2019 Foreign Affairs Symposium: Disrupt



Welcome to the 2019 Foreign Affairs Symposium: Disrupt. Our 22nd series focuses on grassroots activism—individuals and organizations that disrupt the status quo of power. From Colombia to Switzerland, our speakers have devoted their lives to improving their societies. They are activists, artists, change-makers, and visionaries, and we are so excited to present them to you.

Our Smedinghoff Award recipient, Erlendy Cuero Bravo, has dedicated her life to defending human rights in her native country of Colombia. Iranian-American writer and activist, Solmaz Sharif, dissects and uproots the language of war in her poetry and essays. Her debut collection, LOOK, was published in 2016. Our third speaker, Beatrice Fihn, is the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an organization which received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its groundbreaking humanitarian efforts. Artist-activist Boots Riley examines the intersections of racism, capitalism, and social injustice. Sorry to Bother You, his debut film, was released to critical acclaim in 2018. Finally, our Panel on Law and Social Movements explores law as a tool for systemic social transformation.

As we march toward an uncertain future, it is more important than ever that we march together— that we organize and mobilize in the face of injustice, that we disrupt. In “Poem for South African Women,” June Jordan writes, “the ones who stood without sweet company / will sing and sing / back into the mountains and / if necessary / even under the sea / we are the ones we have been waiting for.”  We are the ones we have been waiting for. This is our song.

We hope Disrupt inspires you. We hope it challenges you to think differently about the ways we can confront injustice.

Panel on Law and Social Movements:

Most Western democracies have few or no people serving life sentences, yet here in the United States more than 200,000 people are serving such prison terms. Ashley Nellis, co-author of The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences, will discuss the major developments in life sentencing the United States, including patterns over time, the individuals affected, and how policies rather than crime trends caused these disturbing trends. The Sentencing Project recently launched a nationwide campaign to end life sentences based on practical and moral grounds. Sentences longer than 20 years have shown little effect on crime rates and place undue burdens on limited state and federal budgets. Extreme punishments also have an inflationary effect on sentences across the spectrum, helping to account for severe mandatory minimums and other harsh punishments.

Founded in 2004, the Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP) has launched a number of campaigns dedicated to protecting Lakota land, resources, and people. In 2016, the organization’s Standing Rock legal defense fought the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. After their lead counsel Chase Iron Eyes, was arrested for peacefully protesting against the pipeline, LPLP worked to successfully defend him. They continue to engage in efforts of Lakota cultural revitalization and ancestral land protection.

The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) is an NYC-based nonprofit organization that leads impact litigation, legal training, post-conviction relief, and community defense efforts to protect America’s vulnerable immigrants. Among their many projects, they have partnered with the Center for Constitutional Rights to develop the “ICEwatch: Raid Tactics Map.” Their relentless advocacy over the past two decades has proven indispensable for the immigrant community in the United States.

ArchCity Defenders (ACD) is a nonprofit civil rights law firm that provides pro-bono criminal and civil legal services in St. Louis, Missouri. They strive to make social services more accessible for individuals facing chronic homelessness and poverty, and use impact legislation to push for criminal justice reform. The organization estimates that their class action legal work over the last five years has impacted over 45,000 people.

Lineup article by The Hub: https://hub.jhu.edu/2019/02/11/foreign-affairs-symposium-lineup/

“What we do have, we want to share with the Venezuelans who are coming into our areas…We are seeing refugees coming to our communities and looking for solidarity. But in Colombia we do not have the programs to support these Venezuelan refugees.”
— Erlendy Cuero Bravo
“I think it’s my duty to say what I am scared to say, in every poem, and I try to approach it as much as I can.”
— Solmaz Sharif
“Challenging power is always hard, and they will never give in voluntarily. You have to confront them. If there’s anything people in power hate it’s the people organizing…”
— Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN
“Poverty is not some unintended consequence of capitalism. It is not something that just exists. Poverty is a necessity of capitalism.”
— Boots Riley