The Year In Review for the NLG Mass Defense Committee

by Josh Raisler-Cohn and Jeff Feuer

Over the last 12 months the volunteer lawyers and law students of our Mass Defense Committee (MDC) have once again risen to meet the needs of the on-going movements for racial, economic, gender, and climate justice. We continued our longstanding work across the state providing trainings, supplying trained Legal Observers™, representing people in court, running our hotline, and collaborating with grassroots groups and other legal organizations to be a hub for movement lawyering in Massachusetts.

In the face of more violent storms and rising seas, we continued our work with climate justice activists challenging the building of newfossil fuel infrastructure in towns and the financial support of those projects through university divestment campaigns. We started off the year getting criminal charges dismissed for activists charged with blocking a coal train in central Massachusetts and represented activists who confronted Governor Healy on her climate and fossil fuel policies at her office in the State House. As the weather warmed, we represented Extinction Rebellion activists who disrupted normal business at the statehouse to demand that our state legislature pass a ban on building or expanding any fossil fuel facilities. We successfully represented activists in other climate change disruption actions and provided Know Your Rights/Legal Direct Action trainings for many climate change advocacy groups.

Our MDC trainings and legal support reached many hubs of resistance this year, including anti-war activists, reproductive justice organizers, public health advocates, campus organizations, the Mass. Teachers Association (the largest public employees union in New England), union organizers, low-wage workers, and unhoused people facing eviction through city policies. We continued to work with numerous anti-racist and anti-fascist activists and groups, and prevented criminal charges from issuing in several actions where people protected Drag Queen Story Hours at public libraries when those events were targeted by homophobic white nationalists. Our Legal Observers and mass defense teams reconvened around the sweeps and criminalization of unhoused people in Boston, providing trainings, legal observing, Know Your Rights materials and testimony at City Hall hearings.

Our movements saw successes in several long-term campaigns, including the implementation of the availability of driver’s licenses for everyone regardless of immigration status in Massachusetts.  Our advocacy for the “No Cost Calls” bill helped to pass that bill into law, which allows  people in prison to call their loved ones without price gouging on the calls.

This fall our MDC work was in full swing supporting movements for justice and freedom in Palestine. We increased the use of our hotline and partnered with the  Muslim Justice League to field calls from people facing investigation by federal and state law enforcement, workplace discrimination, and targeting on campus. We also have partnered with Palestine Legal to provide support for people facing the enormous increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab incidents throughout Massachusetts.  PalLegal has been receiving calls from across the county and our state, and the MDC has built a network with them, CAIR MA, and other legal advocacy organizations to provide wrap around representation for locally targeted Palestine activists.

Universities have been a keystone part of organizing, and we have conducted trainings on many campuses, consulted on protests, represented people arrested at sit-ins and rallies, supported students on disciplinary proceedings and supported targeted faculty, including students at Brandeis, Harvard, Tufts, and Northeastern among others.  NLG members are also representing law students whose job offers were withdrawn because of their campus activism, and we are continuing to build our capacity to assist in other employment related matters.

We are currently representing around 150 activists with criminal proceedings across the state, including one MDC attorney and legal observer who was arrested while working as an LO—who is representing himself. Some of these criminal cases are more minor, sit-in style charges, while others are facing more serious felony charges.

We have been stretched to the limit as a result of the recent wave of protests and demonstrations, but have so far managed to respond to almost every request for training, support, legal advocacy and legal representation that we have received – but there is more work to come. We need your help and support!  We are constantly looking for legal workers and attorneys who can assist with any aspect of the MDC’s work – be that meeting with activists to give advice, taking on a single criminal protest case, becoming a Direct Action trainer, drafting legal letters or court documents or any other time limited task that you could commit to. Please join us and support the Guild’s work supporting movements for justice and progressive change.