The Mass Defense Committee (MDC) is a network of lawyers, legal workers and law students providing legal support for political activists, protesters and movements for social change.
MDC members in chapters across the country provide trainings, assistance in setting up temporary legal offices and legal support structures, and materials for supporting activists engaged in mass protests.
Mass Defense Support
The National Lawyers Guild can provide the following legal help to progressive organizations:
- “Know your rights” trainings/workshops;
- Meetings with, and advice to, organizers about protest actions, and legal consequences;
- Legal observers at protests and other actions;
- Help with setting up and running jail and bail support programs;
- Legal representation in case of protest arrests.
If interested, please go to nlg.org/chapters and find the NLG chapter nearest you. If the chapter has a website listed, click on the link and look for “Request Legal Observers” or “Mass Defense.” If no website is listed, email the listed chapter person and cc: King Downing, national director, NLG Mass Defense at email@example.com
If the chapter doesn’t have a website or other links, email the listed chapter person and make your request. The local chapter will respond based on capacity. Please cc: King at firstname.lastname@example.org – who will follow up with you and the chapter.
If there is no chapter listed for your city/area, or if you need help, or have questions, please email King at email@example.com.
If you are arrested during a protest, many NLG chapters also have arrest hotlines that can be used without calling in advance. To check for an arrest hotline number in your city/area, see below. It is good to have this number with you ahead of time, just in case – even write it on your body. If you don’t find an arrest hotline number for your area, please email King at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Know Your Rights booklets are available online for in English, Spanish, Arabic, Bengal, and Urdu. Single copies can be downloaded, or you can order hard copies in English, Spanish or Arabic to be mailed to you. Please email email@example.com to make a request.
Reports on the state response to mass demonstrations, include The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly, and Dissent (2004), Punishing Protest (2007), and The Policing of Political Speech (2010), Developments in the Policing of National Special Security Events: An Analysis of the 2012 RNC and DNC (2013), and Operation Backfire, on how the government targets environmental and animal rights activists as domestic terrorist threats. For more on movements and state repression, visit the NLG Blog.
NLG Legal Support Hotlines
Some local NLG chapters operate Legal Support Hotlines. If you’re planning an action with a high risk of arrest or you’ve been arrested at a political demonstration, you can call legal support hotlines in the following areas:
Buffalo, NY: 716-332-4658
Central Pennsylvania: 717-686-9989
Chicago, IL: 312-913-0039
Cleveland, OH: 216.5050.NLG (654)
Madison, WI: 608-520-0654
New York City: 212-679-6018
Portland, OR: 503-902-5340
San Francisco/Bay Area, CA: 415-285-1011
If you don’t see your area listed, contact King Downing, Director of Mass Defense at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Mass Defense work and Director position are funded with a matching grant from the CS Fund and relies on contributions from NLG members and supporters. So that we can sustain this position, please donate to the Mass Defense Program today!
Your donation will be used to help:
- Train Legal Observers to monitor police at protests
- Fund our Mass Defense Director position
- Expand our outreach to people of color, Muslim and immigrant communities
- Provide Know Your Rights bookets and trainings
- Enhance NLG Litigation Support
For further assistance, contact our Mass Defense leadership:
Director of Mass Defense: King Downing
Mass Defense Committee Chair: Jude Ortiz
You can also find NLG attorneys here who provide criminal representation for activists arrested during protests. For NLG attorneys in other areas of the country, or to find a legal collective near you, please contact the NLG Mass Defense Director.