NLG Initiates Massive Occupy Legal Support Program

October 18, 2011
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Carol Sobel
Co-chairs, Mass Defense Committee
(202) 232-1180 ext. 202, (310)
Over the past month the Mass Defense Committee of the National Lawyers Guild has initiated an unprecedented nationwide effort in support of Occupy protests, coordinating hundreds of attorneys, law students, and legal workers to protect the First Amendment rights of demonstrators. In addition to the Mass Defense Committee’s national coordination and legal support, NLG chapters across the country have worked to assist this movement from the outset.

“The single largest legal support effort for protesters since the end of the Vietnam War has come together in immediate response to the challenges confronting the Occupy movement,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-chair of the NLG Mass Defense Committee.

“As political activists in numerous cities face police assaults, arrests, threats, and evictions, the NLG Mass Defense Committee has organized a nationwide legal support initiative,” she said. “From the labor struggles of the 1930s to the Civil Rights movement, from the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era to those of the past decade, the NLG has consistently mobilized to provide a base of legal support for social justice movements in the United States.”

The NLG Mass Defense Committee is helping to match legal support with Occupy protests in cities nationwide. It is coordinating attorneys, legal workers and law students, and providing legal briefing, case law research, legal strategy and tactical advice. Its members are bringing affirmative constitutional rights challenges, representing protesters in criminal court, training and acting as Legal Observers®, and often providing around-the-clock legal advice to protest encampments.

“This is an unprecedented effort of swift and immediate coordination and support,” said Carol Sobel, co-chair of the Mass Defense Committee. From cities with long established NLG chapters to small towns that have rarely seen a protest, the NLG Mass Defense Committee is drawing upon the legal expertise of many of the foremost civil rights and civil liberties attorneys in the United States. Their efforts are being joined by a huge outpouring of time and expertise from attorney and law student volunteers inspired by the Occupy movement. “We know from decades of experience in defending free speech rights that law enforcement agencies, absent competent and aggressive legal pressure, tend to run roughshod over the rights of those engaged in dissent,” Sobel said. “We are taking a proactive approach to the defense of demonstrators. We don’t want to just defend protesters who have been falsely arrested—we want to head off the false arrests at the outset and send a message to local police agencies that suppression of free speech will not be tolerated.”

The NLG Mass Defense Committee has hundreds of members across the country. It is a growing network that routinely mobilizes in support of grassroots mass movements.

Some of the cities where NLG members are providing mass defense support are: St Louis, MO; Houston, TX; Charlotte, NC; Indianapolis, IN; Cleveland, OH; Billings MT; Olympia, WA; Seattle, WA; Manchester, NH; Oakland, CA; Louisville, KY; Clarksville, TN; Toledo, OH; Boise, ID;  Minneapolis, MN; Sarasota, FL; Chicago, IL; Portland, OR; New Orleans, LA; Pittsburgh, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Tucson, AZ; Harrisburg, PA; Syracuse, NY; Boston, MA; Albany, NY; Birmingham, AL; Dallas, TX; San Antonio, TX;  Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; Philadelphia, PA; Allentown, PA; Wilmington, DE; Trenton, NJ; Nashville, TN; Pensacola, FL; Sarasota, FL; Sacramento, CA; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Bloomington, IN; Detroit, MI; Milwaukee, WI; Chicago, IL; Orlando, FL; San Francisco, CA; Knoxville, TN; Des Moines, IA; Bellingham, WA; New York, NY; Cincinnati, OH; San Jose, CA; Savannah, GA; Orange County, CA; Los Angeles, CA.

Persons interested in volunteering assistance or Occupy groups in need of help should contact Abi Hassen, National Mass Defense Coordinator. (212) 679-5100 ext. 14 or abi@nlg.org

The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has members in every state.

###