President’s Column

NLG President Elena Cohen gave the following address at the start of the 2020 #Law4thePeople Convention. Read more about this year’s 2020 #Law4thePeople Convention here.

Dear Guild Members and Allies,

This year has been extraordinarily difficult. The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and state-sponsored murders and violence against Black people have shown us that we can- we must- radically rethink the racist capitalist structures that have brought these pandemics to the fore. None of us can opt out of anti-racist solidarity and movement building. Support for building an actual social and economic safety net that includes universal public health, fixed basic income, dignified housing for everyone, guaranteed pensions and collective welfare must be robust and accessible to all. Climate disaster is an integral part of all our lives now and we must all honestly engage with our individual and collective relationships to the Earth and the role we play in her existence.

This is why we are here. Because the Guild always shows up when injustice is rampant and has been a pivotal part of social justice struggles for 83 years. The other world that is being breathed into existence in Louisville, Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago and in all of our communities is here. It is arriving. And the National Lawyers Guild will be here to support this other world and fight back against the rise of global fascism and its white supremacist, nationalist covers to perpetuate the police state and justify the murders and disappearances of citizens.

I am reminded now of all those who came before us. While they couldn’t finish the work of creating the liberatory world in which they wanted to live, as we may not be able to, neither can we desist from engaging in it. There are no better examples of this than our honorees at this year’s convention. This year we are honoring Dr. Angela Davis, Michael Wishnie, Jodi Hill, Jeanne Mirer, and the UndocuBlack Network in the memory of Arthur Kinoy, Carol Weiss King, C.B. King, Ernie Goodman, and Daniel Levy. We also honor Sara Kershnar with the 2020 Legal Worker Award, as part of our recognition that radical legal change is accomplished through the tireless work and dedication of non-attorneys.

This work is not achieved in one night, in one convention, or in one lifetime. We can, and should, sit with this point when the world seems the darkest and change seems most out of reach. While the arc of the moral universe may be long and bends towards justice, it also takes devastating and demoralizing twists and turns along the way. Yet as 83 years have shown us, we are in this for the long haul, and we will persevere. And while this journey of collective struggle for freedom for all may feel heavy with the tremendous weight of the fate of our loved ones and of the world that rests upon it, we also find moments for celebration. Let this convention, and our time together, be in service of the transformations we all seek and the moments for joy and for hope that allow us to continue. Welcome.

Elena L. Cohen, NLG President