Harvard Kennedy School Conference on Poverty and Inequality

The Systemic Justice Project is co-sponsoring the Harvard Kennedy School Conference on Poverty and Inequality. For more information, see below:


On behalf of our conference planning committee, we’d like to invite you to the Conference on Poverty & Inequality. In light of the recent election, our theme is Tackling Poverty & Inequality under a Trump Presidency. We hope to highlight the deep economic anxieties that surfaced across the US in the 2016 election. The conference is Saturday, February 25 at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Registration is now open ($15 for students; $30 for non-students). Please register, connect with us on Facebook, and visit our website for more information.

Speeches and panel discussions will cover a range of topics, like affordable housing, early childhood development, K-12 education, and extreme poverty/joblessness.We have some exceptional speakers confirmed, including:

  • Dennis Kucinich, Progressive Advocate, Former Eight-Term US Congressman, and Two-Time Candidate in the Democratic Presidential Primary
  • Daniel Gillion, University of Pennsylvania Presidential Associate Professor and author of Governing with Words: The Political Dialogue on Race, Public Policy, and Inequality in America
  • Portia Wu, Former Assistant Secretary of ETA at the US Department of Labor
  • David Ellwood, Former Kennedy School Dean and Former Co-Chair of President Clinton’s Working Group on Welfare Reform
  • Melissa Boteach, Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress
  • Robert Doar, Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute
  • Hanna Skandera, New Mexico Education Secretary
  • Thomas Kochan, MIT Professor and Co-Director of MIT Sloan’s Institute for Work and Employment Research
  • Maria Mossaides, Child Advocate of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Carol C. Buris, Executive Director of the Network for Public Education Foundation
  • Amy Glasmeier, MIT Economist & Creator of the Living Wage Calculator
  • William Beardslee, Distinguished Gardner/Monks Professor of Child Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Baer Prevention Initiatives, Department of Psychiatry, Children’s Hospital Boston

If you have any questions or would like your student group recognized in our program materials for “joining the conversation,” please email Ben Mays (Conference Co-Chair) at Ben_Mays@hks17.harvard.edu. We look forward to seeing you there!

J-Term Course: Practicing Systemic Justice


A Note for Harvard Students:

We stand at a pivotal moment for lawyers and others concerned with justice. Public interest lawyers from around the country are gathering at HLS in January to identify new challenges and possible solutions, and to find out how HLS students can help them unite and collaborate more effectively.

If you want to play a part and want to work with experts from the clinical faculty on the cutting edge of policy problems, preparing action plans in conjunction with summit attendees, see the announcement below, and email us by noon on Friday December 23rd to be assured of a place.

Practicing Systemic Justice in the United States: A Working Lab

 Professors Tyler Giannini and Jon Hanson would like to announce a new Winter Term course in conjunction with multiple clinical faculty. In the past few weeks, we have had discussions with many students interested in using their legal education to understand and practically address injustices that they identify in the United States and its legal and political system.

Practicing Systemic Justice in the United States: A Working Lab seeks to develop a new way of approaching societal injustices by exploring the practice and history of struggle and applying it to contemporary problems. In conjunction with expert advisors, student teams will work to draft reports and other materials on pressing policy problems such as immigration, food, housing, technology, criminal justice, corporate responsibility, and climate change. Expert advisors will include faculty members Sabrineh Ardalan, Christopher Bavitz, Emily Broad Leib, Esme Caramello, and Philip Torrey. Students will participate in the selection of “problems” to address, will help identify a variety of relevant experts, stakeholders, and groups facing injustice as part of researching the problem, and will coordinate and participate in drafting collaborative proposals and action plans.

Projects from the Working Lab will be taken up by Spring courses including the Justice Lab, which is still open for enrollment.

Practicing Systemic Justice will be designed around the Systemic Justice Summit on January 14-15. Please see more information at https://systemicjusticesummit.com/

If you are interested in participating, please email giannini@law.harvard.edu, hanson@law.harvard.edu, and jlipton@law.harvard.edu (and include the words “Practicing Systemic Justice” in the subject line) so we can give you further details and make you eligible for enrollment. The Lab takes a cross-disciplinary approach, and we also encourage cross-registrants.

