UPDATE | 1:30 AM : Eight activists were charged with resisting arrest due to not being able to rip their hands free from the doors and doorframe, instead requiring an acetone solution to dissolve the glue. They are being held overnight and will be seen in court tomorrow July 24th:
H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse, 500 Indiana Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
UPDATE | 11:30PM : U.S. Capitol Police confirm 17 arrests from the Rayburn and Cannon House office buildings. For over two hours, climate activists glued themselves to the House Office buildings, blocking passage to the US Capitol before a vote in the House Chamber in order to demand that Congress declare a climate emergency. All 17 were charged with “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding”; 15 of the 17 were charged with defacing public property, and eight were charged with resisting arrest.
UPDATE | 10:30 PM Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thanked the activists for the action outside the building as they were being put in the police wagon. According to one demonstrator, Rashida Tlaib said to her that the blockade was more important than her job. Other members of Congress, including Maxine Waters and Elisha Cummings, celebrated the action in the House Office building as it was going on.
UPDATE | 7:00 PM The police have blockaded the Cannon rotunda, designating it a crime scene so that bystanders and support could be moved out of sight of those glued to the doors and doorways.
Washington, D.C., July 23 – Following the weekend’s “heat emergency” and a slew of flash floods in D.C., the climate group Extinction Rebellion (XR) brought business-as-usual to a halt in Congress Tuesday with an unprecedented act of mass civil disobedience. Activists used superglue to physically attach themselves to key passages in the House Office buildings, blocking members of Congress just before a vote in the Capitol building.
The climate activists demanded the speedy passage of the climate emergency resolution, which is currently sitting idle in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
One demonstrator, Wesley Boccardo, explained, “I’m a farmer and I’m here because I want to have places to farm.”
Stephen Leus, who chose to superglue his hand to one of the entrances to the underground tunnel to the Capitol building, said of his decision that “it would be crucially irresponsible for us to not act in the limited amount of time we have.”
The U.S. Congress is not treating the climate emergency legislation with the urgency it deserves. The existential threat that climate change poses to our economy and to the health of all Americans should make this resolution Congress’ top priority. Extinction Rebellion activists are calling on both chambers to recognize the truth of the emergency we are in and to pass the resolution as a first step to acknowledging the severity of the crisis.
On July 9, the concurrent resolution for the U.S. to declare a climate emergency at the federal level was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) with six co-sponsors in the Senate and 49 co-sponsors in the House. The resolution would need 51 Senate and 218 House votes to pass through Congress.
Earlier this summer, New York City declared a climate emergency, the largest city in the U.S. to do so. The city council cited the direct action coordinated by XR NYC as a driving force behind the declaration. With increasingly dire predictions about the effects of climate change, the DC chapter of XR is taking action to demand the same at the federal level.
The U.K. Parliament has also declared a climate emergency due to mass civil disobedience actions by Extinction Rebellion (XR). In April 2019, XR activists in the U.K. successfully brought London to a standstill by gathering thousands of people for an 11-day blockade. In only a year, the movement has spread to include hundreds of thousands of people around the world in part because Extinction Rebellion communicates the grave seriousness of the climate emergency we face and asks people to act accordingly. It’s working.
The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of XR also held a simultaneous protest in coordination with the D.C. chapter today. Climate advocates gathered at noon PST at the steps of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in downtown San Francisco for a symbolic Die-In. Those entering the building had to step over the bodies of the climate victims.
Extinction Rebellion US is one of 45 countries that form Extinction Rebellion International. XR US has four demands. They include net zero carbon emissions by 2025 and the creation of a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the bold and swift changes that our fossil fuel-corrupted government has been unable to make.
Report from Appalachians Against Pipelines on recent action that shut down construction on the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
Montgomery County, VA — Yesterday, pipeline fighter Phillip Flagg locked himself in the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline near Elliston, VA. MVP has been clearing and grading this section of the pipeline’s path in preparation to lay pipe. Phillip laid his body in the easement and locked his body to an underground concrete blockade directly in the path of the pipeline. His action stopped MVP work at the site for 7 hours, preventing the company’s progression towards the nearby Yellow Finch tree sits. Around 5:30 pm, Phillip was extracted from his blockade and arrested. He was charged with misdemeanor obstruction and released on $1,000 bail.
