Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, President
My fellow NLG comrades,
After much reflection, it is with great enthusiasm, passion and a deep respect for the National Lawyers Guild that I have decided to run for President.
For those that may not know me, I am currently an Executive Vice-President of the Guild and have been Co-Chair of the International Committee for three years, as well as Co-Chair of its Subcommittee on Puerto Rico (PRS). Along with my fellow PRS Co-Chairs, we hosted the 2013 national convention in San Juan, PR, marking the first time a convention had ever been held outside of the continental United States and on an island that remains colonized by the U.S. I am also a member of TUPOCC, the Anti-Racism and the Anti-Sexism Committees. For those that do know me, and with whom I’ve had the chance of working, organizing and strategizing, I look forward to continuing our work together to “build the Guild.”
Over the past few months as I considered my candidacy, I have thought about the work of the Guild and its legacy and history. I feel a responsibility, as many of you do, for ensuring the organization’s survival for future generations of social justice lawyers and legal workers, as well as for the movements which we are a part of and struggle alongside with. As I write this, Palestinians are being bombed by warheads the United States has helped fund and build in Israel; immigrant children have crossed thousands of miles and countries to cross our borders, in large part as a result of U.S. interventionism and foreign policies in Central and South America; and water is being shut off in the homes of poor residents across Detroit in blatant violation of international human rights norms. All of these issues are ones that Guild lawyers and legal workers work on every day, fighting for the dignity, respect and rights of those most oppressed. It is an organization I am continuously proud to be a part of.
But the Guild is also facing great challenges, both as an organization dedicated to social justice and as one within a profession that itself is undergoing great challenges. The Guild’s history of participating in and supporting nearly every civil and human rights struggle may be known to many, yet in other communities our presence has not always been as visible. There are fewer law students and lawyers, resources, training and available jobs for the work that we do, yet there is not a reduction in the need for our skills and analysis. Because of these challenges we must look at how we can more effectively grow our membership and remain financially stable while remaining active and committed as the conscience of the bar in promoting and defending human rights.
Like many of you, I have ideas for how we can not only survive but flourish by building a sustainable, thriving and vital Guild. I hope to be able to have conversations with you not only in the next couple of months leading up to the convention, but in the years after, should I be elected President. As a community of lawyers, law students and legal workers that advocates, fights and struggles together to advance the Guild’s mission that “human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property rights,” we intimately know the challenges facing our communities and the Guild. As your President, I will work alongside you to ensure the Guild remains as relevant an organization today and tomorrow as it has always been. I ask for your vote, but I also ask for your voice, your participation and your commitment to building the Guild. ¡Si se puede!
Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan
Marcus Kryshka, Executive Vice President
I am excited to announce, after much thought and reflection, my candidacy for Executive Vice President of the National Lawyer's Guild. I am, for those who don't know me, currently the National Legal Worker Vice President. I also serve on the Executive Council of the National Executive Committee, and I'm an active member of the Fundraising and Mass Defense Committees as well. My path to the NLG has been different than many of my fellow members, an asset that has served me well during my tenure on the NEC. I originally interacted with the guild as a client. I grew up in New York City, where I recall being part of many protests where we depended on the guild to keep us safe and out of the grips of the state. After over a decade of activism I came to be a member of the Midnight Special Collective, providing legal rights trainings and legal support organizing in the SF Bay Area and at mass protests across the country. I don't have any formal training in the field, but I'm proud to be part of a longstanding tradition of self trained activist legal workers. This background has proven essential in acting as a bridge between radical lawyers and the rest of the activist community, a bridge that I plan on continuing to strengthen during my time with the Guild.
These are exciting times for the NLG. Our membership is changing, getting younger and more diverse, with an increasing number of legal worker members. We're finally beginning to reap the benefits of changes started over a decade ago, with a membership thats starting to be more diverse and responsive to community needs. At the same time we're facing more than a few challenges. As our membership changes we've had to reevaluate our fundraising and budgeting priorities. We recently had to accept the resignation of our longtime Executive Director Heidi Boghosian, losing a vast trove of institutional memory. As Executive Director I plan on focusing strongly on fundraising, looking at ways that we can stabilize our financial situation while still holding true to our core values of anti-oppressive social change. I also plan on putting into place systems that will increase transparency within the organization, improving both institutional memory and true member participation in the governance of the Guild.
