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Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer Symposium

Since 1984, the Edward V. Sparer Symposium has been one of the Law School’s cornerstone events. By focusing on urgent social justice issues of our time, the Sparer Symposium commemorates the life and work of the late Edward V. Sparer, Professor of Law and Social Policy. The Symposium brings together academics, practitioners, community members, activists, and organizers to provide insight into the dynamic relationship between scholarship and practice in the area of poverty law.

42nd Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

The 42nd Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium will be held on Friday, February 10, 2023 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm EST.

This year’s symposium titled, Democracy from the Ground Up: The Power of People-Centered Advocacy, will examine the fragile state of our democracy. Through interdisciplinary conversations with experts, activists, and scholars from across the country, we will investigate alternative modes of organizing and how the power of the collective can protect our fracturing democracy. This symposium will take the form of moderated panels on voting rights, state and local elections, labor organizing, and the future of organizing and legal strategy.

This year’s symposium will be fully in-person.

Click here to register for the 42nd Annual Sparer Symposium  


8:30 AM | Registration and Continental Breakfast


9:00 AM | Opening Remarks

Ayanna Williams, Associate Director for the Toll Public Service Corps

9:30 AM | Neither Abridged Nor Denied: Addressing the Ongoing Threat of Voter Suppression (1.0 substantive/0.5 ethics CLE)

One driver of decreased confidence in our political system has been the explosion of voter suppression tactics deliberately aimed at disrupting the democratic process. This discussion will explore historic and current policies used to undermine voting rights, including misinformation, voter intimidation, overly complex voting procedures, voting bans, gerrymandering, and more. By examining the legal and extra-legal barriers that inhibit voting as well as the legal strategies that organizations are utilizing to combat voter disenfranchisement, we can begin to advocate for more equitable access and fair representation for all people. 

Patrick Berry L’18, Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice

Blair Bowie L’17, Senior Legal Counsel and Restore Your Vote Manager, Campaign Legal Center

Marian K. Schneider, Senior Voting Rights Policy Counsel, ACLU-PA

James Tucker SJD’01, LLM’98, Senior Special Counsel, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Voting Rights Project  

11:00 AM | All Change Is Local: The Power of State and Local Elections  (1.5 ethics CLE)

Known as the birthplace of American democracy, Philadelphia is where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where representatives laid the framework for the United States Constitution. More recently, Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania more generally, have been at the center of political and legal challenges confronting the democratic process. Through a discussion with elected officials and political leaders, this panel will explore methods of democratic participation with a focus on the issues that most directly affect Philadelphians and ways to strengthen democracy from the ground up.

Lisa M. Deeley, Chair, Philadelphia City Commissioners 

Jamie Gauthier, Councilmember, Philadelphia City Council   

12:30 PM | Lunch


1:00 PM | Laboratories of Democracy: What Unions Teach Us About Change  (1.5 substantive CLE)

Justice Louis Brandeis was one of the first to popularize the idea of states as “laboratories of democracy.” So too are unions. Recent years have seen the success of organizing drives at corporate powerhouses such as Starbucks, Amazon, and Apple. This panel will explore the methods and motivations behind these historic union organizing drives, elections, and contracts, as well as share lessons from those who organize workers on building solidarity and harnessing people power to bring about political change.

Jennifer Abruzzo, General Counsel, National Labor Relations Board 

Seth Goldstein, Partner, Julien, Mirer, Singla, & Goldstein LLC 

Helen Gym, Philadelphia Mayoral Candidate and former Member of the Philadelphia City Counsel 

Christopher Smalls, Founder and President, Amazon Labor Union 

2:30 PM | Radical Legal and Community Strategies Towards Democracy  (1.0 substantive/0.5 ethics CLE)

What does the future legal movement demand to protect democracy and civil rights? Specifically, how do community care and mutual aid intertwine with legal strategy? The goal of the panel is to explore radical and transformative legal strategies that center community care, elevate the voices of the marginalized, and move us toward a truly democratic society.

Cynthia Alvarado, Writer and Educator, Advocate for Change 

Bruce Reilly, Deputy Director, VOTE: Voice of the Experienced and Voters Organized to Educate 

Dean Spade, Professor, Seattle University School of Law  

4:00 PM | Keynote Address (1.0 substantive CLE)

Esosa Osa, Deputy Executive Director of Fair Fight Action

5:00 PM | Dinner


This program has been approved for 7.0 CLE credits (4.5 substantive and 2.5 ethics credits) for Pennsylvania lawyers. CLE credit may be available in other jurisdictions as well. Attendees seeking CLE credit can make a payment via cash or check made payable to The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania on the day of the event or prior to the event via credit card via the online registration link in the amount of $140.00 ($70.00 public interest/non-profit attorneys).

Penn Carey Law Alumni receive CLE credits free through The W.P. Carey Foundation’s generous commitment to Lifelong Learning.

Sparer 2021

Reimagining Freedom

40th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer 2019

Divesting from State Violence

38th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer 2016

A Country Divided

36th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer 2014

Law 2.0: Progress and Challenges for Justice in the Digital Age

34th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer 2011

Partnering Against Poverty

30th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium

Sparer 2009

Crime in the City

28th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium