By Traci Yoder
Occupy Philly (OP) began October 6 at Dilworth Plaza outside of City Hall. Like occupations in other cities, OP built a vibrant encampment, holding daily General Assemblies, providing education and trainings, and organizing frequent actions to address issues ranging from police brutality to corporate greed.
NLG Philly offered support to OP from day one, including providing Legal Observers® and answering questions at the General Assembly about permits and First Amendment issues. Guild members also offered Know Your Rights trainings at the occupation site on protester rights, police encounters, and what to expect if arrested. Philly members also conducted trainings and presentations at the OP People’s Law School on topics such as corporate personhood and employment discrimination. The chapter is working with the OP Legal Collective to organize the arrest hotline and legal information for protestors.
The Philadelphia Chapter is also helping to coordinate representation for protestors who were arrested in actions related to Occupy Philly. Groups of protestors arrested for civil disobedience actions at Police Headquarters and the Comcast building will be taking their cases to trial with the help of a legal team assembled by the NLG, including Guild attorneys Mike Lee, Paul Hetznecker, and Michael Coard. Inspired by the OP protest, NLG Philly has assembled a growing referral list of local lawyers who are prepared to represent protestors in the case of future arrests.
In addition to providing support for Occupy Philly, the Philadelphia Chapter has also been helping occupations throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Because these smaller towns and cities do not have Guild chapters, NLG Philly set up a hotline to assist occupations in Harrisburg, Allentown, Bethlehem, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Wilmington, Delaware, and Trenton, New Jersey. We have organized Legal Observer® trainings and helped to find local attorneys to advise the protestors on their unique situations. The result of these collaborations has been a revival of the Harrisburg Chapter (including a new student chapter at Dickinson Law School) and increased coordination between cities in the Mid-Atlantic Region as we all strive to support this important and growing movement.
[Ed. note: Occupy Philly was evicted in an early morning raid November 30, and again the following week. Close to 50 were arrested in the marches and standoffs that followed the first eviction. Of them, 19 plan to go to trial on charges that include criminal conspiracy, failure to disperse, and obstructing a highway. Others have accepted deals for community service and fines.]