The Action Isn’t Over Until Everyone Is Out Of Jail

cross-posted from Medium

NLG Legal Observer documents riot police

by Patrick Young

Lawyers and legal workers have played an important role in movements for social change for as long as courts and lawyers have existed. Movement lawyers have played important roles in challenging unlawful government repression of social movements, challenging unjust laws, and providing legal defense for movement participants facing prosecution from the state. There is perhaps no more direct or visceral confrontation between people and the state than the criminal prosecution process wherein the defendant and the state are formally named as opposing parties.

This is the fourth segment in t, a project that explores the role shared social movement infrastructure has played in social movement uprisings and how this infrastructure has evolved over time, moving across issue areas and geographies to knit together a shared fabric of progressive social movements.

The longest-standing institution doing this work in the United States is the . The NLG was founded in 1937, during Roosevelt’s New Deal, as an organization of lawyers to offer a counterweight to the conservative positions being taken by the American Bar Association (ABA). The invitation to the group’s founding meeting invited lawyers to discuss the formation of an organization of “…all lawyers who regard adjustments to new conditions as more important than veneration of precedent, who recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of workers and farmers upon whom the welfare of the entire nation depends, of maintaining our civil rights and liberties and our democratic institutions.” In its early years the Guild coordinated legal work among lawyers for the burgeoning labor movement, represented accused communists target by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the red scare, and organized to oppose the rollback of civil liberties during World War II.

In 1964, the NLG formed the Committee for Legal Assistance to the South, to organize volunteers to travel to Mississippi to support the Civil Rights Movement. This marked the beginning of a shift within the organization from being a professional organization of lawyers to increasing its role as a social movement infrastructure institution. Writing a history of the Guild at its 50th anniversary, Rabinowitz and Ledwith remarked, “The Guild’s accomplishments in the South were many, but none was more important than its initial commitment to provide legal aid to an historic movement before it became a national cause.”

Over the next several years, the NLG played an increasingly active role in supporting organizers in the free speech movement and the movement against the war in Vietnam. Michael Ratner, a student anti-war activist who later became the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights observed that the guild was different from other legal groups because, “it not only defended people opposed to the war, it condemned the war and stood in solidarity with the Vietnamese people.” The Guild also recognized the role of non-lawyers in its movement work. In 1970 delegates at its national convention voted to open membership to law students, strengthening the organization’s ties with the student movement. The next year the Guild voted to open its membership to non-lawyer legal workers and “jailhouse lawyers.” Over the next several decades, the NLG would continue to play a significant role in supporting activists in the anti-nuclear movement, the Central American solidarity movement, the and the LGBTQ movement during the AIDS epidemic.

But legal work in social movements is not limited to litigation. A particularly important function that has emerged in wave after wave of movement uprisings is organizing legal support for activists targeted with arrest and prosecution. Importantly, much of the work of organizing to support large numbers of people facing arrest, tracking defendants through the booking and bail process, raising funds for legal defense, collecting evidence, and providing material and emotional support for defendants through the legal process and during incarceration, is political and organizational work that is often performed by activists who are not lawyers.

Alongside the representational legal work performed by movement lawyers, movement organizers established parallel support structures to train movement activists on their legal rights, track and support arrestees through the arrest and booking processes, raise funds to support legal defenses, and mobilize public and political support in favor of activists targeted for arrest and prosecution. When activists were targeted with particularly serious charges and sentenced to long prison terms, support committees would be tasked with organizing to provide political and emotional support for political prisoners, raise funds to support their families and their defenses, and support released political prisoners in their re-entry. Historically, these structures have been uniquely strong and well formed in the struggle for Black Liberation and the American Indian Movement — two movements that were targeted for particularly severe state repression.

Mass Legal Defense

More recently, legal support organizing structures have emerged to proactively prepare for mass arrests with legal workers prepared to support targeted activists across social movement spaces. In the aftermath of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, Washington, the Legal Team supported movement lawyers and arrestees in preparing 600 cases for trial. In addition to supporting lawyers with legal research and evidence gathering, the legal team distributed press releases, organized rallies and press conferences, and mobilized to fill courtrooms for trials.

