#WhyDSA – Renée P – Electoral Lawyer Extraordinaire

The website for attorney and NYC-DSA dynamo Renée Paradis reads, “Creative and Conscientious Legal Services.” She might add “& Passionately Political” to that logo. Her passion for social justice — and fury at the debacle that was the 2016 Presidential Election — are what led Paradis to the Democratic Socialists of America.

To look at her history or hear her speak, her arrival is no surprise. Her path took detours, but, as Paradis laughs, “There was no ‘road to Damascus’ moment—it was more of a process. But I came to DSA as someone who already thought socialism was the answer.”

In a phone interview, Paradis, 41, who served as National Voter Protection Director for “Bernie 2016,” recalls she found her way to DSA through an evolving series of events and policies. “I had felt such disgust after the election of Trump, concurring with the experience of seeing Bernie Sanders candidacy energize so many people to believe a better way was possible. I had a real sense of urgency and a need to organize outside of my day to day legal work.”

Paradis started going to DSA meetings, where, she said, she found people discussing “local issues … that are part of the larger fight against injustice. They were working to put action behind their words.”

This was sovereign to her journey: Paradis, who is an eloquent speaker and writer, noted her long “discomfort at the elided narratives” common to mainstream publishing, law, and politics: “I hated being in publishing (where she worked at a secondary retailer of education materials) . We never overtly lied about any product — we didn’t do that — but there were elisions, omissions, shading that were all intended to sell the product, to create a profit for my employer. I thought at the time that I didn’t like my job; it’s become clear over the years that what I didn’t like was capitalism.”

Her sense of urgency was reinforced in January 2017, when Donald Trump signed executive orders to ban citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries — even those who were en route with visas — from entering the United States. Outraged, Paradis joined lawyers from around the country to block the ban and counsel the hundreds of affected persons already jamming airports coming into the United States. The spontaneous action was quickly dubbed “No Ban JFK.” Given the shock of Trump’s flaunting a bevy of laws, the attorneys’ success was remarkable. They cleared hundreds of the travelers through customs, while the ACLU contested the order.

At the time, Paradis had already joined the Brooklyn Electoral Working Group. Last year, she worked to elect City Council candidates Reverend Khader el-Yateem, a Palestinian-American Lutheran minister, and Jabari Brisport, an actor and activist. Both Brooklyn leftists lost their elections, but the margins stunned pundits and mainstream Democrats.

Paradis helped to organize the May 2017 NYC-DSA Convention at Judson Memorial. Her combined expertise — from working on the federal appeals court, advocacy at both the state and federal levels on electoral, reproductive, and drug reform, in combination with community organizing, and electoral politics — meant Paradis could move fluidly around a host of subjects. She worked on DSA’s National Electoral Strategy too.

Paradis has a formidable resume. An award-winning graduate of Columbia University Law School, she clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, a plum vantage point on federal and state laws. In 2005, Californian Paradis returned to New York to serve as Counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Her remit: expand the franchise through automatic voter registration and voting rights for people with felony convictions and students. Paradis also worked at the ACLU, first as a fellow on drug law reform and later as a senior staff attorney on reproductive freedom. In 2008, she joined the Obama campaign as director for Michigan state voter protection. Eight years later, she was national director for voter protection for “Bernie 2016.”

Renée Paradis is currently applying her conscientious creativity to the candidacy of Julia Salazar, a police reform and tenant rights organizer, who is running for the NY State Senate against eight-term Brooklyn incumbent Martin Dilan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.