Phillip, who previously spent months living in a tree sit blocking the MVP, stated: “I cherished the time I spent in the tree sit, and I think back on it fondly. But I’m not too proud to admit that the time I spent in the oak simply isn’t enough to stop this pipeline. The forces we are facing will not be dissuaded by any individual effort. Each of us has our piece to contribute — when one person steps up, others will follow.”
A banner near the site of Phillip’s blockade read “STOP THE MVP — BLOCK THE PATH — NO PIPELINES ON STOLEN LAND.” The latter part of this message refers to the fact that Indigenous people inhabited the hills and hollers of this region for thousands of years — including Monocan, Moneton, Cherokee, and other Native peoples — before white settlers arrived (bringing with them genocide and forced relocation). Extraction and fossil fuel infrastructure are a continuation of the legacy of colonization; Appalachians Against Pipelines stands in solidarity with Indigenous-led fights against pipelines, from Unist’ot’en to the fight against Line 3 and beyond.
In the holler adjacent to Phillip’s action, the Yellow Finch tree sits have been blocking the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline for 313 days and counting. In support of Phillip’s action, one of the anonymous tree sitters stated: “Every day, MVP’s construction work gets close and closer to the Yellow Finch sits, decimating acres of Appalachian forests, mountains, and waterways in its wake. Today and every day, we are putting our bodies on the line to stop it. Now is the time to stand up and fight back against the destruction of the earth. Join us! We’re still here. We won’t back down.”
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a 42-inch diameter, 303-mile fracked gas pipeline that runs from northern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Earlier this month, a 70-mile extension into North Carolina (which was proposed in 2018) was denied its Section 401 Water Quality Certification by the NC Department of Environmental Quality. The Mountain Valley Pipeline endangers water, ecosystems, and communities along its route, contributes to climate change, increases demand for natural gas (and as a result, fracking), and is entrenched in corrupt political processes.
Resistance to the pipeline has only grown since the pipeline’s proposal in 2014. Grassroots-led pipeline monitoring and a nonviolent direct action campaign are ongoing. On June 17, 2019, builders admitted that the project’s budget has ballooned to $5 billion and that completion date has been delayed by 1.5 years at least.
The pipeline is in a state of uncertainty. MVP currently lacks permission to cross many water bodies and has been forced to explore alternate approaches in crossing through the Jefferson National Forest. The coming months will show whether construction is able to move forward in those areas, and whether investors will continue to believe in the pipeline’s ever-distant goal of completion.
Time is running out. The climate crisis is at our doorstep. Communities around the world are already being battered by the earliest effects of the changing climate–superstorms, floods, wildfires and droughts. And still not moving any closer to actualizing the dramatic transformation of our energy systems and economy that we all know are needed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
It’s still too early to tell how this is all going to play out but we’re excited to see the energy and activity and we’re ready to throw down. Nobody can afford to sit on the sidelines–the stakes are too high.
We know that the scope and the urgency of the climate crisis demands bold action and we’re inspired to see so many people–and so many new voices–thinking big. We are excited to see people thinking about mobilizing to create serious disruption to the systems that are perpetuating our reliance on fossil fuels and to see people talking about organizing protracted surges of resistance, not just self-contained actions. We’re hopeful that our movements will use this wave of energy to directly confront the root causes of the climate crisis–capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy–and to reject market-driven false solutions.
In the coming weeks and months we’ll be keeping our ears to the ground to find ways that we can plug in. We’ll be checking in with old friends and hopefully hearing from new friends about what folks are planning and where we can show up in the best ways. We’ll be sharing some of our ideas about how we think our movements can make fall 2019 a turning point in the movement for climate justice and we’ll be listening carefully to learn from the other new ideas that are emerging.
Time is running out and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Let’s keep this conversation going, let’s work together to build momentum, and let’s get ready to throw down hard this fall.
Rising Tide is an international, all-volunteer, grassroots network of groups and individuals who organize locally, promote community-based solutions to the climate crisis and take direct action to confront the root causes of climate change. Want to get involved or continue the conversation? Email us at networking@RisingTideNorthAmerica.org.
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 the Lawyers, Lockboxes and Money series, 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 National Lawyers Guild (NLG). 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 Direct Action Network (DAN) 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 Midnight Special Law Collective. 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 Cold Snap Legal Collective.
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 (www.midnightspecial.net) 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 Collective. 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.”