and federal legislatures implement laws that restrict them from continuing some of their more harmful practices. We saw and see this from the cigarette industry, which spent a lot of money combatting something as simple, for example, as putting a mere Surgeon General’s warning on cigarette cartons. 

It also matters that most of our media in this country is owned by corporations – corporations that are likely contributing to climate change. They have little reason to want to change, as greener and more sustainable practices are likely more expensive for them than the ones in place now. They have an interest in spreading the idea that most Americans do not believe that we caused climate change, and do not believe that we need political action to combat it. 

Slightly off-topic, but given your background in legal matters I can’t resist asking: as Environmental Advocates in DuPage County continue to fight for their rights to live a sustainable lifestyle, (ie changing zoning laws for animal husbandry rights, resisting draconian lawn-laws that enforce mowing instead of growing, fighting for bicyclist access to the roadway, etc.) do you have any suggestions for ways to effectively demand change?

People often think they need to contact their senator to get any real change done, and that’s important, too, but you will likely be able to see quicker results if you target your town. Reach out to local law makers. This could mean your town councilwoman, a state legislator, a member of your school board, the local police chief, or mayor. Whatever change you’re trying to enact, find out who are the most effective people to target. Talk to them. Tell them your idea. Get their thoughts. Request their info so you can stay in touch. Then get some support for your idea. This might mean a petition that you can present to your contact. It may mean setting up a town hall meeting and having them attend. Bring supporters. Every butt in a seat at a town hall meeting, every signature on a petition, is at least one vote. They will want to support you if it means you will support them. Don’t be shy about making sure they see that quid pro quo. 

Once something has been implemented in a particular town or area, and it is successful, other areas often follow suit, or at least explore similar alternatives that are suited for that particular area. Coordinate with people in neighboring areas. Give them the resources and support they need. Show them what worked for you and encourage them to figure out what will work for them, so that they may enact the same change. Set the example, and let it spread. 

When a good idea is implemented well and helps a community, people take notice. When something gains steam and catches the attention of the right people, that’s when widespread change takes place. 

Huma, thank you so much for being with us today.

Thank you for having me.

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