Exploring the Intersection of Law & Community Organizing

In conjunction with Roger Williams University School of Law, the Pro Bono Collaborative, and other local sponsors, the Rhode Island Center for Justice hosted a film screening and a panel discussion exploring the intersection of law and community organizing.

Group 2
On Monday, well-known community lawyer, Steve Fischbach, of Rhode Island Legal Services introduced a documentary film, The Garden, screened at RWU School of Law’s main campus in Bristol. Thanks to Steve’s thoughtful introduction, audience members considered the ways that a community-centered approach to lawyering can differ from a traditional approach.
On Tuesday, Center for Justice Executive Director Rob McCreanor moderated a panel discussion with lawyers and community organizers from Providence and New York City. This panel was an excellent follow up to the film which raised many questions about the impact lawyers can have, both good and bad, on a community-led campaign. The turn out for the event was great, with over 40 attendees and standing room only!
The panel consisted of three lawyer-community organizer pairs: first, attorney Shannah Kurland, and community organizer and executive director, Sarath Suong of the Providence Youth Students Movement(PrYSM) spoke about their work addressing police violence including PrYSM’s current campaign to support passage of the Community Safety Act, a proposed city ordinance to curb racial profiling by the police.
Steve and the Garden
Second, community organizer Christopher Samih-Rotondo of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and Rhode Island Legal Services staff attorney Mike Zabelin discussed DARE’s hard-fought and successful campaign to pass a ‘Just Cause’ law protecting tenants living in post-foreclosure bank-owned properties from eviction.
Finally, from New York City, MFY Legal Services supervising attorney Mike Grinthal and community Mike Speakingorganizer Paulette Soltani discussed MFY’s work with people living in three-quarter housing arrangements who are resisting illegal evictions and fighting for better conditions and landlord accountability.
Overall the panel provided a great space for organizers, law students, attorneys, and community members to reflect on how lawyers can best support the collective efforts of people trying to address systemic issues and achieve broad-based social justice victories.  To read more about the panel and the discussion, check out coverage by journalist Steve Ahlquist here.

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