2022 Keynote

Colette Pichon Battle 2019 Obama Fellow [PREFERRED].jpeg

Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy 

Colette Pichon Battle is a generational native of Bayou Liberty, Louisiana. As founder and Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP), she develops programming focused on equitable disaster recovery, global migration, community economic development, climate justice, and energy democracy. 


Colette worked with local communities, national funders, and elected officials in the post-Katrina and post-Deepwater Horizon disaster recovery. She was a lead coordinator for Gulf South Rising 2015, a regional initiative around climate justice and just transition in the South. In 2015 Colette was selected as an Echoing Green Climate Fellow, in 2016 she was named a White House Champion of Change for Climate Equity, and in 2018 Kenyon College awarded her an Honorary Doctorate. In 2019, Colette was named an Obama Fellow for her work with Black and Native communities on the frontline of climate change and she gave a TED Talk, “Climate change will displace millions. Here’s how we prepare.” In 2021, Colette was appointed a Margaret Burroughs Community Fellow. In addition to developing advocacy initiatives that intersect with race, systems of power, and ecology, Colette directs GCCLP’s legal services in immigration and disaster law.


Under Colette's leadership, the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy co-chairs the national Water Equity and Climate Resilient Caucus with PolicyLink, serves on the steering committee of the Ocean Justice Forum, and anchors the five-state, multi-issue initiative Gulf South for a Green New Deal. Colette also leads the Red, Black & Green New Deal, the national climate initiative for the Movement for Black Lives. 

Colette serves on the boards of the US Climate Action Network and the Highlander Research and Education Center, is a member of the Movement for Black Lives policy table leadership team, advises the Kataly Foundation’s Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective, and chairs the Equity Advisory Group of the Louisiana Governor’s Climate Initiative Task Force.


Participatory Defense: Reimagining the Public Defender Relationship



Mary DeFusco: Training Director of Defender Association of Philadelphia

Carlie Ware: Deputy Public Defender at the Santa Clara Public Defenders

Chantel Pridgon: Participatory Defense Organizer at Grassroots Leadership (Austin)

Carl Nix: Criminal Justice Participatory Defense Organizer & Bond Fund Organizer at Grassroots Leadership (Houston)

Moderated by Tara Mikkilineni: Senior Attorney for Civil Rights Corp

Participatory defense is “a community organizing model for people facing charges, their families, and communities to impact the outcomes of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system.” The model was developed by Raj Jaydev and directly impacted folks working out of Silicon Valley De-Bug, a community organizing, advocacy, and multimedia storytelling organization in San José, California beginning in 2007. Participatory defense offers a way to fundamentally alter the traditional relationship that people involved with in the criminal legal system have with the system as a whole and with their attorney by allowing the individual and their community to take back a level of control and ownership of the process that the system is designed to take away. This panel will explore the concept of participatory defense, the experience of navigating the criminal legal system with the support of a participatory defense hub, and how public defenders can integrate participatory defense into their practice.


Labor Organizing and Worker Power in a Post-Pandemic Texas


Kim Kelly: Journalist, Teen Vogue

Bo Delp: Executive Director of Texas Climate Jobs Project

Lauren Simmons-Mitchell: Lead Organizer of We Dream in Black, National Domestic Workers Alliance

Gina Dvorak: Unite Here Local 23 Organizer

Moderated by Jared Schwartz: Student at the University of Texas School of Law

The onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020 and its devastating effects on working people have exacerbated existing tensions between workers and employers, with stagnant wages and growing corporate profits continuing to stratify haves and have-nots. In turn, labor unions are now looked on with the most favorability they have enjoyed since 1965, with two-thirds of the U.S. population’s approval. As recent as October 2021, media outlets and many unions used #Striketober and the “Great Resignation” to describe a large number of strikes, walkouts, and collective actions at John Deere, Kellogg, and many other employers across the country. In this panel, we will examine how the pandemic has changed the dynamics of labor organizing, the future of labor movements in right-to-work states like Texas, and the role of labor lawyers in this dynamic and urgent fight for workers’ rights.