Shortly after the WTO, the DAN Legal Team reestablished itself as the . At the April 16 protests of the IMF and World Bank in Washington, DC in 2000 Midnight Special organized ‘know your right’ trainings for more than 1,500 activists, trained 200 legal observers and organized local progressive attorneys who were prepared to take cases of arrestees. In total 1,200 people were arrested over three days at the 2000 IMF and World Bank meetings. Over the next ten years, Midnight Special would train legal workers and provide legal support for thousands of arrestees in major mobilizations around the US and Canada.

Local legal collectives largely modeled after — and often trained by — the Midnight Special Law Collective emerged in different cities around the country during periods of major protest. In the lead up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Midnight Special organizers helped to form the Legal Support to Stop the War Collective (LS2SW). In the lead up to the 2008 Republican National Convention, members of the Midnight Special Law Collective traveled to Minneapolis to spend six weeks with local legal organizers, helping to form the

By 2010, Midnight Special decided to disband, writing in a communique, “We have reached various conclusions: that we have been unable to break out of the service provider model; that we are dissatisfied with jumping from action to action, and leaving little infrastructure behind; that we often emulate the oppressive structures we seek to change; and that these problems are much harder to solve than we had believed.”

While Midnight Special is no longer organizing as a collective, it remains an important movement resource. More than nine years after disbanding, Midnight Special’s website () is still live and its materials are widely circulated and used by movement organizers. Additionally, veterans of Midnight Special continue to participate in legal support in major recent mobilization including the Ferguson uprising, Standing Rock, and the Inauguration of Donald Trump.

The landscape of legal workers supporting movement mobilizations is now mostly informal, but tightly networked. The NLG Mass Defense Committee listserve offers a space to broadly exchange needs and opportunities for legal workers. Many of the legal support organizers with experience coordinating legal infrastructure for large mobilizations have long histories of working together through intense situations at earlier mobilizations and rely on direct contacts and personal relationships to mobilize each other across different movement space over time.

Tilting the Scales

More recently, another movement infrastructure organization that has emerged is the . Tilted Scales is a small anarchist collective whose work “has involved support during all stages of a person’s case — from arrest through trial and into post-conviction appeals and long term support during a person’s time in prison.” Tilted Scales has organized webinars and speaking tours on their goal setting framework and worked with defendants and their support committees to organize for a political criminal defense.

This work has helped to fill an important gap in movement legal support work. While the lawyers representing activists facing serious charges are generally experts in the law, many do not have experience with collective action or social movements. Dylan Petrohilos who had his home raided and was charged with multiple felonies for his role in organizing protests of President Donald Trump’s inauguration said the support provided by Tilted Scales was invaluable. “They helped to contextualize the political implications of organizing my legal defense. They gave me feedback and support through the whole process. Working with them felt like a security blanket.”

“The legal system is designed to be hyper-individualistic, and defendants are making decisions in a framework of uncertainty,” said an organizer from the Tilted Scales Collective. It is not uncommon for lawyers to encourage their defendants to take cooperating plea deals that involve informing on comrades or portraying their clients as “good protesters” as a way of distancing them from “bad protesters.” One of the roles of the Tilted Scales Collective, organizers say, is “preparing defendants to push their lawyers to create legal defenses that will help them achieve their goals for the charges they’re facing.”

In 2017, Tilted Scales published a Tilted Guide to Being A Defendant, a “guide for people who are seriously entangled in the criminal legal system, whether they are facing federal felony accusations, conspiracy charges, terrorist enhancements, or potential years or decades in prison.” The Tilted Guide offers political defendants a framework for setting and balancing personal, political and legal goals; suggestions on working with lawyers, codefendants, and support committees; and advice on resolving cases and, if needed, surviving prison.

As our social movements become more powerful and pose increasingly credible challenges to existing power structures, we can anticipate an acceleration in the repression of dissent. Throughout history, the state has responded to the growth of radical and revolutionary movements with surveillance, infiltration, violence, aggressive prosecution and incarceration. In just the past few years, hundreds of people arrested in Ferguson, Standing Rock, the inauguration of President Trump and dozens of other actions have been charged with serious felonies. If our movements hope to continue to increase our capacity to create disruption and challenge entrenched and unresponsive elites, we will also need to invest in our collective capacity to support each other through challenging and often long legal processes — from arrest, though prosecution, and incarceration.

Rabinowitz and Ledwith, “A History of the NLG 1937 to 1987.”

Rabinowitz and Ledwith.

“Midnight Special Law Collective — History,” accessed April 4, 2019,

Arielle Klagsbrun, Interview with author, March 17, 2019.

Ellis, Interview with author.

The Tilted Scales Collective, A Tilted Guide to Being a Defendant (Combustion Books, 2017).

Forest Defense Escalating in Northern California’s Mattole Watershed

Cross-posted from Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters.

Pre-Dawn Arrests at “Spectacular Mono-pod Blockade” at Logging Gate at Rainbow Ridge, Mattole

June 17, 2019

Photo is the 40? tall mono pod with a sitter in it. via Save the Mattole campaign.

Petrolia, CA—In the predawn darkness this morning, a 40 ft. “mono-pod” blockade structure was erected in the road at the main access gate to controversial logging plans in the Mattole River watershed, and several people on the ground were arrested. Twenty people were on site to protest logging by Humboldt Redwood Co. (HRC) in the Rainbow Ridge area, where HRC first started operations in early June.

At least eight sheriffs’ vehicles arrived and immediately threw several people on the ground and subsequently arrested them, while they were standing on the public access road, ostensibly in a legal area. Lear Asset Management, the private security hired by HRC is also on site. So far reports are that several people were arrested and taken to jail, and there is a sitter in the pod.

Several trucks and heavy equipment have approached the gate and turned around.

The response of community members and activists has been swift and growing since the beginning of June when HRC began a long-controversial logging plan on Rainbow Ridge, prompting a public outcry and direct action protests. On June 8, a tree-sitter ascended a centuries-old tree, avoiding security patrols and drone flyovers, and has remained, despite harassment and serious endangerment by a Lear security climber last week. That hired climber cut down gear and heavy water jugs above the head of the sitter, sending supplies flying to the ground, and confiscated most of their food and water. The demonstration this morning is, in part, in solidarity and support of the tree-sitter, who goes by the name Rook.

On June 10, four septuagenarian local residents were arrested at a civil disobedience blockade at the gate, and now await trial.

Monopod sitter.

One of the arrestees this morning said from jail, “People in the local community and from all over have been putting their bodies on the line to protect this forest for over 20 years, and this action is part of continuing that important legacy. We’re at a crisis point and we can’t just sit back and let corporations destroy the last remaining wild places on the planet. Humboldt Redwood Co. pretends to care about what the community wants, but HRC is acting like the old Maxxam/Pacific Lumber right now. People in this bioregion have a responsibility to make sure these forests remain standing. That’s why I was there today, and why we’re not going to stop.”

Community efforts to protect this coast Douglas fir, oak and madrone forest from industrial logging have been ongoing since the 1990s. These forests are unique and remote, harboring many threatened and rare species. See Lost Coast League for more information.

This logging also shines a light on the marketing of the lumber at outlets like Home Depot, who sell HRC’s forest products as sustainable, despite the heavy use of herbicides and cutting of legacy forests. That sustainable certification is being challenged as well.

For information on the direct action response, see the FB page, Save the Mattole’s Ancient Forests.



Toronto: Wet’suwet’en Supporters Deliver Message to TC-Energy Exec’s Neighborhood

Photo via Rising Tide Toronto

Cross-posted from Rising Tide Toronto

“[Saturday] morning, twenty people dressed as construction workers arrived at 232 Douglas Drive in Toronto, erected construction fencing and turned the well-manicured lawn into a site of destruction. They also postered and flyered the neighbourhood to bring attention to one the people behind the ongoing violence occurring on Wet’suwet’en territory. As people based in Toronto we have a clear connection with the destruction out West and a responsibility to fight it.”