Systemic Justice Project 2017 Update

SJP Blog Logo

We at the Systemic Justice Project have been working hard and wanted to update you on our plans for the first half of 2017, which include a new Winter Term course in addition to Systemic Justice and the Justice Lab in the Spring, all of which are open for enrollment, including cross-registrants (please see details on the individual course pages, links below).

1.       Winter Term Course: We are going to be offering a new winter term course, co-taught with Tyler Giannini, and including expert advisors from the Clinical Faculty. Practicing Systemic Justice in the United States: A Working Lab, seeks to develop a new way of approaching societal injustices by exploring the practice and history of struggle and applying it to contemporary problems. In conjunction with expert advisors, student teams will work to develop materials and plans for the Systemic Justice Summit (see below) and prepare reports, analysis, and action plans for key stakeholders on pressing policy problems such as immigration, food, housing, technology, criminal justice, corporate responsibility, and climate change.

 2.       Systemic Justice Summit: On January 14-15, we will be hosting a Systemic Justice Summit that will bring together justice-minded lawyers and nonlawyers engaged with the legal system to discuss new priorities, strategies, cases, and opportunities for collaboration on a wide range of issues. The summit will focus on both the new urgent challenges facing especially vulnerable groups and the continued urgent need for a new way of thinking about the law and the legal profession — one that places social justice at its core and works to find sustainable, deep solutions and institutions. Students from the Practicing Systemic Justice Course, and other interested students, will participate in planning and facilitating the summit.

 3.       Spring Justice Lab and Systemic Justice Course: The Spring Justice Lab, and some students in the Systemic Justice course, will take up some of the projects that come out of the Systemic Justice Summit and the Practicing Systemic Justice course, in addition to developing new projects and collaborations. We are set to have our largest Justice Lab ever, but are still open for further enrollment, including from cross-registrants.

 4.       Systemic Justice Conference: The third annual Systemic Justice Conference will be April 7-9. As always, it will feature students from the Justice Lab and the Systemic Justice course presenting their projects, including collaborations arising out of the summit.

The Justice Lab – Spring 2017


Announcement to HLS Students

In the past week we have heard from many students, lawyers, alums, and others looking for ways to respond to the longstanding and immediate crises in our country and our world.

The Systemic Justice Project was created to give students the opportunity to work on pressing policy problems in collaboration with lawyers, academics, legislators, organizers, and activists engaging those issues. The goal has been to understand the complex causes and interconnections of our problems and to develop innovative, systemic solutions.

This work has rarely been more urgent. We therefore invite all students who wish to devote curricular time to the injustices that have always been with us and the renewed injustices on the horizon to contact us and enroll in the spring Justice Lab from which prerequisites have been removed (Wednesdays 5:15 – 7:15pm).

We have some ideas for the road ahead, and we know you do too. We want to hear your suggestions and may be able to provide some structure, support, curricular credit, and an audience for any efforts you may already be planning.

We hope to host problem-identification and priority-setting events with our network of lawyers, legislators, and organizers in January to help inform our work in the spring, keeping in mind the need to fight fires and develop fireproof systems simultaneously. We will use the spring semester’s Justice Lab (and to a lesser extent, the Systemic Justice course) to put law students at the center of a network of concerned lawyers (and nonlawyers) to develop and propose legal and policy solutions to systemic injustices.

To join us in the Justice Lab — that is, to be made eligible for enrollment — or for more information, email jlipton@law.harvard.edu and hanson@law.harvard.edu and include the words Justice Lab in the subject line. For those of you who want to start work before the spring semester contact us as soon as possible. Plans are underway and we would welcome your involvement.

Historic Settlement in Jennings

Great news from two friends of the Systemic Justice Project:

A small city bordering Ferguson, Mo., has agreed to pay $4.7 million to compensate nearly 2,000 people who spent time in the city’s jail for not paying fines and fees related to traffic and other relatively petty violations.

Alec explains the systemic place of this litigation:

“This historic settlement is part of a national movement to change how indifferent we’ve become to putting human beings in cages, and to end the notion that courts can be used as tools of revenue generation rather than places of justice,” said Alec Karakatsanis, whose Washington-based nonprofit organization, Equal Justice Under Law, brought the suit with the Arch City Defenders, a Missouri nonprofit group, and the St. Louis University School of Law.

See the full New York Times story here.

Tentative Schedule Our 2016 Conference

2016 Systemic Justice Conference:
Access, Inclusion, Protest, Education

conference-logo (1)More info at https://systemicjusticeconference.wordpress.com/

Friday, April 8, 2016 – Access

  • 12:00 – 12:15 PM: Lunch pickup & Introductions (WCC – 2012)
  • 12:20 – 1:40 PM: Access to Justice Presentation (WCC – 2012)
  • 1:40 – 2:40 PM: Justice Showcase #1 (WCC – 2012)
  • 2:40 – 2:55 PM: Coffee/Tea Break (WCC – 2012)
  • 3:00 – 3:50 PM: Showcase Presentations (WCC – 2012)
  • 4:00 – 5:20 PM: Access to Food Presentation (WCC – 2012)
  • 5:20 – 5:30 PM: Friday Wrap-Up (WCC – 2012)

Saturday, April 9, 2016 – Criminal Justice & Campus Protests

  • 9:30 – 9:45 AM: Continental Breakfast (Pound Hall)
  • 9:45 – 10:00 AM: Morning Introductions (Pound Hall)
  • 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM: KEYNOTE: Dean Strang (Pound Hall)
  • 11:10 AM – 12:30 PM: Right to Counsel Presentation (Pound Hall)
  • 12:30 – 12:45 PM: Lunch Pickup (Pound Hall)
  • 12:45 – 1:30 PM: Systemic Lawyering Panel (Pound Hall)
  • 2:00 – 3:00 PM: Justice Showcase #2 (Pound Hall)
  • 3:00 – 3:15 PM: Coffee/Tea Break (Pound Hall)
  • 3:30 – 4:50 PM: Campus Protests/Movement Panel (Pound Hall)
  • 5:00 – 6:00 PM: Student Narratives (Pound Hall)

Sunday, April 10, 2016 – Legal Education

  • 10:30 – 11:00 AM: Brunch (Pound Hall)
  • 11:00 AM – 12:20 PM: Legal Education Presentation #1 (Pound Hall)
  • 12:30 – 1:00 PM: Legal Education Presentation #2 (Pound Hall)
  • 1:00 – 1:15 PM: Pick up Lunch (Pound Hall)
  • 1:20 – 2:00 PM: Legal Pedagogy 2.0 Panel (Pound Hall)
  • 2:00 – 2:40 PM: Systemic Curriculum Panel (Pound Hall)
  • 2:50 – 3:20 PM: Breakout Session (w/coffee/tea) (Pound Hall)
  • 3:20 – 4:00 PM: Movement Building & Wrap-up (Pound Hall)

May the Force be With You

By Carson Wheet

I love negotiation theory. In fact, I hope to make a long career out of teaching others how to negotiate effectively, but every time someone asks me about my future profession, their eyes glaze over as I describe how one can use empathy and self-awareness to get what he or she wants. I have discovered that, to many people, effective negotiation is little more than a combination of deception, strong-arming, and mind control:

It’s tricking some sucker into paying twice what a car is worth.

It’s using leverage to fleece a business partner for every penny she’s got.

It’s convincing a group of Stormtroopers that “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”

Although I realize that the last situation may seem out of place, the recent Star Wars craze has compelled me to consider parallels between negotiation and the Star Wars universe. In that pursuit, I have discovered that, much like “The Force,” negotiation tactics can be used for good, but they can also have a “Dark Side.”

As I mentioned earlier, two underlying principles of effective negotiation are empathy and self-awareness. When one is not only empathetic toward the other side’s position, but also self-aware of his or her own interests, goals, and defaults, it is much easier to obtain a good result. This is because one can better create value working with, rather than against, a counterpart, and it is much easier to get what you want when you fully understand what you want. Nevertheless, being empathetic to a counterpart is often seen as “soft” or “weak.” People fear that working with a negotiation counterpart opens the door for that counterpart to take advantage of them. As Master Yoda said, though, “Fear is the path to the dark side.”

Fear is at least one major reason why people use difficult tactics. People fear being taken advantage of or “losing” a negotiation so they will often deceive, strong-arm, or trick a counterpart before the same can be done to them. There is a generally held notion that nice people get taken advantage of, so in order to negotiate effectively, you have to be “tough.” While aggressive or deceitful tactics can be effective negotiation techniques in the short term, they often have a deleterious effect on future negotiations. To demonstrate this point, consider how you would respond if someone were aggressive or deceitful towards you in a negotiation. Seriously…think about it…

I’ll wait…

Got it?


I am willing to bet that your reaction would be either to swear a solemn vow to never deal with that person again or to fight fire with fire.[1] Neither outcome is conducive to a long-term relationship, but I would imagine that your reaction would be exponentially more visceral if the negotiation had touched on a central piece of your identity such as gender, race, nationality, or religion. Emotionally charged negotiations require emotional intelligence, which is sadly neglected in most law school settings. Fortunately, this past semester I was able to participate in a pilot program called Real Talk, which was designed to facilitate constructive conversations about emotionally sensitive subjects like race, gender, and identity.

My role in Real Talk was to facilitate dialogue about sensitive issues among six of my classmates from diverse backgrounds. Despite the fact that this blog began with a discussion about negotiations, I want to be clear that there is a huge difference between negotiation and facilitation. Whereas negotiation is about getting what you want and convincing another party to agree to something, facilitation is about opening space for others to express themselves and hear perspectives that are different from their own. In Real Talk, my goal as a facilitator was to foster safe and constructive dialogue about issues that affect our campus and nation as a whole such as racism, sexism, and white supremacy. Although Real Talk sessions were not negotiations, many of the tools and emotional intelligence that I had developed to manage emotional negotiations turned out to be extremely helpful in facilitating these discussions. In my small group, I utilized effective negotiation techniques such as asking open-ended questions, paraphrasing responses, and acknowledging emotions in order to foster deep and meaningful conversations.

Midway through the semester, I was very happy with the conversations that were taking place in my Real Talk group and I was personally satisfied with how I had begun confronting difficult conversations in my own life. I had finally stopped tip-toeing around controversial issues and, to be honest, I was pretty proud of myself—that is, I was proud of myself until one day in late November when I tried talking about racism with a good friend of mine. In response to my invitation to talk, my friend said, “You and me can talk [un]til we’re blue in the face, but it won’t change ****.” As a result of this exchange, I began having doubts about the significance of Real Talk and difficult conversations as a whole. In the face of so many difficult issues, maybe conversation was pointless? Maybe Dark Side negotiation tactics were the answer after all? Maybe change is only possible when you force people to do what you want? As I look back on the semester now though, you might say that I have “A New Hope” for the role of conversation in helping people get to a place where change becomes possible.

Nationally, there is reason to believe that the recent media attention given to race issues in America has shed light on institutional oppression and changed the minds of many who believed that racism was a thing of the past. A recent study reveals that in the past eighteen months, a significant percentage of Americans went from believing that the country had achieved equality to believing that changes need to be made to the status quo. Anecdotally, I have personally witnessed the transformation of individuals from indifferent bystanders to zealous advocates for racial justice. Their transformation was not the result of deception, strong-arming, or Jedi mind tricks. Their transformation was facilitated by conversations that increased empathy, understanding, and humanity and thereby opened people’s minds to the possibility of something else. In other words, talking can “change ****.” It is not always fast and it is not the sexiest agent of change, but it is available to all of us and costs nothing to try. If you do try, sincerely and consistently, you may find, as I have, that conversations about sensitive issues can make someone question truths that he or she never doubted until they heard the story told from another person’s perspective.

For all my Star Wars references in this blog, I actually disagree with the premise of someone being an agent entirely of the dark side or the light side. As Darth Vader showed us in the end, we are all full of nuances and contradictions. Good and evil. We are capable of enriching the lives of others and depressing those who stand in the way of our desires. The moments that define who we are and what we stand for are ever-present. It falls to each one of us to determine how we want to proceed in those moments. Do we want to live in fear and take advantage of people before they can do the same to us? Or do we want to put down our light sabers for a moment—to actively seek and consider the perspectives of people who think differently than us? Conversations can change people, but they can’t start themselves. It falls on each of us to incorporate some version of Real Talk into our daily lives if we are to overcome all the fear and misunderstandings that exist among strangers.

Help me, dearest reader. You’re my only hope!

[1] See Roger Fisher, William Ury & Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In 131 (3d ed. 2011).

