Mass Defense Program

In a crowd of anti-racist activists holding signs in support of Ferguson and denouncing police brutality, there are 5 folks wearing neon green hats.  One of them, a black man with glasses, faces the camera. He is NLG Legal Observer Blair Anderson.
NLG Legal Observer Blair Anderson at #FergusonOctober. (Photo: Cece McGuire)

“Our aim is to bring together all those who regard adjustments to new conditions as more important than the veneration of precedent; who recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of workers, women, farmers, and minority groups upon whom the welfare of the entire nation depends; who seek actively to eliminate racism; who work to maintain and protect our civil rights and liberties in the face of persistent attacks upon them; and who look upon the law as an instrument for the protection of the people, rather than for their repression.”
Preamble, Constitution of the National Lawyers Guild

The Mass Defense Program is a network of lawyers, legal workers, law students, organizers, activists, and community members providing legal support for protests and movements fighting for progressive social change. 

Members across the country provide Know-Your-Rights and Legal Observer® trainings, assistance in setting up temporary legal offices and legal support structures, Legal Observer® coverage during protest events, materials for supporting activists engaged in mass protests, and more.

Know Your Rights booklets are available online for in EnglishSpanishArabicBengali, and Urdu. PDFs of these booklets are available for free download and hard copies are available to order at

Know Your Rights During COVID-19: In response to COVID-19, numerous public health and national security measures are being proposed and implemented across the nation. While necessary to protect our communities and health care systems, we must be vigilant and resist authoritarian and violent tendencies by the state.

As an abolitionist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist organization, the National Lawyers Guild recognizes that the constitutional civil liberties framework is deeply flawed, intended to uphold capitalism, and enforced inconsistently. Historically, states of emergency, mandatory quarantines, and curfews have often been used to expand state control over political and civil freedom. Emergency powers often criminalize movement, freedom of expression, protest, and marginalized communities.  Nevertheless, it is important that we know what rights exist to protect ourselves and resist increased policing.

“An abolitionist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist organization”

A central tenet of the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Program is ensuring that we are not replicating the very same injustices we are fighting against. As all social justice organizations know, this is difficult work that must be done around the clock and in all aspects of the work that we do. It is absolutely necessary that all those who engage in movement work to continue to challenge these biases in themselves and the structures and spaces they create.

Additional Resources:

The following list of resources is by-no-means comprehensive. It is meant to serve as a starting point in a continuous journey of education and self-reflection.

Non-Paywalled Articles:

“Being an Ally/Building Solidarity” Core Organizing Tool (2019) by Southerners On New Grounds

9 Ways to Combat Privilege & Build a More Inclusive, Sustainable Social Justice Movement (2016) by Aiko Fukuchi

Against Equality: Prisons Will Not Protect You – Introduction by Dean Spade (free scanned PDF; not plain text)


*Note: For books without a free PDF or website version, we’ve linked directly to a publisher or the author site for purchase. All authors listed have lived experience in the topic they’re writing about. To locate and request these books at your local library, please visit WorldCat.

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton (Book/E-Book for purchase)

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Book/E-Book for purchase)

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Book/E-Book for purchase)

We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future by Deepa Iyer (Book/E-Book for purchase)

Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Politics (Decolonizing Feminisms) edited by Lynn Fujiwara, Shireen Roshanravan, and Piya Chatterjee (Book/E-Book for purchase)

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?: Police Violence and Resistance in the United States edited by Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, Alana Yu-lan Price, foreword by Alicia Garza (Book/E-Book for purchase)

Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex edited by Eric A. Stanley, Nat Smith, foreword by CeCe McDonald (Book/E-Book for purchase; free PDF here)

Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law by Dean Spade (Book/E-Book for purchase)

Against Equality: Prisons Will Not Protect You edited by Ryan Conrad (Book/E-Book for purchase, free PDF and other online resources here)

Leslie Feinberg’s books and essays (website, free PDF download)

“As organizers, we need to think of access with an understanding of disability justice, moving away from an equality-based model of sameness and “we are just like you” to a model of disability that embraces difference, confronts privilege and challenges what is considered “normal” on every front. We don’t want to simply join the ranks of the privileged; we want to dismantle those ranks and the systems that maintain them.”

-Mia Mingus

Non-Paywalled Articles:

Changing the Framework: Disability Justice – How our communities can move beyond access to wholeness by Mia Mingus

10 Principles of Disability Justice by Sins Invalid

10 Ways We Can Make Leadership Accessible for Sick Folks in Activism by Katie Tastrom

Free Accessibility Audit Template by Radical Accessibility Mapping Project

How to Make Your Social Justice Events Accessible to the Disability Community: A Checklist by S.E. Smith

A Legal Guide For Activists With Physical Disabilities and Health Issues by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) (Please note: This guide was created by Canadian activists, and exact legal policies may vary.)

