GRITS (getting radical in the south) Conference

by Taylor Loynd, VP of Administration, ACS Student Chapter, and 2L, University of Texas School of Law and Marcus Martinez, VP of Programming, ACS Student Chapter, and 2L, University of Texas School of Law

*Loynd and Martinez are co-directors of the 2017 GRITS Conference

GRITS. It’s not just our favorite breakfast meal. It’s also our favorite way of getting radical in the South. The GRITS (getting radical in the south) Conference started at the University of Texas School of Law in 2015 by a group UT law students who wanted to provide an opportunity for dialogue on the inherent challenges of social justice work in the region, and strategies to overcome them, among public interest law students, practitioners, and activists in the South.  The 2017 GRITS Conference just wrapped at the University of Texas School of Law on September 22-23 and served as the ACS Texas Regional Convening.

Getting radical means something different for everyone involved in the conference. To some, it means being critical of how legal and social institutions disproportionately disadvantage people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and those living in poverty. To others, it means letting your identity and values guide how to work inside and out of those social and legal institutions. Still, others believe getting radical is simply acting with compassion. The need for radical work, specifically in the South, evokes different issues for people, as well, whether it’s the legacy of segregated living throughout the region or the heavily militarized border shared with Mexico.

As co-directors of the 2017 GRITS Conference, we wanted to continue the original mission of GRITS and foster a continuing conversation about what it means to get radical in the South. We believe providing this space is crucial to continue social justice work in the South, especially in the new political climate. We partnered with organizers, community leaders, impact litigators, direct-services providers, policy advocates, and law students to collaborate and discuss Economic Solidarity, Healthcare Access for Vulnerable Populations, Immigration and Border Militarization, Implicit Bias, the Gavel Gap, Radical Defenses Against the Prison-Industrial Complex, Restorative Justice, and Women’s Economic Security.

In one of the most impactful sessions of the weekend, the Gavel Gap discussion brought Travis County Associate Judge Aurora Martinez Jones to the conference to describe her journey from law school to her career as a judge, all while facing the reality of significant disparities between the race and gender composition of the courts and the communities they serve. These disparities are known as the Gavel Gap and ACS has worked to create a database of information for over 10,000 currently sitting state court judges of general jurisdiction in all 50 states to examine the gender, racial, and ethnic composition of state court, which was then compared to the gender, racial, and ethnic composition of the general population in each state. Hearing Judge Aurora Martinez Jones speak about the compassionate, fair, and supportive way she operates her court room, presiding over the Child Protective Services and family drug court dockets, brought the exact kind of conversation we want to foster at GRITS. Furthermore, her call to all aspiring attorneys of color to consider pursuing a judgeship inspired the diverse members of the audience, and her presence made the possibility feel all the more achievable.

The GRITS Conference is an opportunity for law students, lawyers, and activists to build coalitions, share strategies for progressive lawyering, and develop new approaches for the future. This space is essential for the future of social justice work.