2016 Program

2016 Program

CONFERENCE THEME: Grasping at the Roots

This year’s theme embodies the goal of challenging conventional legal approaches that center on legal institutions and actors, rather than communities, in the struggle for social change.

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS:

PLENARY PANELS:

GRASPING AT THE ROOTS: SOCIAL MOVEMENT LAWYERING

What calls us to do social justice work in the South? For many of us, it is having a strong connection to a specific community, issue area, or place where we witness and experience injustice. And many of us believe that understanding and using the law is an important tool to support, enhance, and collaborate with communities, organizers, social workers, and policymakers. This panel will set the framework for GRITS Conference 2016, laying out the tensions between lawyers bound to operate within existing legal systems, on the one hand, and activists who frequently step (and sit) outside the boundaries of an unjust society. The panelists and the organizations they represent are national leaders in social movement lawyering, and will help us understand the role of a lawyer in empowering client communities through advocacy,  education, and representation.

  • Sima Atri, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice
  • Colette Pichon Battle, Gulf Coast Center for Policy & Law
  • Paulina Helm-Hernandez, Southerners on New Ground
  • Purvi Shah, Law for Black Lives

C.R.E.A.M*: ECONOMIC JUSTICE AND THE LAW

Capitalism deeply structures people’s lives, shaping individuals’ access to education, housing, food, and other basic resources. Class status also colludes with other modes of oppression, such as gender and racial subordination, to shape individual experiences under our economic system. The inequitable distribution of resources produced by our capitalism is of great concern to radical lawyers, as historically marginalized groups obtain legal rights and recognition while economic inequalities widen in the United States. This panel will grapple with the possibilities (and limits) of the law’s role in the struggle for economic justice in the South. Our panelists will speak of the ways in which questions of class and capital affect their access to justice and equality, their visions of economic justice, and the role of radical legal work in producing these visions and transforming material conditions for marginalized people in the South.

  • Austin Anti-Gentrification Activists
  • Meena Jagannath, Community Justice Project
  • Mimi Marziani, Texas Civil Rights Project
  • Justina Trim, SisterSong

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: DIRECT REPRESENTATION IN THE SOUTH

When you’re transgender, undocumented, low-income, and/or a person of color, finding a lawyer to represent you can be very difficult—especially in the South, where legal aid is often spread thin. Similarly, attorneys and social workers who represent and advocate for underrepresented individuals in the South face unique challenges in serving these communities, such as accessing clients who are incarcerated or in rural communities, communicating with clients who have limited access to technology, engaging in self-care after working with individuals who are victims of trauma, and mitigating their own implicit biases, stereotypes, and privilege. These panelists will speak to the specific challenges inherent to direct representation in the South, and share strategies and inspiration as to how to overcome them.

  • Ashley DiamondActvist, Organizer, Singer-Songwriter
  • Chinyere Ezie, Civil Rights Attorney
  • Kira Fonteneau, The Fonteneau Firm, LLC
  • Alexandra Minnaar, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
  • Robert Notzon, Notzon Law

BREAKOUT SESSIONS:

CHILDREN’S RIGHTS IN THE SOUTH

The United States is one of two countries in the world that have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite significant gains throughout the twentieth century, children today face incredible challenges in education, health, nutrition, juvenile justice, abuse, and poverty. These challenges are exacerbated in the South, where food deserts abound, public education spending is at an all-time low, and access to basic healthcare has been severely limited by state politics and policies. These panelist will speak on how the intersection of these issues produces vast inequities in life opportunity and public welfare, and discuss their cutting edge litigation and advocacy strategies for advancing children’s rights in the south.

  • Susan Hays, Jane’s Due Process
  • Eden Heilman, Southern Poverty Law Center
  • Marcia Lowry, A Better Childhood

IMPLICIT BIAS TRAINING

Implicit bias—stereotypes or attitudes that operate without an individual’s conscious awareness and can have a particularly negative impact on people of color—is not a new concept, yet it’s only in recent years that there has been a wider spread effort to discover and document how implicit or unconscious biases affect and permeate the application of the law.  This training aims to introduce, educate, inform and empower students, practitioners, lawyers and activists to acknowledge their own biases through productive dialogue and exercises in the hopes that it will create the space and opportunity for people in various positions of power to become more cognizant of their unconscious biases, and take steps to reduce the impact of those biases on their conscious behavior.

  • Christopher Bridges, Equal Justice Society

RECLAIMING RADICAL RELIGION: FAITH-BASED LAWYERING & ACTIVISM

As a haven for religious freedom, the United States has become a home to people of various faiths and beliefs. Unfortunately, religion is often viewed as incompatible with social change and radicalism in religion has come to mean rigid belief systems used to violate civil and human rights. Nevertheless, many lawyers and activists continue to use the basic tenets and roots of their faith as a source of inspiration to promote radical social change and in doing so, reclaim the meaning of radicalism in religion. In this session, panelists will share what role their faith plays in their professional and personal lives and reflect on what it means to be a person of faith at a time when religiosity can be viewed with anything from skepticism to fear. In an interfaith dialogue, panelists will also dispel myths by discussing how radical approaches can be used in conjunction with religion to advance rather than hinder social justice, acceptance, and human rights.

  • Kent McKeever, Mission Waco Legal Services
  • Saleema Snow, KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Virginia RaymondThe Law Office of Virginia Marie Raymond

*=Cash Rules Everything Around Me

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