Unhoused Criminalization

Speakers: COMING SOON!

The criminalization of unhoused people has an unfortunately long history in the U.S. Since the 1980s, growing numbers of states and municipalities have enacted camping bans and similar legislation aimed at punishing loitering, begging, panhandling, and sitting/lying in public places. As more people have become unhoused, especially in the wake of socioeconomic turmoil caused by the COVID pandemic, tent cities have become increasingly common. In turn, lawmakers and law enforcement have responded by criminalizing, raiding, and destroying tent cities. In Austin, 2020’s Prop B made our home a very recent adopter of policies meant to criminalize the very existence of unhoused people, buttressed by Texas state legislation that rolls back funding for cities that do not enforce similar ordinances. In this panel, we will examine how providing services - direct aid, legal, and otherwise - for unhoused people has changed in the wake of the pandemic and in cities where these laws have been enacted.


Ableism and its Impact on Immigration, Detention, and Other Border Issues



Erin Thorn Vela: Texas Civil Rights Project

Liz Jordan: Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (Denver, CO)

Cesar Vega: Rhizome Center (Guadalajara, Mexico)

Moderated by Professor Medha Makhlouf: Assistant Professor of Law and
Founding Director of the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic at Penn State Dickinson Law

Ableism is the discrimination of and social prejudice against peoples based on the belief that those who have certain abilities (such as the ability to see, hear, or speak a certain language) are superior/ more deserving than those without those abilities. This type of discrimination can be even more significant when it occurs within communities already experiencing marginalization. This panel will explore the difficulties that ableism poses in the immigration and disability spheres and open a broader dialogue about the difficulties experienced by members of these communities throughout the various stages of litigation. 

Censorship against Palestine: Free Speech and the Right to Boycott


Faizan Syed: Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR - DFW)

An Attorney from Palestine Legal

In the United States, the movement for Palestinian rights is growing. From BLM activists in Ferguson to dockworkers in Oakland to the floor of the U.S. House, people of all races and creeds are coming together to put an end to the oppression of the Palestinian people. (Even Ben & Jerry’s has joined the cause.) Unfortunately, non-violent forms of protest—like boycotting certain products—have come under fire from Israeli advocacy groups. Almost every state in the South has passed laws to try and stifle free speech on this issue. Some states limit a government contractor’s right to boycott. Other states conflate any criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism. How will these issues play out in the courts? And what impact, if any, do these laws in the United States have on the struggle for human rights around the world?


Climate Change and People: Refugees, Justice, and Disaster Relief



Kristen Schlemmer: Legal Director and Waterkeeper at Bayou City Waterkeeper

Lesley Albritton: Project Manager of the Disaster Relief Project at North Carolina Legal Aid

Moderated by Kelly Haragan: Director of the Environmental Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law

As the planet heats up and our collective response to the climate crisis doesn't, we're going to face more disastrous weather events. Whether these lead to climate refugees or the destruction of communities that refuse to move, we are going to have to have a plan so that the actions we take in response to these emergencies don't exacerbate the injustices that have lead us to this point. What disasters should we expect to see? What plans should we make to respond to them?

Heading 1

Housing and Poverty


Nefertitti Jackmon: Housing & Policy Planning Manager - Displacement Mitigation at City of Austin

Famously, Austin is home to some of the country's most lucrative companies. Fortune 500s Dell and Oracle are soon to welcome another a peer to the city, Tesla. But how easy is it to call Austin home? With rising home and rental prices, Austin shares the growing pains of other major American cities. And like peer cities, the pains of growth and displacement are most acutely felt by the poorest Austinites. The panelists assembled will speak to the intersection of housing, growth, and poverty in Austin and detail how the city might provide a more equitable home in the Texas capital.