These are challenging times, but with each challenge comes a corresponding opportunity. With the proper leadership in place the Guild is poised to be a sustainable, healthy organization. A truly diverse, truly representative organization that takes leadership from the communities that we work with. Thank you for considering me for the position. I look forward to continuing to work towards our shared goals.
In solidarity and struggle
Camilo A. Romero, National Vice President
I have never been to Ferguson. I have never been to Sanford. I have never been to Palestine or to Honduras or to many of the too numerous places where the law complicates justice.
But the NLG has.
And the NLG is me.
Two years ago, I was sweet-talked into formally joining the NLG and running for a leadership position. I was not certain what to expect, but I was certain of who I wished to invite to the NLG.
Today, two years later, I am still not so certain of what to expect, but I am as certain as ever that the NLG is as strong as its members. I am proud to know that at each convention, more and more unsuspecting advocates have trusted me enough to willingly join the NLG. I will continue to do my part as a National Vice President to ensure that trend continues and the NLG family continues to grow.
Two weeks ago, the NLG returned from Chocó. Many of you reading this will not know where in the world Chocó is located, much less what the NLG was doing there.
Nine of us – some new to the NLG and others less so, including an Executive Vice President and a TUPOCC co-chair – traveled as a delegation to the department of Chocó on the Pacific coast of Colombia to learn about human rights violations stemming from crop fumigation, river mining, state neglect, and political violence. Our presence there was warmly appreciated, particularly by the indigenous and Afro-Colombian “campesinos” we visited, and uncomfortably unexpected, particularly for those responsible for the alarming rates of inequality and underdevelopment.
This is what we do. This is the NLG. And I am committed to sharing our NLG with others like you and me who advocate where it is least expected, where it is most uncomfortable, where it is most silent.
One new NLG member who I have convinced to join us in Chicago is working on a case of so-called “beaner hunting” in Shirley, Long Island. The murder-sodomy of day laborers has been met with active disinterest by the authorities and, once again, the law threatens to complicate justice, as in Ferguson and Sanford.
I have never been there. But she has. And she is now NLG…assuming she pays her dues.
Thank you to those who supported my candidacy in Pasadena. And thank you to those who ran a candidate against me. Contested elections ought to be welcomed as it reflects the openness and dynamism of our organization.
Thank you to those who have supported my participation the past two years. I have tried to make the most of the opportunity by helping the NLG to organize, organize, organize. Examples include:
Mapping regional resources so that Vice Presidents can assist Regional Coordinators with their hard-to-reach members and their even harder-to-reach donations. Electoral “acompañamientos” for the presidential and municipal elections in Venezuela. Launching of an Exit Survey to capture the institutional memory of those who leave our positions of formal leadership. Coalition building at the International Association of Democratic Lawyers in Belgium. Collaboration between our Retiree Taskforce and NextGen Committee to bridge the generational divide that seems to make the NLG family more dysfunctional than it should. Strategic planning with longitudinal facilitation to scaffold our momentum for future generations of the NLG.
I am proud of the NLG I have come to experience these past two years. And I am proud of my part in making that so. If you feel the same way I do, then do your part and vote. Or better yet, run for a position too.
This is the NLG. This is what we do.
Camilo A. Romero
PS: For your reference and my accountability, I include my candidate statement from 2012, which will hold true as long as I am around:
I did not come to the NLG. The NLG came to me. As a college student, the SF Bay Area Chapter was present when a coalition of students and community members spoke out against California Proposition 21. The NLG was there when we held vigils against the military aid package known as Plan Colombia. Six months later, with the attacks of September 11, 2001, the collaboration between students and the NLG only increased as we organized tolerance town halls and peaceful protests against the war and occupation of Iraq. When we launched the campaign against The Coca-Cola Company for the kidnapping and murder of bottling plant workers in Colombia, we knew the NLG would be there.
