Last week I presented at the 2016 Rebellious Lawyering Conference at Yale University. The largest student-run public interest law conference in the country, RebLaw “seeks to build a community of law students, practitioners, and activists seeking to work in the service of social change movements.”
The conference boasted a compelling range of panels and presenters (the full program is available here) and I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the “Free All Political Prisoners” panel along with five fabulous activists: Ashanti Alston, Ray Luc Levasseur, Ralph Poynter, Lynne Stewart and Kazi Toure. (I also attended sessions on “Trans* Justice and Mass Incarceration” and “Movement Lawyering With Law For Black Lives.”)
Alli Langley, the RFC’s new Granting Coordinator, attended the conference with me to connect with current and potential beneficiaries. This was her first opportunity to see the “Free All Political Prisoners” panel, and she was struck by how consistently my fellow panelists articulated the need for support in their ongoing struggle for social justice. As Ashanti said, “it’s a tough decision to get involved in the life, and a tough life when you’re in it. […] You stand up […] and you can only hope others have your back, [because] this empire has got to come down.” The panel and conference emphasized the importance of the RFC’s work and that of fellow organizations and activists.
Like Alli, I was struck by the number of important organizational allies represented at the conference, including:
- Baltimore Action Legal Team: "provides legal support to Baltimore communities as they exercise their civil liberties protesting against injustices rooted in structural racism and economic inequality. BALT exercises a community lawyering approach because we believe that communities' organizing efforts should drive legal advocacy. We support and advance mass defense employing a human rights and racial equity framework."
- Black & Pink: "an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and ‘free world’ allies who support each other. Our work toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex is rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. We are outraged by the specific violence of the prison industrial complex against LGBTQ people, and respond through advocacy, education, direct service, and organizing."
- Community Justice Project, Inc.: "We are community lawyers. In our legal work we collaborate closely with community organizers and grassroots groups in low-income communities of color because we believe that a more democratic, more just and more equal society can only truly come about through grassroots organizing and social movement. We are a part of that social movement in South Florida and strive to support organizing through our varied and often innovative legal work."
- The Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights: “organizes and advocates for low-wage, non-union workers…Through organizing, litigation, public education, and leadership trainings the Center combats racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression in employment, housing and voting. The Center is a part of a larger struggle to unionize southern states that rely heavily on non-union and low wage labor.” (Click here for additional information about this organization.)
- Queer Detainee Empowerment Project: QDEP "assists folks coming out of immigration detention in securing structural, health/wellness, educational, legal, and emotional support and services. We work to organize around the structural barriers and state violence that LGBTQI detainee/undocumented folks face related to their immigration status, race, sexuality, and gender expression/ identity. We are committed to assisting folks in building lives outside of detention, to breaking down the barriers that prevent folks from building fulfilling and strong lives, and to keeping queer families together by demanding an end to deportations/ detention/ policing. We believe in creating a narrative of thriving, not just surviving."
- United People of Color Caucus of the National Lawyers Guild: "TUPOCC is an alliance of law students, legal workers, attorneys, and other people of color within the NLG. The necessity of such an organization is borne from the history of the United States where economic power is dependent on the continued subjugation of people of color, poor people women, queers, and other oppressed people."
Thanks to all the organizers, panelists and social justice organizations for an excellent conference.
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