Erik Lampmann

Erik Lampmann has served as the Courts Matter Youth Leadership Consultant at People for the American Way Foundation. Erik has also served as the Klagsbrun Fellow in the Alliance for Justice’s (AFJ) Outreach Department. His principle responsibility at AFJ was building a national campaign around AFJ’s “First Monday” film, Lost in the Fine Print. Before AFJ Erik served as one of six student thought-leaders within the nation’s largest student think-tank, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. Erik has conducted grant-funded research on democratic theory, spent time at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, and completed an honors thesis project on the changing French legal landscape for LGBTQ people. Erik has sat on the Board of GLSEN for Richmond, won honors for his LGBTQ organizing from Virginia Pride, and worked as a 2011 Young People For (YP4) Fellow. His writing has appeared in The Nation, [Young]ist, The Indypendent, The NextNewDeal, and Erik graduated Phi Beta Kappa summa cum laude from the University of Richmond with majors in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law (PPEL) and French. You can reach Erik at


    Issues Areas:
  • Education Justice
  • Trans* and Queer Liberation
  • Legal and Judicial Activism
  • Racial Justice

Campus: Richmond, VA

Fellowship Class Year: 2011

Blueprint: Ensuring Inclusivity of Queer Youth in Richmond

By creating a unified community of queer youth and inclusivity activists in the City of Richmond, Erik hoped to build capacity and awareness within public schools' teachers, counselors, and administrators around the issues faced by queer youth and particularly queer youth of color in their city. The first step of his Blueprint was to expand the University of Richmond's community engagement in the Greater RIchmond area by cementing relationships between surrounding schools, school districts, and educational leaders. Erik planned to craft a Safe Zone curriculum tailored to the needs of students and dealing with the intersections of race and sexuality and implemented an improved Safe Zone program in the Richmond City Public School system.

Erik Lampmann's Blog Posts

“I think of voting as a chess move, not a valentine.”

In a piece for published last week in The Nation, the writer and activist Rebecca Solnit spoke powerfully about the importance of voting as a strategic choice rather than a solemn duty. Writing, “I think of voting as a chess move, not a valentine,” she evoked sentiments that resonated with us here as YP4 staff — that in casting our ballots we cannot invest all our hopes in any one candidate or institution but that through the act of voting, we’re making a deliberate choice of who we want to work with.

Over the past several months, nearly 60 YP4 Civic Engagement and Vote Fellows from the 2015 and 2016 YP4 Fellowship Classes have organized in 24 states to mobilize their communities in today’s local, state, and federal elections.

Our folks have ensured prisoners in Suffolk County, Massachusetts’s pre-trial detention program have access to their absentee ballots. They’ve organized marches through Hattiesburg, Mississippi to the polls, convened conversations with immigrant and refugee communities in Kentucky about civic engagement, supported vote organizing in the Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota, and worked with local government to explore pathways which would allow undocumented folks to potentially cast ballots in municipal elections.

In doing so, our folks have organized not only because they know tonight’s electoral outcomes will shape our political landscape for years to come; they organized because they knew that building power — building movements — requires a tangible effort to bring our communities from the margins to the center of our society’s social, political, and economic concerns.

In solidarity with our organizers across the country and holding in our heads and our hearts the urgency of this election to the most vulnerable in our communities, we urge you to make your voices heard today — by voting, if you’re able, and by continuing to build bold, unapologetic movements for liberation.

Your YP4 family is with you come what may, and we are committed to holding space for our communities to not only survive the peaks and valleys of electoral politics but grow a robust, pluralistic democracy which addresses our needs and reflects our dreams for the future.

To echo Solnit’s closing words, “We need to build a road through elections toward justice, to get on that road and never stop.”

In solidarity — today and always,

Alicia, Andrea, Erik, Maryssa, Mike, and Saryn

YP4 Staff Mobilizes in Support of #NoDAPL

Native and Indigenous activists gather to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo credit: New York Times. 

