The Laurie Carlson Progressive Ideas Forum


About the Forum

The Forum is supported by a fund established to honor Laurie Carlson's lifelong commitment to progressive ideas, laws and policies.  Formed by his family, the fund is designed to provide support to University programs that present, explore and discuss current progressive issues in law, legal institutions, public policy and social thought.  While the Forum will initiate its own speakers and programs, it also seeks to encourage and assist learning opportunities suggested by others in various formats, including guest speakers, discussion panels, seminars, workshops, and classroom activities.  One goal of the Forum is to promote an exchange of ideas that joins the University community with the local community, by, among other things, fostering a discussion of current progressive ideas and issues on campus and encouraging public participation in Forum-sponsored events.   

2017 Featured Speaker

The Forum is pleased to sponsor Julian Agyeman, author of "Sharing Cities and Just Sustainabilities," as part the of the 2017 Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference to be held at the the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on April 18, 2017. The theme of the Conference is "Hope and Renewal in the Age of Apocalypse" and will explore new perspectives and ideas on climate change, economic growth, social justice and other challenging issues.

Past speakers and programs:

  • The Forum sponsored Carolyn Finney, a leading scholar on diversity and the environment. She was a featured speaker at the 10th Annual Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference on Monday, April 25, 2016 at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Finney served on a panel, "Everyone's Earth: Sharing Experiences on a Restless Planet" that explored different cultural and historical perspectives on our relationships with nature. 

    Finney's book, Black Faces, White Spaces, examines how the environment has been understood, commodified, and represented by both white and black Americans, and asks the question Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation and environmentalism?

  • Principal sponsor of the April 2015 Youth and Unity Summit that brought together young people in the Madison community to discuss a multitude of issues following the death of Tony Robinson.

  • Principal sponsor of the March 2015 UW/Native Nations Summit that addressed the most pressing environmental and health issues facing Wisconsin’s tribal communities.

  • Principal sponsor of Nelson Institute’s 2014 Earth Day Conference on “Earth to be determined, Ecology, Economy and Justice in a rapidly changing World.”

  • Jane Goodall, world-renowned conservationist, speaking on the topic of "Sowing the Seeds of Hope."

  • Van Jones, author and former advisor to the Obama White House, discussing clean energy economy and green jobs.
  • South African Ambassador Barbara Masekela and then US Senator Russ Feingold discussing the 10th Anniversary of South Africa's Constitution.

  • Stephen Lewis, former Special UN Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, addressing the particular problems facing women in Africa.

  • Robin Wright, author and Middle East expert, outlining the foreign policy challenges facing the winner of the 2008 Presidential Election.

  • Robert Kennedy, Jr., environmental lawyer and activist, arguing the cause of environmental justice on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day.

  • Fran Ulmer, former Lt. Governor of Alaska and chair of the Arctic Research Commission speaking of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Suggestions for Forum Programs

Individuals or groups interested in making suggestions for Forum programs should prepare a description of the program and submit it to Sumudu Atapattu, University of Wisconsin Law School, 975 Bascom Mall, Madison, WI 53706 by mail, by email at or by phone at (608) 890 1395.

About Laurie E. Carlson (1908-1999)

Laurie Carlson was born in Bayfield, Wisconsin.  His first political involvement occurred at age 12, when he and his father traveled Bayfield County in a horse-drawn wagon, campaigning with Robert La Follette, Sr.  This experience coupled with later meetings with Bob La Follete left an impression that would stay with Carlson for a lifetime.  In 1934, Carlson helped form the State Progressive Party, along with La Follette sons, Phil and Bob, Jr.  Carlson won election as a Progressive to the State Legislature in 1936 at age 28 and served until 1942.  After his legislative career, Carlson began a career in business, but was always very active in Wisconsin politics.  In 1969, the Dane County Democratic Party prevailed on Laurie to run for Clerk of Courts, and he served four terms before retiring from public office.  In 1986, Governor Tony Earl honored Carlson with a Proclamation declaring him a "state treasure."  Laurie died in 1999 at age 91, fighting to the end for the poor, the common people, the rights of labor, civil rights, and the protection of the environment.

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