The National Lawyers Guild turns 75 today.
The founding convention met February 20, 1937 in Washington, DC, drawing over 600 advocates from around the country, newly dedicated to a common cause. Founded by a handful of progressive lawyers in the depths of the Great Depression, with the specter of fascism growing abroad, the Guild was an assertion of hope in uncertain times. Today, we find ourselves in similar straits, staring down the barrel of a Great Recession with protesters facing violent police repression at home and abroad.
But today's NLG looks very different from the organization that helped to craft the language of the New Deal. As well it should. After all, who can imagine President Obama inviting Occupy Wall Street inside to help draft finance reform legislation? And who among those gathered at the 1937 founding convention could have envisioned all that the Guild would have to overcome—that they would persist through decades of FBI sabotage and anti-Communist witch hunts, and grow to form the legal backbone of dozens of social movements? Who among those early Guild lawyers could have foreseen the gains they would win for women, immigrants, workers, queer people, and people of color, or that their own ranks would grow to include students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers? How could they have predicted the range of issues—from mass incarceration to cyber surveillance—we would face today?
And yet, for all the changes the last 75 years have wrought, the Guild has not budged from its founding principles. Democracy. Equality. Justice. Human rights over property rights. These ideas are the fire at the core of our furnace. They are what has made it possible to persist and, often, against huge odds, triumph. To learn more about the genesis of the NLG, visit the new 75th anniversary section, where we’ll be posting photographs, letters, and other historical documents throughout the year.