On the Road
The Midnight Special Law Collective was formed in March of 2000 in the wake of the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. In the first four days of those demonstrations, residents watched as the city turned into a police state, complete with an expansive "no-protest zone", a 7 pm. curfew, thousands of police and national guard in riot gear, and, finally, hundreds of unlawful arrests. Galvanized by this display, many wanted to fight back against this attack on Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
With the help of attorney Katya Komisaruk and the Direct Action Network (DAN) Legal Team, arrestees and local activists began the arduous task of helping prepare 600 hundred cases for trial. Soon after, DAN Legal changed its name to the Midnight Special Law Collective. To assist public defenders, Midnight Special did legal research, created courtroom displays and helped with jury selection and analysis.
In addition to attorney support, Midnight Special supported defendants directly by writing press releases, organizing rallies and press conferences, and gathering supporters to pack the courtrooms. In the end, of the 600 activists arrested on misdemeanor charges, a handful accepted plea bargains, and only six went to trial - resulting in just one conviction.
Meanwhile, activists were amassing in our nation's capitol to confront another group of free trade fat cats scheduled to meet on April 16th of 2000: the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
In the weeks preceding the two-day demonstration, Midnight Special organized progressive lawyers, led legal observer and "Know Your Rights" trainings, and began to document the intense surveillance and harassment of activists, including our own collective members, in the streets and at the Convergence site. We trained over 1500 activists and 200 legal observers at a furious pace, wherever we could - in warehouses, schools, parks and churches.
During and after the protests, Midnight Special staffed three phone lines around the clock, taking calls from arrested activists, concerned friends and relatives, and demonstrators on the streets. Over the course of three days, nearly 1200 people were arrested.
Midnight Special sent lawyer-activists teams to the jails to meet with the arrestees and help negotiate a universal plea bargain which would protect those in custody who were at risk. About 150 activists withheld their names, forcing the authorities to hold them in an already packed jail. By using legal solidarity, these arrestees forced the authorities to reduce the charges of everyone's misdemeanors to a $5 jaywalking ticket.
In June, Midnight Special headed back across the country to Los Angeles, California, to provide trainings and support to the women and men who spoke truth to power in the streets during the 2000 Democratic National Convention. We spent two months training activists, organizing lawyers, and preparing legal observers for the largest protests seen in L.A. in nearly a decade. For ten days during and after the demonstrations, Midnight Special staffed four phone lines 24 hours a day, providing around-the-clock legal information and moral support to activists, their friends, and their families. Nearly two hundred people were arrested, some for engaging in civil disobedience during protests, others simply for crossing the street. As in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, it was clear that voicing dissent was crime enough.
We sent Midnight Specialists and local attorneys to the streets, to the jails, and to the courts to provide support to demonstrators. Forty activists, most of whom participated in direct action and were trained by Midnight Special, used legal solidarity strategies and remained in jail, refusing to cooperate with the system. In the face of brutality and humiliation, these men and women stood together against a system designed to isolate and disempower them. Seeing the unsafe and dehumanizing conditions that the other inmates face daily, the activists initiated a hunger strike to call these conditions to light. After days of fasting, the incarcerated protesters finally convinced the prosecutor to come and negotiate with them inside the jails, face to face. In the end, the prosecutor capitulated to every one of the activists' demands! All activists who were arrested in groups had their charges reduced to infractions with no penalties other than the time already spent in jail.
In September of 2000 we moved to Oakland, and are continuing to provide trainings that empower and educate activists and organizers. We have undergone several changes in membership over the past years. In October, 2000, we parted ways with attorney Katya Komisaruk, who went on to found the Just Cause Law Collective.
The remaining members of the Midnight Special Law Collective - Phaedra Travis, Natalie Sperry, Sarah Coffey, Paul Marini, and Dan Spalding - wanted to set Midnight Special's roots in Oakland. Although we had all been inspired by the mass mobilizations of the previous year (and would do legal support for them again soon enough), moving from protest to protest was exhausting, physically, emotionally and financially.
Our first priority was to give "Know Your Rights" trainings to folks in the area. We began a process where every member of the collective learned to lead all of our trainings. This gives us tremendous flexibility to give trainings wherever they're needed, around the state and around the country
One of our favorite trainings took place when we were invited to participate in Santa Rosa High School's Days of Diversity program. We provided a two-hour training to nearly a hundred students on their rights and how the police (and administrators) try to trick them out of them. Then we led two discussion sessions on the FTAA, global activism, and student organizing. Student reviews of workshops rated Midnight Special Law Collective as "over the top excellent," while the principal threatened to expel us from the school campus.
We also wanted to work more with local community groups. We have collaborated with PUEBLO, People United for a Better Oakland, on their police accountability project. And we worked with PUEBLO, the Youth Empowerment Center, and other groups on our "Know Your Rights" Comic book, illustrated and written in large part by Matthew Riederer.
Mass Legal Support
Our focus on personal growth and individual autonomy allows us to do effective work in many places at once. For example, the protests against the 2001 Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quebec City were historic in that they occurred throughout North, Central, and South America. Midnight Special helped provide legal support in Quebec City; Burlington, Vermont, at the border convergence; and at the San Diego/Tijuana southern border action.
In doing legal support for mass actions, our priority has been to share skills and experience. Our new approach is to help set up a local legal team in advance of the action and work together. This approach has the dual benefit of leaving a fully functional local legal team able to serve the community when we leave, and allowing us to learn new insights and ideas from each other as well.
In June of 2001 we did just that. The BIO conference was the largest gathering of the biotechnology industry to date and concerned citizens from near and far traveled to San Diego to voice their dissent. Midnight Special worked closely with five local activists to create the Biojustice Legal Support Team. Together, we tracked arrests, court proceedings, and police harassment - providing information and support to activists and their loved ones as the state and the biotech industry attempted to silence them by force.
Resisting the New War Against Iraq
In March of 2003, the San Francisco Bay Area saw the nation's largest protest against the war in Iraq. The morning after war was declared, activists shut down SF's financial district in one of the largest and best-coordinated direct actions the country has ever seen. Affinity groups shut down and clogged up dozens of intersections in the pre-dawn hours of March 20th. The police described this action as "highly organized but totally spontaneous."
The Midnight Special Law Collective was instrumental in organizing the formation of the Legal Support to Stop the War Collective, or LS2SW. Together with a handful of other experienced legal activists and one radical lawyer, LS2SW helped organize legal support for the nearly 2800 people arrested protesting the war. With the help of hundreds of volunteers we created what some have described as the best organized legal support of any mass action to date. Among these volunteers were two amazingly dedicated, hard-working, and radical individuals who quickly became integral and indispensable members of the legal support team. Ultimately, charges were dropped against virtually every single person arrested protesting the US's imperial war in Iraq. This past summer, in addition to celebrating our victory against the state's attempt to criminalize dissent, Midnight Special celebrated the addition of two new members, Ariel Glenn and Greg Michalec.
Creating a Radical Legal Network
On a larger scale, the Midnight Special Law Collective is working to foster the creation of legal collectives around the US and Canada. We are working with these groups to create a national network of movement legal support - sharing skills, knowledge, and resources. We have held three international law collective conferences, in Philadelphia, Montreal, Canada, and Austin, and are currently planning a fourth.
Demystifying the Law
We feel it is critical to demystify the law for people everywhere. In addition to providing engaging and empowering workshops, we provide handouts and manuals written in plain language on legal solidarity, an easy to use police misconduct report, a guide to being your affinity group's legal support person, a handout on "Dealing with Police," and more.
Please read our mission statement for more information about Midnight Special