By Traci Yoder, NLG Research & Education Director
Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, there has been an alarming increase in the level of repression against activists as well as an upsurge in organizing to address these troubling trends. The Guild has joined multiple national coalitions designed to protect the right to protest, including Protect Dissent, Protect the Protest, and Challenging Lawfare. Additionally, NLG works with scholars through the Academic Solidarity Network and partners with the bi-national legal organization Al Otro Lado in Tijuana to assist asylum seekers by training and coordinating Guild volunteers.
The NLG has long worked in cooperation and collaboration with other legal, civil liberties, environmental, labor, anti-racist, abolitionist, and international organizations, and is uniquely positioned to not only take part in coalition work but also to create and strengthen these networks. Our membership of legal professionals spans the country, and Guild members can be found in many progressive nonprofits, law schools, and private law firms. We discovered the broad range of our memberships’ affiliations when the Guild organized national #LawStrikesBack events in major cities after the election of Trump. Through our organizational ties, the NLG quickly mobilized like-minded groups to support and participate in these actions.
As the latest attack on the right to protest neoliberalism and imperialism gains in strength, the Guild and its members have been instrumental in forming alliances to challenge efforts to quell dissent. In 2017, we began writing about a wave of anti-protest legislation introduced in state legislatures by conservative Republicans. These bills sought to increase penalties for common protest activities such as picketing, obstructing traffic, wearing masks, boycotts, disrupting hate speech, and performing acts of civil disobedience near “critical infrastructure.” The number of these bills continues to grow and the monetary interests behind them have been increasingly exposed. Since 2016, we have seen a total of 100 bills introduced in 35 states.
This trend in legislation designed to criminalize protesting led NLG staff to reach out to other allied groups—including the ACLU, Amnesty International, the International Center for Not for Profit Law, Defending Rights and Dissent, Greenpeace, and many others—to strategize ways to publicize and challenge these attempts from government, corporations, and the increasingly visible far right to challenge or punish demonstrations of dissent. Over the course of two years, the coalition has grown to dozens of organizations that take part in bi-weekly calls, hold annual national convenings, produce educational webinars, and share information, ideas, and resources. This network, which chose the name Protect Dissent, continues to monitor and organize at the state and federal level to challenge the ever-growing list of anti-protest bills. The Guild also teamed up with the Academic Solidarity Network to create a fact sheet on the federal ‘Unmasking Antifa” legislation introduced in 2018.
In 2018, allied organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Civil Liberties Defense Center, the Climate Defense Project, and others created the new coalition Protect the Protest, a network of groups committed to challenging frivolous lawsuits against activists, journalists, and whistleblowers known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). NLG National joined this new coalition and Executive Director Pooja Gehi became part of the Protect the Protest steering committee. We recently wrote about the use of SLAPP suits and the increase in legislation hostile to environmental activists in an article on the legal attacks on climate justice movements. The coalition produced a strong alliance of organizations bringing attention to SLAPP suits, and has already won key victories.
The NLG is also a proud member of the Black Extremist Identity Abolition Collective (BIEAC), along with the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the Transformative Justice Coalition, Defending Rights and Dissent, and Stop LAPD Spying. The mission of the BIEAC is to challenge and end covert and overt surveillance practices in the US that target individuals or groups the government identifies as radical extremists based on race, ethnicity, or religion. The NLG is also a coalition partner of the #ProtectBlackDissent campaign, led by the Center for Media Justice, which aims to end the FBI’s “Black Identity Extremist” designation.
Most recently, the Guild has agreed to coordinate a coalition of organizations, academics, activists, and movement lawyers dedicated to challenging litigious attacks by Zionist plaintiffs. Lawfare (the self-proclaimed legal arm of the Zionist movement) is bringing cases against organizations and individuals who support BDS and justice for Palestine, in order to drain resources and capacity in an effort to intimidate and dissuade others from joining the movement. The NLG, San Francisco State University, and the American Studies Association have been targets of such litigation. This network—Challenging Lawfare: Legal Defense of BDS Strategy Working Group—creates a space to share litigation strategy, develop an analysis around defending these attacks on movements, draw intersections from our work, and recruit more lawyers to take on these cases.
As coalitions of scholars, activists, and legal professionals fight back against state and corporate repression, they also allow the space for organizations that often work in isolation (or even competition) to make strategic alliances around our common missions and goals. The Guild has always been a political space where members, staff, and supporters of various organizations, activist groups, and academic institutions can share ideas and work together. Our function as an umbrella group bringing together local and national groups working on radical and progressive agendas may end up being one of the most important roles played by the Guild in this alarming political moment. ■