On The Ground Running: Broadening the Scope of NLG Trainings

By Andy Izenson, NLG-NYC Chapter President

This January, the NYC chapter of the NLG hosted its second day-long protest support training for legal and activist communities, “On the Ground Running: Protest Support in the Streets and in the Courts.” As last year’s chapter VP, and current President, I am passionate about collaborating with Executive Director and comrade Susan Howard to organize widely-available trainings for NLG members and non-members alike.

The morning had two tracks of standard NLG programming. The legal track included Legal Observer and arraignment training to expand the volunteer pool for legal support at demonstrations and for arrestees: the larger that pool, the more sustainable our work. The activist track included court support training for non-lawyers in navigating the court system and supporting arrestees, and basic street first aid by a member of NYC Action Medical. Protestors face dangers from increasingly militarized police forces and emboldened alt-right counterprotestors , which makes practical training a crucial component of the mutual aid that makes up our movement.

The afternoon programming contained three plenary sessions developed just for this event: ICEWatch, information security, and trauma first aid.

ICEWatch discussed applying Legal Observer program principles to a new human rights threat: ICE officers entering civil and criminal courts to arrest, detain, and deport community members appearing for unrelated court dates. I am thrilled to support Guild members in adapting existing tools to meet new challenges, and grateful for the expertise of our cofacilitators from Resistencia Legal and the Anti-Violence Project.

Information security is a common concern among activists. Our facilitator from Palante Technology spoke from a harm reduction perspective, helping us recognize that the technologies we use daily are powerful tools for both organizing and surveillance. They helped us understand risk, strategy, and the tools available to meet different needs. Especially with intergenerational activist groups, this kind of work serves as a crucial equalizer.

Finally, a facilitator from the Gender and Sexuality Therapy Collective led a trauma first aid workshop. Trauma is rarely addressed in activism and the legal field, yet I know first-hand that protest arrests and even brief interactions with the prison system can be traumatic. Many Legal Observers suffer from vicarious trauma, and failing to understand how to help each other heal is a weakness in our movement.

We learned about the basic mechanisms of trauma: how traumatic events function in a nervous system, how they affect the body and mind, and how to distinguish between traumatic and non-traumatic responses. We learned how to identify traumatic activation in our comrades and in ourselves, and practiced tools for de-escalating our own and each other’s stress and trigger levels.

I have never seen any organization commit to trauma competence the way I believe we must if we want to succeed. Moving through the world in a marginalized body – one that is Black, brown, or indigenous; that is disabled; that is queer, trans, or read as feminine; or on the business end of any of the other axes of oppression that make up the systems of violence we struggle against – is inherently traumatic, and in seeking to liberate ourselves from the cycles of that violence, we must begin by learning how to be kind to each other, and ourselves, around the hurt that they have dealt us already. Only then can we move forward together into a more healed world.

I encourage other chapters to hold trainings that consider a wider range of support than only Legal Observer training; particularly trauma competence and sensitivity for all facets of our work—in the streets, in the courts, and everywhere else. ■