Over the past several decades, the United States government has been ambivalent, and sometimes openly hostile, to economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights. This past year, however, the Obama administration acknowledged that it has obligations for ESC rights, both in its reports to the UN Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review, as well as in a speech by Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, before the American Society of International Law in March 2011. As a result of this new development, it is timely for human rights scholars and practitioners to re-examine strategies for advancing ESC rights in the United States.

The “Institute on Framing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for Mobilization and Advocacy: Towards a Strategic Agenda in the United States” is a collaborative effort by the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy at Northeastern University School of Law, the ESC Rights Working Group of the Bringing Human Rights Home Network based at the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative and Human Rights USA. The Institute will bring together the legal activists in the Working Group and academics engaged in sophisticated social movement analysis to think through strategies for moving an ESC rights agenda forward in the United States.

In particular, the Institute will focus on the role that lawyers can play in strategic and effective framing of ESC rights. Frames function as both interpretive lenses and motivational collective understandings. As lawyers, we work with both grassroots constituents and policymakers, framing and mediating ESC rights issues for both audiences. The specific frames that we choose in our work can have a tremendous impact on the public understanding of these issues and on the movement’s success. Far from being a public relations trick, frames are critical to mobilization of constituencies and serve as an essential platform for moving the work forward. Collectively struggling to identify the most effective frames for ESC rights advancement is a key step for lawyers working to support and empower this movement. Considering such diverse topics as housing, health and decent work, Institute participants will begin to develop effective frames for the multiple forums in which ESC rights are shaped and contested, such as media, grassroots organizing, legislative advocacy and litigation.

Institute Sponsors

• Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy, Northeastern University School of Law
• Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute
• The National and Economic Social Rights Initiative
• Human Rights USA

In collaboration with the ESCR Working Group of the Bringing Human Rights Home Lawyers Network

Public Sessions: November 3, 2011
Download the Institute Rport Here

Keynote Speaker: Marshall Ganz, The Harvard Kennedy School


Marshall Ganz, senior lecturer in public policy the Harvard Kennedy School, entered Harvard College in the fall of 1960. In 1964, a year before graduating, he left to volunteer as a civil rights organizer in Mississippi. In 1965, he joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers; over the next 16 years he gained experience in union, community, issue and political organizing and became Director of Organizing. During the 1980s, he worked with grassroots groups to develop effective organizing programs, designing innovative voter mobilization strategies for local, state, and national electoral campaigns. In 1991, in order to deepen his intellectual understanding of his work, he returned to Harvard College and, after a 28-year "leave of absence," completed his undergraduate degree in history and government. He was awarded an MPA by the Kennedy School in 1993 and completed his PhD in sociology in 2000. He teaches, researches, and writes on leadership, organization, and strategy in social movements, civic associations and politics.

Keynote Discussant: Catherine Albisa, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI)


Catherine Albisa, executive director of NESRI, is a constitutional and human rights lawyer with a background on the right to health. Ms. Albisa also has significant experience working in partnership with community organizers in the use of human rights standards to strengthen advocacy in the United States. She co-founded NESRI along with Sharda Sekaran and Liz Sullivan in order to build legitimacy for human rights in general, and economic and social rights in particular, in the United States. She is committed to a community-centered and participatory human rights approach that is locally anchored, but universal and global in its vision. Ms. Albisa clerked for the Honorable Mitchell Cohen in the District of New Jersey. She received a BA from the University of Miami and is a graduate of Columbia Law School.

Confirmed Speakers

Ken Bailey,
The Design Studio for Social Intervention
Maisie Chin,
Community Asset Development Re-defining Education
Larry Cox, Amnesty International
James Haslam , Vermont Workers' Center
Richard Healey, Grassroots Policy Project
Steve Hitov, General Counsel, Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Bill Kennedy, Legal Services of Northern California
Tara Melish, University at Buffalo Law School 
Robert Raben, Raben Group 

Dinner Speaker: Kenneth Bailey, Sector Organizing and Strategy Lead, Design Studio for Social Intervention

Kenneth Bailey
Kenneth Bailey started his activism in the early 1980s as a teenager, working in his neighborhood for tenants' rights and decent housing, targeting the St. Louis Housing Authority. He went on to work for COOL, a national campus-based student organizing program, and then moved to Boston where he worked for the Ten Point Coalition, Interaction Institute for Social Change, and Third Sector New England, as well as being on the board for Resource Generation. Most recently he has been a trainer and a consultant, primarily on issues of organizational development and community building. He first realized the need for a more "designerly" approach to community work while developing parts of the Boston Community Building Curriculum for The Boston Foundation. This workshop asked community activists and residents to think about creative ways to work with their community assets — existing social relationships, individual's gifts and skills, and untapped local resources. Many community residents remained locked in conventional nonprofit approaches to working with community assets. They weren't obliged to, they just knew no other way. He realized then that activists needed new tools to redesign approaches for community change, which led him to build a design studio for social activism.

Closed Sessions: November 4, 2011

Workshop Leaders

William Gamson, Boston College
William Gamson is a Professor of Sociology at Boston College. He is the author of Talking Politics and The Strategy of Social Protest, among other books and articles on political discourse, the mass media and social movements. He is a past president of the American Sociological Association.  Professor Gamson is currently working on the Global Justice Game, a tool for the global justice movement to use in training activists and for critical pedagogy in teaching undergraduate courses on globalization issues. The full game consists of seven cases, each based on a different scenario.


Charlotte Ryan, UMASS Lowell
Prior to becoming a sociologist, Charlotte Ryan worked as an organizer in labor, community, health and anti-intervention movements. She teaches environmental sociology, participatory communication, as well as collaborative and field-based research methods at UMASS-Lowell, where she is affiliated with the Center for Family, Work and Community.  Professor Ryan authored Prime Time Activism  and, with MRAP veterans David Croteau and William Hoynes, she co-edited Rhyming Hope and History: Activists, Academics and Social Movement Scholarship. She collaborates with regional and national social movement organizations working to integrate movement and communication strategies. Her current popular writing project is An Activist’s Guide to Frame Analysis. Her current research involves documenting and analyzing the development of a 10-year scholar-activist partnership.

PHRGE Student Writing Competition on Human Rights

The annual PHRGE writing competition is run in conjunction with the ESCR Institute. Find out about the competition details.

Selected Readings for Institute 

Charlotte Ryan & William A. Gamson, “The Art of Reframing Political Debates,” 5 Contexts 13, 2006. View Article

Bill Kennedy, Emily Fisher, Colin Bailey, “Framing a Persuasive Advocacy Message,” 43 Clearinghouse Review 407, 2010. View Article

Amy C. Finnegan, Adam P. Saltsman, Shelley K. White, “Negotiating Politics and Culture: The Utility of Human Rights for Activist Organizing in the United States,” 2 Journal of Human Rights Practice 307, 2010. View Article

Posner, Michael, "The Four Freedoms Turn 70". 24 March 2011. View Speech.