“They Came in Like Rambo”


From Today’s Washington Posta major investigation about the systemic trauma inflicted on the black community by the militarized and unconstitutional search warrant practices of the DC police.  (The article highlights the important work being done by by Systemic Justice Project Board of Advisors member Alec Karakatsanis.)  Here’s an excerpt:

Sallie Taylor was sitting in her apartment in Northeast Washington one evening in January 2015 watching “Bible Talk” when her clock fell off the wall and broke. She turned and looked up. Nine D.C. police officers smashed through her door, a shotgun was pointed at her face and she was ordered to the floor.

“They came in like Rambo,” said Taylor, a soft-spoken 63-year-old grandmother who was dressed in a white nightgown and said she has never had even a speeding ticket.

The heavily armed squad thought they were searching the residence of a woman arrested two miles away the previous night for carrying a half-ounce vial of PCP.

Taylor, who did not know the woman, was terrified. Trembling, she told police that the woman did not live there. Officers spent 30 minutes searching the house anyway, going through her boxes and her underwear drawer. They found no drugs and left without making an arrest.

The search warrant executed at Taylor’s apartment cited no evidence of criminal activity there. Instead, in an affidavit to a judge, police argued that they should be able to search for drugs there based on their “training and experience” investigating the drug trade. They relied on an address they found in a court-records system for the woman arrested with PCP.

A Washington Post review of 2,000 warrants served by D.C. police between January 2013 and January 2015 found that 284 — about 14 percent — shared the characteristics of the one executed at Taylor’s apartment. In every case, after arresting someone on the street for possession of drugs or a weapon, police invoked their training and experience to justify a search of a residence without observing criminal activity there. The language of the warrants gave officers broad leeway to search for drugs and guns in areas saturated by them and to seize phones, computers and personal records.

In about 60 percent of the 284 cases, police executing the warrants found illegal items, ranging from drug paraphernalia to guns, The Post found. The amounts of drugs recovered were usually small, ranging from residue to marijuana cigarettes to rocks of cocaine. About 40 percent of the time — in 115 cases — police left empty-handed.

In a dozen instances, The Post found, officers acted on incorrect or outdated address information, subjecting such people as Taylor to the fright of their lives.

Almost all of the 284 raids occurred in black communities. In 276 warrants in which The Post could determine a suspect’s race, just three originated with arrests of white suspects. The remaining 99 percent involved black suspects. In the District, 94 percent of people arrested in 2013 for gun or drug charges were black, according to FBI crime data.

The 284 warrants reviewed by The Post differ from the usual pattern of police warrants. D.C. police have said at public hearings that the typical raid happens only after undercover officers or confidential informants have purchased drugs or guns from inside a home or police have conducted surveillance there.

The searches are occurring at a time when public attention is highly focused on interactions between police and blacks nationwide, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and concern about the aftereffects of the drug war. In Maryland this month, lawmakers proposed legislation that would require police to reimburse residents for damage to their property when police execute a warrant and find nothing. In Philadelphia, police were criticized in October by the executive director of the city’s citizen review board for harsh treatment of residents during raids.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from “unreasonable searches,” generally requiring government agents to obtain a warrant from a judge by showing they have probable cause to think that they will find a specific item at a specific location. In recent decades, police have been given wide latitude by the courts to conduct searches aimed at removing drugs and guns from the streets.

Attorney Alec Karakatsanis, of the nonprofit group D.C.-based Equal Justice Under Law, said warrants that rely on training and experience as justification for a search subject the black community to abusive police intrusion based on flimsy investigative work. In the past two years, he has filed seven civil rights lawsuits in federal court challenging D.C. police’s practice of seeking search warrants based solely on an officer’s training and experience.

“They have turned any arrest anywhere in the city into an automatic search of a home, and that simply cannot be,” said Karakatsanis, who spent three years studying the issue, starting when he worked at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. “It would work a fundamental change in the balance of power in our society between government agents and individual rights.”


Read the entire article here.

Read more about the work that Alec and Equal Justice Under Law are doing here.

In an e-mail, Alec emphasized that:

“the stakes are enormous.  The D.C. police have defended their right to enter any person’s home based solely on the person being related to or associating with any person that police have arrested, and the police have claimed in federal court that they have the right to strip search any person they find in any home, even innocent people and even children as young as six years old.”

Related posts here.