Back then, I did not realize what was happening. The NLG and my exposure to its members and programs were changing not just my outlook on lawyers but my outlook on the law. For my immigrant family and me, the law was typically a source of fear. As the oldest child of a single-mother household, I saw the law as an obstacle to justice.
Through time and through relationships with advocates like those from the NLG, I learned that the law need not be just part of the problem. Indeed, the law can be part of the solution.
That is why I believe in the NLG. To ensure others are empowered to do the right thing, especially when it is the hard thing.
While serving as National Organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops and later as Organizing Director for the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger & Homelessness, I was able to develop professional collaborations with various NLG chapter members, including those of us in MacArthur Park on May 1, 2007. Some of those members have been the ones to encourage my candidacy at this year’s convention.
Likewise, as an International Affairs Officer for my union, Sindicato Nacional de la Industria de Alimentos de Colombia (SINALTRAINAL), I have counted on the support of the NLG’s International Committee to protect the lives of workers and advocates. After helping to litigate Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victims Protection Act cases for victims and their families, I chose to apply to law school to better understand and leverage the law.
I entered law school with low expectations. I had been warned that legal education – and the majority of those who sought it – was most likely not interested in social justice lawyering. Nonetheless, I entered law school with the high expectation that those who cared would come forward, and that the promise of crafting law towards justice would shine through.
My three years at NYU Law confirmed my low expectations…and some of my high ones. My first year we coordinated a “Dis-Orientation” for new and transfer students to thoughtfully expose them to the realities of law school and the opportunities of advocacy in New York. The NLG’s New York City chapter has been a strong partner, including hosting the most recent installment two weeks ago.
However, the NLG, too often and for too many, is deemed to be “pale, male, and stale.” First-generation law students and students of color tend to not engage with the NLG because its membership is not reflective of the communities it wishes to serve.
To improve this disconnect, I helped organize delegations for the NLG’s conventions in New Orleans 2010 and Philadelphia 2011. With the much-appreciated support of stipends from The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC), we were able to introduce many students and alumni to each other and to the history and potential of the NLG. From this participation, several students and alumni have come together in joint initiatives.
One example is our founding of The Brotherhood for progressive men of color in New York-area law schools to support ourselves in professional and personal endeavors. CUNY Law and NYU Law members of The Brotherhood intend on coordinating “Know Your Rights” trainings and improving pipeline projects for high school students who may someday have the opportunity to consider becoming students and practitioners of law.
Another example is our founding of the Metro Coalition for Latina and Latino law students from all thirteen law schools in the metropolitan New York area. We have focused on advocacy for the DREAM Act and this summer began facilitating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) trainings. Our programs include youth mentorship and “Street Law en Español,” which provides a unique opportunity for more collaboration with the NLG, along with continued efforts during May 1st marches and Occupy Wall Street mobilizations. This past weekend, in fact, our Coalition helped host the National Latina/o Law Students Association (NLLSA) conference at UCLA Law with keynote speakers Sylvia Mendez, the named plaintiff in Mendez v. Westminster, and Dolores Huerta, “la Madrina del Movimiento.”
That is why I believe in the NLG. To ensure others recognize their valued place in the work of the NLG.
As a National Vice President, I intend on promoting these collaborations thereby strengthening the membership and infrastructure of the NLG. The vision I hope to share with members of the NEC team is outlined in the following points, “N-L-G”:
Network of advocates: share resources and strategies for effective collaboration among legal workers, students, lawyers, and community activists locally and globally.
Leadership development: ensuring a vibrant and representative National Executive Committee where we lead by example.
Growing community: accessible and proactive role of mentorship with the generations of advocates that are to follow.
It is heartening to see the commitment of the NLG’s incoming leadership to addressing privilege and the divisions it can sow among and within us. Our concerted efforts will bridge the lessons of those who have shaped this organization with those who will carry it forward after us.
This is why I believe in the NLG. To ensure others have the opportunity to share in and celebrate the power of our advocacy.
I look forward to building on our momentum as a National Vice President and a member of the NLG family.
Camilo A. Romero