The following was issued as a statement by the NLG National Office on March 18, 2020.
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is committed to building collective power and solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the spirit of our mission of valuing human rights and the rights of ecosystems over property interests: “We must lift coercive economic sanctions, prioritize mutual aid, ensure access to quality health care for all, and secure protections for houseless people, disabled people, prisoners, immigrants in detention, and low wage workers,” says NLG president Elena Cohen.
The NLG National Office staff is taking necessary steps to keep ourselves and our communities safe, including working from home. We recognize this and the ability to “self-isolate” are tremendous privileges, and we remain dedicated to using those privileges to further our mandate of using the law for the people.
In times of global crisis, the interconnectedness of our struggles is laid bare. We urge our members to remain engaged to the extent possible with their NLG chapters’ and committees’ email lists and other forums as we build strategies and tactics to support each other during this time. However, without access to our physical office, we must temporarily suspend our postal mailing operations, impeding our ability to communicate with our incarcerated jailhouse lawyer members who mostly rely on postal mail for connection with the outside world. That’s why efforts like that of Baltimore IWOC to establish a nationwide hotline for prisoners who may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are so important. Knowing the myriad harms of our governments and the capitalist system, it is heartening to see so many people acting in solidarity with their neighbors near and far during the crisis. Mutual aid networks are emerging across the world, and this comprehensive list by the Anarchist Agency and activist and author Cindy Milstein details efforts in the US.
As NLG Executive Director Pooja Gehi states, “The NLG has always known that we cannot rely on state and corporate structures to support our most vulnerable communities. During this global crisis, we are carefully monitoring the expanded role of the military, police, and other forms of state power and how it is increasing surveillance, violence, and repression in the name of national security and public health. This is a moment when it is critical to release incarcerated and detained people and to show solidarity with the people most marginalized in government response.” Let’s take care of each other.
NLG National Office
Below are some responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by NLG committees that illustrate the the intersectionality of our struggles and our work:
Labor and Employment Committee: “Working people across our country are in dire need of protections from COVID-19. Even before this crisis, working people were laboring on the edge of poverty, working subminimum wages with no protections in case of emergency. Now, a true emergency is upon us and we need the government to act fast to pass legislation granting paid sick leave to all employees, expanded unemployment insurance, and strong protections for frontline health care workers, among so many more interventions. We are in solidarity with those on the front lines working around the clock to keep us healthy, ensure our public transportation is running, care for our children, stock the shelves at our grocery stores and pharmacies, deliver our mail and work overtime at warehouses, fulfillment centers and factories producing essential consumer products and completing online orders. Thank you for your work.” Sarah David Heydemann, Representative to the National Executive Committee
Prison Legal Advocacy Network: “It is deplorable that many prison systems have suspended legal visits at the very moment that prisoners arguably need access to legal counsel the most, as with the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (FBOP) 30-day suspension. FBOP is notorious for depriving prisoners of auditory confidentiality during legal calls, and attorneys should not need to argue for special exceptions in order to engage in confidential in-person communications with their clients. While pretrial detainees’ trials are being suspended, health services are reportedly inadequate, and prisoners are being forced to live and work in conditions that are inconsistent with CDC COVID-19 guidelines.” —Stanley Holdorf, PLAN Supervising Attorney
Disability Justice Committee: “The needs of disabled people should be centered in all COVID-19 planning as we are at high risk of complications. Responses should include releasing people at high risk of complications from jails, prisons, and detention centers; protecting disabled people’s access to healthcare (including COVID-19 treatment); and making sure employment remains accessible to disabled employees. Disability justice principles like interdependence, leadership of the most impacted, and commitment to cross-movement organizing can help us to identify how we should move forward. While disabled people are more vulnerable to COVID-19, we also have wisdom and skills that make us uniquely prepared for the challenges we are facing right now.” —Katie Tastrom, Chair
Housing and Homelessness Committee: “The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the crisis of housing and homelessness in the US, compounding this public health emergency and threatening to cause thousands of unnecessary deaths. This is a crisis of public health, and the only way to solve it is to recognize that all people have the right to decent, affordable housing. Increasingly, the homeless are taking matters into their own hands by defending encampments, resisting police sweeps, and defying laws restricting the providing of food to the hungry.” —Sarah White and Anthony Prince, Chairs
International Committee: “The COVID-19 pandemic requires a response grounded in principles of international solidarity and cooperation that prioritize people’s access to basic human rights, particularly healthcare. The hegemony of neoliberal economic policies has siphoned money from public coffers and people’s pockets into the banks of corporate bosses in the current monopoly capitalist system. Further, the US Government’s use of sanctions or unilateral coercive measures against countries whose governments it opposes must be lifted so that gravely needed medical supplies, food, water, and other basic necessities can reach those in need of care and recovery. Migrants and refugees who are fleeing war, poverty, and climate disasters must be provided for instead of continually criminalized and neglected. In this time of crisis and uncertainty, governments must share resources, not hoard them. The international community must be vigilant against any attempts by governments to take advantage of this vulnerable situation to consolidate power. For people to confidently practice social distancing and self-quarantine to slow the spread of COVID-19, they must be assured affordable housing and transportation, food and job security, and financial stability.” — Jackelyn Mariano, Suzanne Adely, and Jeanne Mirer, Co-Chairs