Wednesday afternoon, I joined YP4’s Communications Associate Saryn Francis on the steps of the US District Court here in Washington, DC to stand in solidarity with Native and Indigenous activists resisting the latest attempt by a major corporation to run an oil pipeline through the Great Plains. We lifted our voices in protest to draw attention to the potentially disastrous ecological consequences of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) but also to recommit ourselves to challenging past, present, and future manifestations of settler colonialism in the US.

Standing alongside these activists, we came to realize that this particular pipeline was significant not only because of the ways it would hasten the devastation of global climate change but for what it says about the sovereignty of Native and Indigenous peoples.

The DAPL has faced unified opposition from Native and Indigenous peoples as well as non-Native folks since it was originally proposed. The $3.8 billion, 1,134-mile DAPL is slated to carry over 500,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil from Canada through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois — crossing under the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers as well as sacred Siouan burial grounds along the way.  The sheer scope of this endeavor has earned the DAPL a haunting nickname: “The Next Keystone XL.”

At the crux of this issue are two inter-related concerns. On the one hand, folks across the Plains States are worried by reports that there’s up to a 57 percent chance that the DAPL will experience a catastrophic leak at some point during its operation. On the other hand, Native and Indigenous communities are outraged that they were not sufficiently consulted by the federal government or private corporations prior to the construction of the DAPL. And, they’re mortified that this pipeline is being allowed to bulldoze through sacred tribal sites.

Wednesday’s protests — not just in Washington, DC but around the country — are just the most recent mobilizations against these dual evils.

When Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of the Dallas-based oil giant Energy Transfer Partners LP, began construction on segments of the pipeline last spring, Native activists in North Dakota began a series of coordinated direct actions to halt construction in its tracks. The Standing Rock Sioux, whose reservation lies hundreds of feet from the proposed pipeline route, built the “Camp of Sacred Stones” as a prayer and protest site close to the entrance to Dakota Access LLP’s construction sites. According to Indian Country Today Media Network, close to 4,000 water protectors have gathered at similar camps along the Missouri River in opposition to the DAPL.

As organizers occupy strategic sites in protest, lawyers for the Standing Rock Sioux and Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy organization, have sued the pipeline’s owners for both failing to consult the tribe on construction plans (beyond the offer to inspect two sites along the DAPL’s path) and failing to conduct an environmental and archaeological analysis of Siouan sacred sites jeopardized by the DAPL’s construction.

We joined the #NoDAPL movement quite late in the game, leaving the YP4 offices Wednesday and traveling just 20 minutes to attend a rally outside of the courtroom where Standing Rock Sioux defendants were fighting for their collective survival. We knew from research and from conversations with Native partners that Wednesday’s action was a time for non-Native people to show up and learn from the example of Standing Rock Sioux organizers who’d traveled to DC to register their outrage and manifest their power alongside allies from across Indian Country.

And learn we did. Leaving the protest Wednesday, it became clear the extent to which the fight against the DAPL magnified historical and enduring violence targeting Native and Indigenous peoples. In a speech before hundreds of activists gathered in front of the DC District Court, a series of speakers mentioned that the pipeline was originally not supposed to come anywhere near Standing Rock Sioux land. In fact, it was to pass 10 miles north of Bismarck, North Dakota, a majority non-Native city of 70,000 inhabitants. After outcry from locals, many of whom were White, the pipeline was diverted within to within hundreds of feet of the Standing Rock’s Reservation boundary. This strategic and deliberate decision to protect the health of non-Natives at the expense of Native peoples sends a clear message, even today: in the eyes of the State and of Big Business, Native and Indigenous peoples are still disposable — their humanity is less pressing, less burdensome than that of White colonizers.

Later that afternoon, we learned that a federal judge had bought more time — telling lawyers for the Standing Rock Sioux that he “needed more time to think” before handing down a verdict. On September 9th, we expect to hear his decision, with a possible appeal already slated for September 14th. Sadly, it goes without saying that the individual empowered to make a decision on the Standing Rock Sioux’s fate in this case is himself non-Native — like all but one Native judge on the federal bench.

