Students Power Inaugural Liberation Lawyering Conference

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Belén Sisa delivering the conference's keynote address.

UCLA School of Law student members of the National Lawyers Guild pioneered a new social justice conference, the Liberation Lawyering Conference, this spring. The inaugural event drew more than 150 law students, professors, attorneys and members of the community to the law school on March 10 to discuss collaborative approaches to pressing social justice issues.

Panels organized by and moderated by students addressed "Gentrification," "Lawyering in Organizing Campaigns," "Combating Islamophobia," "Immigration Frontlines," "Workers' Rights," and "Prison Pipelines." National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles Board Member Colleen Flynn and Dr. Jill Humphries of the Decarceration Collective presented a Legal Observer training, teaching attendees how to de-escalate police violence at political demonstrations.

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Professor Ekow Yankah

Professor Ekow Yankah from Benjamin R. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University offered the morning keynote address, discussing the roots of American policing and punishment, and giving audience members — including one as young as 13 — hope for this and future generations. Activist and undocumented college student Belén Sisa presented a moving afternoon keynote address, revealing her own journey as she came out as undocumented and became a bold leader in the immigrants' rights movement.

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L to R: Ihaab Syed, Belén Sisa and Sasha Novis

NLG-UCLA law students spearheaded, planned and ran the conference, collaborating with NLG Los Angeles and the NLG chapters at Pepperdine, Southwestern, and USC law schools. The planning committee was led by 2Ls Sasha Novis and Ihaab Syed and 1Ls Rebecca Brown, Matt Erle, Tori Lew, Stephano Medina, Rachel Pendleton and Alveena Shah.

UCLA NLG Co-President and Conference Chair Sasha Novis said she witnessed the lack of community in Southern California progressive legal circles and envisioned this conference a way to bring people together. "Especially now, it is vital for young people and law students to consciously become involved in social justice movements," she said. "We wanted to learn from people doing this work in the community, and to include multiple perspectives on each issue."

Conference Workshop Coordinator Stephano Medina stated, "The Liberation Lawyering Conference exceeded our expectations. It was simply amazing and reassuring to see so many from our public interest community come out in support, and even more inspiring to hear how many of them took away tangible skills to improve their practices."

The conference was sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles Chapter, UCLA's Ann C. Rosenfield Symposium Fund  and Healthy Campus Initiative, UCLA School of Law's Critical Race Studies Program, David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy, Office of Career Services, and Promise Institute for Human Rights, and the following UCLA Law student groups: El Centro Legal Clinics, the International Human Rights Law Association, the Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law, the Labor and Employment Law Association, Law Students for Immigrant Justice, the Muslim Law Students Association, the Student Bar Association and the NLG Chapters of the Pepperdine, Southwestern and USC Gould schools of law.