October 30 & 31, 2015 at University of Texas at Austin School of Law
“GRITS is a student-run public interest law conference that focuses on the difficulties and constraints inherent to social justice work in the South, and the unique strategies that legal practitioners and other public interest workers have developed to meet those needs. The conference emphasizes innovative, progressive, and even radical approaches to building community among students, practitioners, and community activists in the South to bring about social change.
The conference is an opportunity for law students, lawyers, and activists to build coalitions, share strategies for progressive lawyering, and develop new approaches for the future.”
Radicalism and the Law
Law is often regarded as an inherently conservative field—a field at odds with social change. Yet many individuals come to the law for the sole purpose of creating change. This plenary panel will bring together practitioners and organizers to discuss the reconciliation of radical change within the rigid, hierarchical institution that is the American legal system. Our panelists bring a variety of perspectives—from lawyers to professors to organizers of civil disobedience—in order to illuminate the possibilities for bringing together the legal institution and movements for social justice, as well as the challenges faced by those committed to such work.
Racial Justice in the South
In the wake of a seemingly-endless string of tragic deaths of people of color in Ferguson, Baltimore, and most recently, Charleston, South Carolina, advocates from throughout the south will convene to discuss the persistent barriers to achieving racial justice and creating avenues for change. One hundred and fifty years after the end of slavery in this country, a Jim Crow-like class system persists, hindering opportunity and equality for people of color. And while barriers exist throughout the country, racism feels particularly explicit and outspoken in the south. Our panelists will discuss how they confront racial justice from a variety of perspectives, and suggest creative methods to help alter the national consciousness on race and shape racially just south.
Immigration in the South
In the past few years, the south has seen massive shifts in immigration, with far-reaching and varying responses—from the institution of mass family detention, to the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. While immigration is most often associated with states like Texas and Arizona that border Mexico, states like Georgia and Alabama are also seeing a rapid growth of immigrant populations with reactionary legislation and other negative responses never far behind. Practitioners and organizers on this panel will discuss the immigration issues prevalent in their region, and examine the advocacy tools they use to counter intolerance and create a south where all people—regardless of race, gender, citizenship or economic status—are treated fairly and humanely.
This session brings together organizers working in the south to discuss approaches, perspectives, and strategies they use to advocate for change, whether in conjunction with or without the assistance of legal services and traditional lawyering. The panelists will discuss how their work challenges the status quo to uncover struggles faced by various disadvantaged communities, as well as strategies they use to address those struggles above and beyond what traditional legal services can achieve. Community organizers participating in the panel will shine a light on their organizing strategies and challenges in areas including police brutality and accountability, labor and immigration, reproductive rights, and LGBT liberation.
Voting Rights in the South
Voting is considered a foundation of democratic society, and is perhaps the most important check on those in power. But our country has a long history of abridging the right to vote for certain populations—a history that continues today. From felon disenfranchisement, to voter ID laws, to Shelby County v. Holder’s curtailment of the Voting Rights Act, there is serious cause for concern about the ability of those already most under-represented to elect individuals to represent their interests. Many of these problems are most aggravated in the South, where demographics are changing in ways that disfavor individuals who have long held rank. Panelists from across the south will discuss the various barriers to voting that they are facing, and the ways that they are fighting back through litigation and organizing.
In a nation that imprisons people at a higher rate than any other country, the south is credited with putting human beings in cages at rates nearly twice that of other regions of the U.S. High rates of imprisonment, coupled with a surge in the cost of the prison system, has led many to question the very basis of the prison industrial complex and advocate for new strategies. This panel convenes lawyers and activists that work toward both prison reform and abolition to question our country’s current rate and methodologies of punishment. Panelists will discuss approaches to criminal justice beyond incarceration, and how a movement can achieve a reduced or eliminated prison system and replace it with more humane—and more effective—crime reduction institutions.