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March 9, 2010

Trina Grillo Retreat Celebrates Social Justice

By Professor Steven Bender

This article was written for the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) newsletter

This past weekend (March 6/7) the University of Oregon law school hosted the 12th annual Trina Grillo Public Interest and Social Justice Law Retreat with the theme Globalization, Economic Justice, and Climate Change. Co-sponsored by SALT and a consortium of West Coast law schools, the retreat embodies the aspirations of Trina’s scholarly and administrative work against injustice in its many forms and toward diversity and equality. About 75 students, faculty, administrators, and activist lawyers attended the retreat, with law students traveling from consortium schools such as Seattle University, UNLV, USF, and Santa Clara. The retreat provides an opportunity for these public interest and social justice-oriented participants to exchange viewpoints, explore career opportunities, and formulate strategies for social justice.

Opening this year’s retreat was one of Time Magazine‘s 2009 “Heroes of the Environment,” Rizwana Hasan, the director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association. She remarked on the uniqueness of the Grillo retreat: “Have you ever heard of a corporate retreat where people are brought from Bangladesh to motivate the attendees?” Brent Newell, legal director of the Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment, delivered the Ralph Abascal Memorial Keynote also honoring his departed mentor Luke Cole — the two of them served as co-counsel representing an Alaskan indigenous village in ongoing climate change litigation against global oil companies. The retreat also included five panels: “Public-Interest Lawyering in a Globalized World,” “Lawyering for Economic and Social Justice,” “Climate Change and the Task for a New Generation,” “Actions by Individuals, Businesses, NGO’s, and Governmental Bodies,” and “How to Do Good and Survive.” One of the special features of the Grillo retreat was its inclusion of law student voices on panels — notably an Oregon student who participated in the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen and a Washington law student who created a climate justice institute at the University of Washington.

Several speakers linked climate change to human rights, with Seattle University’s Carmen Gonzalez calling climate change one of the most pressing social justice issues of our time that implicates the right to food, water, health, and housing. The role of law and lawyers in addressing economic justice issues was much discussed, with Oregon law professor Ibrahim Gassama charging that law and lawyering have not kept up with the complexity of human rights violations, citing the growing acceptance of torture in the 21st century. Conference topics encompassed a broad range of inequities in our global society and economy from immigration laws and trade law to tax abuses of offshore corporations and cross-border relationships in water management. A survivor of Haiti’s devastating earthquake while serving as head coordinator for the grassroots Haiti Response Coalition, Oregon law graduate Amber Munger returned from Port-au-Prince to Oregon to attend the retreat and to speak to other U.S. campus audiences. She framed poverty as human violence and returns to Haiti to continue her organization’s efforts to connect the international disaster response to the Haitian peoples’ needs.

Sunday’s concluding panels delivered advice to law students in choosing their careers, with speakers urging them to develop personal mission statements and one reminding attendees that happiness is living in alliance with your own principles.

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