As a YP4 team, this gross injustice demands not only our sympathy for those affected by our action in support of those at the frontlines. We encourage you to sign this petition, organized by the Standing Rock Sioux, and donate when you’re able to redistribute resources to those fighting back against the DAPL at the Camp of Sacred Stones. On our end, the YP4 team is thinking strategically about ways to expand the ways we talk about settler colonialism in our curriculum, further develop partnerships with organizations working with Native and Indigenous youth, and amplify Indigenous resistance movements at our 2017 National Summit.

Join Us as #YP4Votes!

As we head into the final stretch of a major election, we are uniquely aware of the challenges many in our communities face when attempting to make their voices heard at the ballot box. Over the past several years, we know that conservatives have taken advantage of the Supreme Court’s assault on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to pass legislation which effectively bars many people of color, formerly incarcerated people, differently-abled people, as well as Transgender and Queer people from casting a vote. Furthermore, we know that formal democratic participation remains limited to those born in this country or naturalized — and that it excludes undocumented people.

Grounding ourselves in that knowledge, YP4 is committed to building a movement of young change agents who can push back on these barriers to full democratic participation and build a future where we can all survive and thrive.

This June, we convened a Civic Engagement and Vote Summit for a group of incoming 2016 YP4 Fellows passionate about working to build long-term political power in their communities. They worked with partner organizations to think through the implications of Voter ID laws and to deconstruct the increasingly corrosive effects of money in politics. Additionally, our Fellows learned best practices from YP4 alumni around getting folks and keeping folks engaged in civic engagement organizing for the long haul. As YP4 Fellows, staff, Alumni, and partners, we used our time together to build a movement which looks beyond traditional “get out the vote” organizing to strategically engage a system which bars many of us from even entering a voting booth. Before we closed that Summit, we collectively agreed that we must continue those dialogues with the friends, family members, and co-conspirers we would return to.

So, we brought out a camera and recorded members of the YP4 Civic Engagement and Vote Program–laying it all on the line. We captured our YP4 Fellows and Alumni speaking their own truth to power and upsetting antiquated models of electoral organizing in the process — and weren’t they powerful. That’s why, for the next three months, we’ll release a video every week of our young folks’ speaking about the importance of working through voter education and engagement to shift the balance of power in this country.

So, while not all of us can vote, we know that when members of the YP4 family act in support of one another, leveraging the power and vision of our communities, there’s nothing we can’t achieve. That’s why, #YP4Votes. Follow on with our hashtag and join us!


YP4’14 Cortney Sanders Explains What’s At Stake in Fisher v. UT Austin

On Wednesday, December 9th, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. UT Austin II, the second iteration of a landmark case on universities’ abilities to employ affirmative action policies when selecting from their undergraduate applicant pools. As we wait for transcripts from today’s arguments, YP4 wanted to take a step back and ask one of our own, YP4 ’14 Cortney Sanders, to talk about her work filing an amicus curiae brief in the first iteration of Fisher.


Can you describe the role you played as a student representative of the Black Student Alliance in Fisher I?

I employed my leadership skills and pioneered the filing of an amicus brief in favor of UT’s admission policy with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for the Black Student Alliance. On October 10, 2012, I was a student representative for the Fisher vs. The University of Texas case. In helping the Black Student Alliance file an amicus brief in support of UT, I spent hours working with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers learning about the admissions policy and developing a strategy to defend it. On campus, I organized student forums and panels with other student leaders and gave talks about the lawsuit in detail. Before going to Washington DC for the hearing, I wrote an op-ed piece for our school newspaper, the Daily Texan. The op-ed focused on the importance of diversity on campus and in our future careers. In my conclusion, I reminded readers of The University of Texas at Austin’s history of exclusion and urged them to support the inclusive policies we’ve enacted to right those wrongs.


Can you briefly explain why Fisher is back at the Court?