Here is a statement from Rising Tide Toronto on the action:

“It seems like the direct impacts of TC-Energy on the lives, land and bodies of Indigenous people are too far away for Mr. Vanaselja so we decided to bring it home. This is a personal matter for all the people on the ground facing the destruction of their homes and harassment from pipeline workers so we decided to make it personal for Mr. Vanaselja. This is referencing the ongoing construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline in contravention of Wet’suwet’en law, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the 1997 Canadian court decision on Delgamuukw, and of the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office’s (EAO) directives.

Coastal Gas Link is a project of TC-Energy. Since January, after unarmed Indigenous Wet’suwet’en were forced at gunpoint to concede a checkpoint at the entrance to their unceded territories and tentatively struck a deal with Coastal Gas Link (CGL), CGL has been clearing and preparing their proposed “Camp 9A” man camp intended to house up to 450 pipeline construction workers. An Unist’ot’en representative says that, “the man camp would threaten the safety and security of Wet’suwet’en people and residents of the Healing Center.”

Photo via Rising Tide Toronto

While TC-Energy is invading sacred Wet’suwet’en territory in a time of climate crisis, we are here as a reminder to Canadians this ongoing genocide. Indigenous people are in inherently connected to the land to defend and protect it from projects like CGL. We all share a crucial responsibility to take action in solidarity with Unist’ot’en Camp.

Released just last week, the National Inquiry’s final report into widespread violence against Indigenous women and girls directly addresses the connection between workers in man camps and higher rates of violence and sexual assault.

Stopping sexual assault and gender based violence connected to energy projects and assuring that Indigenous peoples’ rights and laws do no continue to be violated is imperative.

In March, CGL was ordered to stop work in an area of a trapline by the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) due to non-compliance with permits. CGL ignored the EAO order and continued to block access, bulldozed a trapline, and operated bulldozers and excavators within meters of active traps.

We are bringing the attention and bringing consequences to the people behind the project. We want Mr. Vanaselja to pull out all Coastal Gas Link workers from Wet’suwet’en territory and stop man camp construction.

This action is a part of an international call to action for support and solidarity called for June 15th.”


Water Protectors Lock Down to Stop Line 3 Construction

via Ginew Collective 

Water Protectors Lock Down to Stop Line 3 Construction, Powerlines Built for Tar Sands Pipeline Through Army Corps Land as Enbridge Seeks Water Crossing Permits

June 3, 2019

(Park Rapids, MN) This morning, water protectors supported by Ginew Collective, Northfield Against Line 3 and others halted work at an active construction site on the proposed Line 3 route. Three water protectors locked themselves to logging equipment while over a dozen concerned citizens rallied in support.

Great River Energy, Enbridge’s named utility provider for numerous pump stations it needs to power its tar sands pipeline, is logging through water crossings and wetlands next to the Line 3 route.

Enbridge has significant unmet energy needs to power the Line 3 route, and notes its partnership with Great River Energy in its application to the Army Corps of Engineers to bulldoze through wetlands and water crossings. Great River Energy specifies in its Army Corps application that it is building the electric transmission line to power Enbridge’s pipeline unbuilt pump station.

Minnesota has not issued the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) or DNR permits required for Line 3 construction across wetlands or water crossings. Minnesota announced the 401 water quality certification process will not be complete until fall 2019.

“Enbridge pretends to follow the process while it is busy bulldozing through our forests and wetlands,” said Frances Weatherall while locked to logging equipment.

“This is a years-long plan to send more dirty tar sands through Minnesota, don’t be fooled into thinking they won’t destroy as much as they can while they wait for their final state permits,” said Mollie Weatherall, locked with her sister on the same machine.

Jonas, who was also locked to a machine said, “This is a step towards decolonization, Enbridge is carving up the planet and our government doesn’t care. Today it’s my turn to put my body between the planet I want to protect and the attacks against our water, our climate, and Native sovereignty.”



Link to fundraise for bail:

Link to Facebook post with press release & pictures: