By Pooja Gehi, NLG Executive Director
As the National Lawyers Guild enters into our 80th year, we face a political landscape more outwardly repressive than we’ve seen in decades. The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency marks a renewed legitimization of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of oppression that the NLG has been resisting since our inception in 1937. As an organization, we don’t invest our energy in electoral politics. We know that the so-called “democratic” two-party system works to maintain a system of hierarchy, white supremacy, wealth divides and wars abroad. Even if Hillary Clinton had won, we knew we would continue to fight back – as we always have – against neoliberalism under the Democratic Party. While the outcome of the election is terrifying and different than expected, our commitment to law in service of the people is unshaken, and our resolve stronger than ever.
Yesterday’s announcement from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) denying the easement needed to complete construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) reminds us of the power of collective action and organized resistance. The Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC), the NLG’s legal support team for those engaged in resistance to the DAPL, has maintained a 24/7 presence on-site at the Oceti Sakowin camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota for months. In their press release about the USACE decision they write, “We [also] recognize that this decision came about because of courageous actions of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and thousands of Water Protectors and their determination to stand up and peacefully demand that our government honor Indian Treaties and respect the sovereignty of Indian nations,” said Brandy Toelupe (Native Hawaiian), WPLC lawyer. We know that the struggle for #NoDAPL is not over, and neither is the larger fight for Indigenous self-determination and justice in the face of environmental racism and corporate greed, as the ongoing Michigan water crisis shows us.
The NLG is the nation’s oldest and largest human and civil rights bar association, and the first one in the US to be racially integrated. Our mission is to use law for the people, uniting lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective force towards social change by valuing human rights over property interests. This is achieved through the work of our members, and the Guild’s numerous organizational committees, caucuses and projects, reflecting a wide spectrum of local, national international and intersectional issues. We work to provide legal support to a variety of political movements and take the lead from those organizing on the ground in their communities. While we are terrified by what this administration will bring, we know that we are not alone. And we know that we are prepared. As our rich history illustrates, NLG members are well situated to fight back in this political moment, having resisted COINTELPRO, McCarthyism, Reaganomics, globalization, and the “War on Terror”—and providing crucial legal support for the Civil Rights, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, #NoDAPL movements, and so much more.
Now is the moment for us to come together as a community, share resources and existing infrastructures, hone in on the legal and other skills we can share with others, and support those most vulnerable in our society to prepare for what will come. Already, movement lawyers, legal workers and law students are training new Legal Observers, presenting know your rights workshops and creating sanctuary campuses and cities in support of immigrant communities.
The NLG is proudly 100% grassroots, member-driven, and democratically led. If you’re a law student, legal worker, jailhouse lawyer or attorney seeking to join the fight for human and civil rights, we invite you to become Guild member! We work hard to make participation in the Guild as accessible as possible, and are thus proud to offer sliding-scale membership dues. Visit nlg.org/join to become an NLG member today. If you’re not a legal practitioner but would like to support the crucial work of the NLG, please make a tax-deductible contribution at nlg.org/donate. We do not accept corporate or government funding, and rely on the support of members and donors to keep us going.
We look forward to growing community, strengthening resistance, and supporting people’s movements in 2017 and beyond. Here’s to the building strongest Guild ever!
(Photo by Shanna Merola)