In Fisher I, the Supreme Court merely restated the requirements of existing precedent and instructed the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to re-evaluate the program with the correct standard. Now, in Fisher II, the Supreme Court will evaluate whether the Court of Appeal’s re-approval of the University admission policy can be sustained. This will likely be a review of whether the U.S. Court of Appeals properly applied the “strict scrutiny” standard, and the Court could itself perform a strict scrutiny analysis of the UT program. Thus, the Court’s decision in Fisher II will likely only directly affect the admissions process at UT. (Citation of NAACP LDF)

In general, everyone should care about this court case if they are in college, plan to attend college, or have a stake in higher education. As a matter of policy and practice, the Court’s evaluation of the UT program in Fisher II is likely to impact programs across the nation as colleges and universities work to comply with any new review standards articulated by the Court.

As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Fisher II, what are some of the most important things to watch for?

The Supreme Court reiterated its holding that diversity is a compelling interest when it first heard this case in 2012. This time around we are talking about the standards of the court. People should pay attention to the past opinions and the swing vote, Justice Kennedy.

Also, watch for the mobilization of colleges and universities that are also concerned about diversity and inclusion. This is the perfect time for progressive youth to support each other and host forums about the case. Whatever the decision, every college student will be effected from policy to emotional potentials.

Would Fisher have been admitted to UT but for its consideration of race in admissions?

According to UT, Fisher would not have been admitted to UT’s Fall 2008 freshman class even if UT had not considered race as one factor among many in its holistic review. Abigail Fisher applied for admission in Business Administration or Liberal Arts. She had a combined SAT score of 1180 out of 1600 and a cumulative 3.59 GPA. Because Fisher was not in the top 10% of her high school class, her application was considered in the holistic review process. Petitioner’s Academic Index (a combination of her high school GPA and SAT scores) was 3.1, and she received a Personal Achievement Index score of less than 6 (the actual score is contained in a sealed brief, ECF No. 52). Due to the stiff competition in 2008 and Fisher’s relatively low Academic Index, UT states that she would not have been admitted to the Fall 2008 freshman class even if she had received a perfect PAI score of 6. Fisher attended and recently graduated from Louisiana State University(Citation NAACP LDF).

Why do Courts Matter to you?

Courts matter because it is an opportunity to hear both sides of the story. Courts yield a platform that allows voices to be heard that often are not at the table. Fisher is an average student with a personal concern, the courts, allows her to be a representative to a massive voice and her ideas become important. This has been the case for several cases in the past and I think that is what makes the courts special. The UT Black Students Alliance along with other organizations, companies, and groups now have a voice in the legal system. The values that we give our democracy are highlighted when we use political structures such as Courts. In general, the courts are one way to get the issue out to the public when no other venue is listening.

As the Supreme Court Returns to Session, Young People Should Get Organized

To little fanfare (nay even one Buzzfeed listicle), the Supreme Court returned to session earlier this month on the first Monday of October, per its tradition. On the Court’s docket for the 2015-2016 term are cases critical to the progressive movement. As YP4 builds a youth movement for meaningful, lasting change, we know understanding the issues before the Court is important. Let’s tackle them one at a time.

  • Elections and Voting Rights: In two cases—one from Arizona and one from Texas—the Court’s been asked to weigh in on the apportionment of electoral districts. The Court’s rulings on whether and how to apply the “one person, one vote” principle to redistricting conversations may well shift the political landscape of elections for the next generation.
  • Economic Justice: In Friedrichs v. California Teachers’ Association, the Court is considering a request to overrule a longstanding precedent requiring workers in union shops to pay “fair share fees” that cover their representation by union advocates in collective bargaining agreements. If this goes the wrong way, the Court could effectively gut the right of public sector workers to effectively unionize.
  • Affirmative Action: The Court will hear Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin for the second time. In its second iteration, the Court will consider Fisher’s appeal of a Fifth Circuit decision that upheld UT-Austin’s tailored program to ensure diversity in its incoming first-year classes. A bad ruling by the Court could deal a blow to any public university which employs some version of affirmative action to ensure the representation of diverse backgrounds in its classrooms.
  • Access to the Courts:  In two pretty technical cases, the Court is considering arguments which would limit everyday Americans’ abilities to join class action lawsuits and to sue in federal court. Though procedural, these cases could constrain your ability to vindicate your rights in a court of law.
  • Reproductive Justice: It’s likely—though not certain—the Court will hear at least one case from either Texas or Mississippi considering whether restrictions on abortion providers which caused many clinics to close constitute an “undue burden” on people seeking abortion care. A broad ruling by the Court could add limitations to the constitutional right to seek an abortion, rolling back the precedent of Roe v. Wade.
  • Religious Liberty: It’s possible the Court will take up a case addressing objections to the Affordable Care Act’s provisions requiring employers’ to provide contraceptive benefits to their employees. The federal government’s already created a simple form for employers to “opt out” of that provision and allow the Feds to provide those benefits to workers. Yet, some ‘religious’ companies claim that even this form is too much of a burden to the free exercise of their religious beliefs and want it canned.


