2017 Access to Justice Conference: Racing to Justice
By Francis Adewale, Spokane Public Defender and Access to Justice Board Member
“As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.” – Justice William O. Douglas 1976 letter to young lawyers section of the Washington State Bar Association
The above quote kept ringing in my ears as I drove out of Yakima at the end of the 2017 Access to Justice Conference. The theme of this year’s conference Racing to Justice: Community Lawyering to Bend the Arc commands attention giving the current state of things in our world today. Every moment of the conference was power packed with innovative ideas on multifarious ways in which we can help deliver justice for all people in the State of Washington. As I drove home to Spokane with a colleague through the undulating hills of the Yakima Valley and the farm plains of central Washington, we talked about how much we could do to help enhance access to justice in our state if everyone that attended the conference kept the theme alive for the next two years and beyond. We came away with renewed hope and optimism as we celebrated the success of the conference.
We also talked about the new State Plan for the Coordinated Delivery of Civil Legal Aid for Low Income People (State Plan). The State Plan was presented at the beginning of the conference and set the tone for the weekend. We marveled at the inevitable promise and impact the plan will have in helping to expand access to our civil justice system and eliminate barriers that perpetuate poverty and deny justice if the plan is well supported. We took delight in the fact that the leadership of the civil and criminal justice delivery systems are seeing the tremendous need for legal and community partnerships that can help advance justice system reforms in our state.
I have one regret about this conference: my inability to be at multiple places at the same time, especially for the breakout sessions. I wanted to attend the session on Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline, which I could not attend because I was a presenter on the Regional Justice Reform: Spokane’s Race and Equity Experience panel. My travel companion informed me that this may be the first conference where so many public defenders and civil legal aid practitioners were co-panelists on access to justice issues. There were also community activists and nonprofit organization leaders who highlighted panels on social justice and legal issues in homeless advocacy, optimizing volunteer engagement, overcoming implicit bias, building organizational equity as well as two technology focused sessions on communications and improving our internal systems.
When our discussions finally turned to the two keynote speakers we got absolutely ecstatic. When do you get to hear dynamic speakers like Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal deliver a barnstorming speech unless you are one of those who stay up late to watch C-Span’s congressional hearings and deliberations? Her speech was like a tonic we all needed to give hope to many of us who are concerned about Washington, DC, politics. She delivered a speech that was riveting, community oriented, addressed individual concerns, and was policy-focused yet not dogmatic. The Sunday keynote speaker, Solicitor General Noah Purcell, was equally engaging, especially given all the insight he gave us on his work on the cause célèbre case of Washington vs. Trump. Lastly, the plenary session on Sunday on aligning equity and justice work by breaking down silos was informative and focused on practical steps. We talked about the importance of bridging the chasm between the various silos we tend to work within in our state so no one is left behind.
When I eventually pulled into downtown Spokane to drop off my passenger and drove up the south hill of Spokane, I still kept humming the hymn like the old Negro Spiritual “We‘ve got to bend the arc, bend the arc and bend the arc.
For more information on the 2017 Access to Justice Conference:
- Session materials from the conference, such as PowerPoints and handouts, can be found on the conference website.
- View recordings of Chief Justice Fairhurst’s remarks and the keynote addresses from Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Solicitor General Noah Purcell.
- Photos from the conference can be found on the ATJ Board’s Facebook Page.