Dispatch from Cape Town: Day Two of Lawyering on the Margins

After a full and exciting day of site visits to some of the most inspiring and effective organizations in the world on sex worker and LGBT rights (see Katrina's blog on Day 1), it was time to hit the conference room and dive into the meat of the Lawyering on the Margins conference, the stories and personal trials and tribulations that drive us to do this work. Day 2 of the conference featured lawyers speaking on front line human rights issues from Eastern Europe and Africa, and a keynote address from Jennifer Williams of the Women's Legal Centre here in Cape Town. 

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

We started off the day on a very egalitarian and creative note, as each attendee was asked to stand beside a picture of their work and introduce themselves in a snapshot. Before arriving in Cape Town we were asked by the organizers at OSF to provide a photo of ourselves that captured the work that we do or a moment of victory from a campaign success. There was a lot of diversity in the shots; some depicted the personal one-on-one assistance social justice lawyers are often known for, others the allies and clients that make lawyering on the margins so unique, and one of an awkward redhead lawyer with a look of intensity as he spoke into a microphone. While Katrina chose to represent our work at Pivot with a picture from her epic trip to the Supreme Court of Canada on our SWUAV case, my shot was meant to depict the integration of media into our advocacy which has become a staple of many of Pivot's campaigns. Here is a short clip Katrina took of my introduction to the group, and the story behind the photo: 

If there is one thing that I have learned from this conference, it's that Pivot is not alone, and that is a very comforting feeling. The last two weeks have been very dramatic for me, and after spending two days last week in a room with over 100 police officers and lawyers who represent police services at the Western Canada Conference on the Law of Policing, I couldn't have appreciated the people I have met here in Cape Town more. Day 2 featured presentations from lawyers who work in some of the most hostile environments for human rights in the world, where they personally face persecution and threats by their governments, and their ability to continue on despite these obstacles is beyond inspiring. In the afternoon we held a rousing debate on whether or not international law has any practical effect on advancing social change, with the room being interestingly split almost down the center between the two sides. 

Not surprisingly the level of discourse at this conference has been intensely high, and the second day of Lawyering on the Margins has made it abundantly clear that each lawyer in the room feels a deep personal conviction in their work.