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Michelle J. DePass Inspires at MLK Lecture

January 30, 2020

  • Michelle DePass at Lewis & Clark Law
  • Michelle DePass meets after the lecture with environmental and climate change professors, Lisa Benjamin, Janice Weis and Lucy Brehm.

Michelle J. DePass, President and CEO of Meyer Memorial Trust, inspired the Lewis & Clark community at the law school’s Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture on Tuesday, January 21.

Her speech centered on the theme of being an agitator, an idea that stemmed from the time when Martin Luther King Jr. was described as an “outside agitator.” King embraced the label, saying that, like the agitator in a washing machine, “I’m agitating to knock the dirt out of our society – discrimination, Jim Crow, segregation, racism… agitating to clean up our democracy. That’s what all of us need to do – agitate for a better America, a freer America, a fairer America.”

DePass shared her successes as an agitator for environmental justice – as well as a few of her challenges. She urged everyone in the audience to be an agitator. “I came looking for co-conspirators, agitators. Use your law degree to right wrongs and be ready to take advantage of opportunities.”

“We live in a participatory democracy. Power will only listen to power if you show up. It is often uncomfortable being an agitator, but I’ve learned to live with a certain amount of discomfort all the time.”

She shared five rules for agitators:

Rule #1: If what you want doesn’t exist, create it.

Rule #2: If you stay in your lane, you aren’t thinking big enough.

Rule #3: If you want people to take an issue seriously, make justice their responsibility.

Rule #4: Never miss the opportunity to right historic wrongs and leap forward.

Rule #5: Those we are agitating against will always say “now isn’t a good time for agitation.”

She concluded with an admonition for Oregonians, “In Oregon, we’d better be building a future for our community that spans the rural and the urban, the newcomers and the first-comers, because we all want the chance to live our dreams.”

Dean Jennifer Johnson thanked DePass, “for inspiring all of us with her life accomplishments for environmental justice and her hard-earned wisdom.”

Each year, Lewis & Clark Law School hosts an endowed lecture honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made possible by a generous grant from Jacqueline Alexander JD ’07 and Lee Matthews BS ’71, JD ’73.

In 2020, this lecture was one of a number of events celebrating 50 years of environmental law.

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