Rebels with a cause: Law School forum draws hundreds

The Yale Law School got rebellious this weekend.

Students, professors and lawyers gathered at the Law School for the ninth annual Rebellious Lawyering Conference, the largest student-run public interest forum in the United States. Speakers tackled issues ranging from racial scapegoating to capital punishment and welfare reform.

About 300 non-Yale students attended the conference, coming from as near as Quinnipiac and as far as Miami and Toronto.

“These are things we don’t have,” said Theresa Soto, a Quinnipiac law student. “A lot of the panels have to do with social justice, which I’m interested in.”

Grace Meng LAW ’03, one of the conference’s coordinators, said the conference is meant to help members of the liberal community organize and meet each other.

“Not everyone here is a lawyer,” Meng said. “We bring students, practitioners and community organizers together, and it’s a chance for everyone to see the spectrum of work that’s being done right now.”

The conference opened Friday with a speech by writer Tim Wise on the topic of racial scapegoating. Wise said he became an anti-racist activist because he is white.

“It’s not a sense of guilt, but anger; guilt is for the guilty,” he said. “Until people in the dominant group go into our own communities and speak out, these problems will continue.”

Wise described what he called “the politics of prejudice” in regard to immigrants.

“‘Our taxes are going to welfare and the immigrants’ is the constant drumbeat we hear,” Wise said. “But there’s an inconsistency in racism, because immigrants cannot be both lazy and take all the jobs.”

He also spoke about stereotyping minorities as violent.

“More than 50 percent of all whites are willing to admit they think that African-descended and Latino people are inherently more violent. What about European history?” he said. “If we’re not killing people of color, we’re doing a damn good job of killing ourselves.”

Jean Tom LAW ’02 said she thought Wise’s speech started the conference off well.

“He discussed some of the overarching themes, like how to enact social change,” Tom said. “His speech was inspiring.”

The conference closed on Sunday with a panel called “Taking on a Pandemic: Responses to the Global AIDS Crisis.” Zita Lazzarini of the University of Connecticut Health Center and School of Law discussed the relationship between human rights and public health, focusing on the issue of prescription drug access.

“We’ve just generally ignored what should be the primacy of human rights in the face of commercial interests,” Lazzarini said.

Eric Sawyer, an AIDS activist living with the disease, explained why he feels it his duty to make AIDS drugs accessible to more people.

“I’m alive today because I can afford to buy life,” Sawyer said.

But Sawyer said he has survivor’s guilt because people who cannot afford the expensive regimen of drugs are dying daily of AIDS.

“On Sept. 11, 4,000 to 5,000 people died. Eight thousand people will die today of AIDS, but when will the world even take notice?” Sawyer asked.

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