Disability Visibility Project curated by Alice Wong (website)

A Planning Guide for Making Temporary Events Accessible to People With Disabilities by ADA National Network

20 Tips for a More Accessible Event by Shawna McKinley

Planning Accessible Meetings and Events: A Toolkit by the American Bar Association


*Note: For books without a free PDF or website version, we’ve linked directly to a publisher or the author site for purchase. All authors listed have lived experience in the topic they’re writing about. To locate and request these books at your local library, please visit WorldCat.

Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities edited by Victoria Law and China Martens (Book/E-Book for purchase)

Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) by Dean Spade (Book/E-Book for purchase)

Disability Politics and Theory by A.J. Withers (Book/E-Book for purchase)

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong (Book/E-Book for purchase)

Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement edited by Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Book/E-Book for purchase)

Disability Incarcerated: Imprisonment and Disability in the United States and Canada edited by Liat Ben-Moshe and Allison C. Carey, foreword by Angela Davis (Book/E-Book for purchase; local library availability listing)

Decarcerating Disability: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition by Liat Ben-Moshe (Book/E-Book for purchase)

NLG Disability Justice Committee:

The Disability Justice Committee works to transform systems that privilege some types of body-minds over others. We bring disability perspective to social justice work. We support leadership of queer women, trans people, and people of color with disabilities. The DJC is also a way for lawyers, legal workers, and prisoners living with all kinds of disabilities to support each other. Their contact is See the Disability Resources list created by the committee!

Photo Credit: (Left to Right) “BlackLivesMatter-George Floyd. Portland’s Epicenter. The Apple Store. June 14, 2020” by drburtoni is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. “Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ Rally” by Anthony Crider is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Minneapolis Police fire tear gas at those protesting the May 25th death of George Floyd. Chad Davis is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Legal mass defense is but one part of a much broader community of support organizations for activists on the ground.

Below are additional mass defense resources organized by type. Click on the tab to see what organizations are available in your state.

Bail Funds are an integral part of community-driven mass defense efforts, and some of the most effective bail funds in the country have been created by non-lawyer, non-legal worker activists on the ground. Click on the link below to get plugged into the National Bail Fund Network and see what bail funds are in your area.

Legal Defense Funds (LDFs) can serve as crucial tools for sustaining grassroots led movements and defending the people who put their lives on the line for them.

The National Lawyers Guild and National Bail Fund Network have teamed up to create a guide for setting up legal defense funds in order to address some challenges organizers may face in creating and implementing such funds, with considerations related to fundraising, eligibility, legal logistics, accountability, and more. Click on the button below to download a PDF of the guide.

“Fight the power; do no harm”

-Chicago Action Medical

What are Street Medics?

As defined by Chicago Action Medical, street medics are “an international informal community of people who have provided medical support during the last half-century, at protests, direct actions, uprisings, and natural disasters that are complicated by police or military targeting of survivors.”

However, the origin of street medics can be traced to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. The Atlanta Resistance Medics credits the 1963 Medical Committee for Civil Rights as the original founders, “an integrated affinity group of medical professional [who] joined the March On Washington to demand civil rights for Black Americans. As the march wound down, MCCR members transitioned from being protesters into a standing group planning to play a medical observer role.”

Street medics have historically played a fundamental role in support of radical liberation movements, and they continue to be an integral part of mass defense infrastructure today.

Mental health support is a vital aspect of movement work and a strong community mass defense coalition. Our work must be done ethically and sustainably, which means taking care of ourselves and the folks in our communities.

Read this 2020 Statement of Support for Legal Observers Targeted and Brutalized by Police, which includes activist-specific mental health resources, and check out the additional resources below.

The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN) is a healing justice organization committed to transforming mental health for queer and trans people of color that works at the intersection of movements for social justice and mental health.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) has an excellent Resource Page with toolkits.

The Audre Lorde Project (ALP) has created personalized wellness planning templates in order to assess your needs and foster community support.

“In this moment of community grief, let us find each other, and radically turn in to each other with love, consensually present each other with our hurts and needs, and strategize as community to get those needs and desires met. We must remember, share, and practice strategies for grounding, support, resilience, transformation, and accountability.” -Tauret Davis of the Audre Lorde Project

Therapy for Black Girls is a network of therapists who have been recommended and vetted by Black women across the country.

The Latinx Therapist Action Network (LTAN) is a network of Latinx mental health practitioners honoring and affirming the dignity and healing of migrant communities marginalized by criminalization, detention, and deportation.

The Asian Mental Health Collective is an organization that aims to normalize and de-stigmatize mental health within the Asian, Pacific Islander, and South Asian American (APISAA) community.

If you are in a life threatening mental health situation, please use these resources if you need immediate help:

*Trans Lifeline’s Hotline run by and for trans people: 877-565-8860

GLBT National Help Center Hotline provided by highly trained LGBTQ volunteers: 888-843-4564

GLBT National Youth Talkline for people ages 25 and younger: 800-246-7743

National Coalition Of Anti-Violence Programs: 212-714-1141 (English and Spanish)

DeHQ: Desi LGBTQ+ Helpline For South Asians: 908-367-3374

BlackLine – Crisis Call Line for BIPOC: 1 (800) 604-5841

VideoPhone Crisis Hotline for American Sign Language Users: 321-800-3323

*Trans Lifeline is the only resource with an explicit policy against non-consensual wellness checks (i.e., calling the police on folks in physical danger). Others don’t have written policies. For more information, visit the Don’t Call the Police resource site.

Some local NLG chapters operate Legal Support Hotlines. If you’ve been arrested at a political demonstration, you can call legal support hotlines in the following areas.

Pro Tip: It is a good idea to write the number on your body in permanent marker ahead of the demonstration.

NOTE: These hotlines are staffed by volunteers, and operate at the request of community members. If you’re planning an action with a high risk of arrest, contact your local NLG chapter ahead of time if you’d like to request Legal Observers® or other forms of demonstration support.


  • Southern Arizona: (520) 477-2654


  • Los Angeles, CA: Arrest line coming soon.
    • Contact with the Subject Line “Interested in Volunteering” for opportunities to support our mass protest defense work.
  • Sacramento, CA: (916) 500-4654
  • San Francisco/Bay Area, CA:
    • Demo Public Line – (415) 909-4NLG (415-909-4654)
    • Demo Jail Line – (415) 285-1011


  • Statewide CT: (203) 896-7221
    • for reporting arrests and police violence, providing jail support, and connecting people to resources for bond. Connecticut chapter is not providing legal advice or connecting people to defense attorneys at this time.



  • Statewide GA: (678) 902-JAIL (678-902-5245)


  • Statewide ID: (208) 991-4324


  • Chicago, IL:
    • If you or someone you know has been arrested and needs a lawyer to visit them in police custody, contact the Cook County Public Defender at (844) 817-4448.
    • If you or someone you know has been criminally charged and needs legal representation in court, call the NLG-Chicago at (773) 309-1198.
    • If you’re organizing an action and would like to request NLG Legal Observers, contact us at
    • If you’re a licensed attorney in the state of IL and would like to volunteer with the chapter, please fill out this volunteer attorney form.


  • Statewide LA: (504) 290-3535


  • Statewide MA: (617) 431-6626


  • Detroit, MI: (313) 925-2626


  • Statewide MN: (612) 444-2654


  • St. Louis, MO: (314) 312-0836

New Hampshire

  • Statewide NH: (802) 417-2173

New Jersey

  • Statewide NJ: (833) 336-5654 ext. 700

New York

  • Buffalo, NY: (716) 332-4658
  • New York City, NY: (212) 679-6018

North Carolina

  • Statewide NC: (919) 408-7569
  • Central NC: (919) 408-7569


  • Statewide OH: (614) NLG-OH77 (614-654-6477)


  • Eugene, OR: (541) 687-9180, operated by the Civil Liberties Defense Center
  • Portland, OR: (Note: the following hotlines are operated by the Portland Mass Defense Hotline, which is not affiliated with the NLG.) If you were arrested and are IN JAIL: (971) 247-1072 /  Non-jail line for when you are out of police custody, to report that your friend has been arrested, or if you witness or experience state violence: (833) 680-1312.


  • Central Pennsylvania: (717) 686-9989
  • Pittsburgh, PA: (412) 212-6753


  • Austin, TX: (512) 817-4254
  • Houston, TX: (832) 779-1263


  • Seattle, WA: (206) 658-7963


  • Madison, WI: (608) 520-0654

Washington, DC


  • Statewide VT: (802) 417-2173

Call (619) 463-2369 or for referral to a lawyer for questions about resisting activation, about illegal orders, speaking out, or other issues where an attorney’s advice is helpful. General counseling information is available from the GI Rights Hotline (877) 447-4487.


For further assistance, contact our Mass Defense Director: You can also click on the button below to find NLG attorneys who provide criminal representation for activists arrested during protests.