Taken separately these issues are enough to launch entire regional if not national organizing campaigns; taken together, they cut to the heart of our movement’s vision for an America where each and every person has a fundamental right to participate in their democracy, make decisions that affect their future, and have their lived experiences validated by those in power. That the Court will weigh in on each of these issues before the end of June should make us concerned that media targeting young people have glossed over the importance of the Court this week and ignored the possibility that we might, as young people, care about the impact of its rulings on our generation’s future.

As young progressives, we surely have a positive duty to bend the arc of the moral universe just a little closer to justice. Yet, we also have a clear and present obligation to hold the line—to ensure that the hard-fought wins of the civil and human rights movements of our elders are not undone by pernicious attempts to roll back social progress. To me, taking this responsibility seriously requires that we can’t only engage the Supreme Court as a historical body—that nine-person panel who desegregated schools and paved the way for same-sex marriage—but as a living, breathing institution capable of responding to and addressing our collective needs.

So, while the Court no doubt has the potential to do a great deal of harm on the issues outlined above, we cannot view their consideration of these questions in a vacuum. Make no mistake: the constitutional questions in front of the Court this term have the potential to shape policy for years to come and demand our sustained, critical organizing. What it’s important to realize, though, is that the 2015-2016 term is not an outlier in the long and storied history of the Court. Instead, each and every year, the Supreme Court considers questions of rights, obligations, and constitutional protections which shape the lives and fortunes of over 300 million Americans.

Indeed, the Court’s rulings don’t exist in some abstract space of legal academia and media talking heads. The justices’ determinations in a very real way write the rules of American democracy. Their decisions shape the way everyday Americans interact with the police, the sovereignty we possess over own our bodies and reproductive choices, and the manner in which we participate in public life. In short, the Court plays an enormously important role in governing how we walk through the world as rights-bearing American citizens.

For these reasons, while the 2015-2016 term is set to include at least a handful of landmark cases, we shouldn’t lose sight of the larger picture—that of a branch of government often maligned, seldom understood, but intimately important to crafting a progressive vision of American society, one in which all people are entitled to equal justice under law.

For more background, listen to the audio from affiliate People for the American Way’s telebriefing on the upcoming term.


Courts Matter cohort

Fellows Launch Little Black Book on Courts

In the months after YP4’s Inaugural Courts Matter Training, fellows returned to their communities and strategized ways to incorporate a courts lens into their day-to-day work. As fellows reached out to other students, community organizations, and neighborhood leaders, they quickly discovered a key barrier to more impactful organizing on courts issues: a lack of information on how courts function at the state and federal level as well as a general confusion as to where one might enter the world of courts organizing. To bridge that divide, YP4 decided to crowd-source a “Little Black Book” of resources for our fellows doing the work of engaging in strategic conversations around the role of courts matter activism in achieving dynamic, lasting progressive change. We gathered best practices, personal testimonies, and researched essays from our Courts Matter Training cohort to assemble the 25-page booklet that can help explain the value of courts organizing to any young person. This collaborative project of our inaugural Courts Matter Initiative has since been distributed at conferences, distributed to coalition partners, and made available for free download online.