On the Road
Legal Support in SeattleThe Midnight Special Law Collective was formed in March 2000 in the wake of the World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle. In the first four days of December, residents watched as the mayor turned the city into a police state, complete with an expansive "no-protest zone", a 7 p.m. curfew, thousands of police and national guard in riot gear, and, finally, hundreds of unlawful arrests. Galvanized by this display, many citizens wanted to fight back against this blatant disregard for Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. With the help of attorney Katya Komisaruk, the Direct Action Network (DAN) Legal Team, made up of arrestees and activists committed to pursuing justice, began the arduous task of helping prepare 600 hundred cases for trial. Soon after, DAN Legal became the Midnight Special Law Collective. To assist public defenders, we did legal research, outlined motions, created tools for jury selection, created courtroom displays, and trained and coordinated a team of jury analysts. In addition to attorney support, we supported defendants directly by designing a database to keep track of all arrestees and their court dates, enabling us to draw public awareness to the political prosecutions by writing press releases, organizing rallies and press conferences, and gathering supporters to fill the courtrooms. Ultimately, of the 600 activists arrested on misdemeanor charges, a handful accepted plea bargains, and only six went to trial, resulting in one conviction.
Seattle Class ActionIn Seattle, we spent a considerable ammount of time collecting and organizing information for use in criminal defense as well as civil litigation against the government and law enforcement. We worked with activists and WTO Legal to do research for a class action lawsuit regarding the unconstitutional No Protest Zone set up by Mayor Paul Schell. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice filed this complaint early in 2001.
Legal Support in DCIn the weeks preceding the two-day demonstration against the IMF and World Bank, Midnight Special met with progressive lawyers, organized legal observer 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 and wherever there was space - warehouses, schools, parks and churches. During the week of the meetings, 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. Approximately 150 activists withheld their names, forcing the authorities to hold them in an already packed jail. By using jail solidarity, these arrestees secured a plea bargain in which all pending misdemeanor charges were reduced to a $5 jaywalking ticket, thus eliminating the need for future trial dates - a good thing for the prosecutor as well as for the many activists who had come long distances to protest the unjust and exploitative policies of the IMF and World Bank.
DC Class ActionDue to the success of Jail Solidarity in DC for the April 16, 2000 protests of the IMF and World Bank, we were able to focus on organizing a class action suit to address the repressive acts of the government and law enforcement. We collected and organized materials, helped prepare a statement of facts, and organized radical lawyers in the DC area to file the suit on behalf of all activists hurt by a goverment consipracy to quash their rights. This suit is being brought by the Partnership for Civil Justice. To view the complaint, click here.
Legal Support in LAWe spent two months training activists and, with the help of Bob Myers and other local attorneys, organized lawyers, and prepared 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 as well as emotional and moral support to activists, their friends, and their families. Nearly 200 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 encouragement and information 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, believing that their actions, as a public statement of their convictions, were not criminal. In the face of brutality and humiliation, these men and women stood together against a system designed to isolate and disempower. 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.
LA Class ActionAfter the Democratic National Convention protests in LA in August, 2000, local attorneys were quick to plan for class action lawsuits to address police misconduct. We helped collect information for this lawsuit. On August 9th, 2001, lawyers with the National Lawyers Guild filed a major lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles over events at the DNC and October 22nd demonstrations. A copy of the complaint, as well as other information, is on the NLG/LA website: Other legal teams are filing individual damage lawsuits.
Settled in OaklandWhen we moved to Oakland, we reorganized and reevaluated our goals and tactics. Unfortunately, it was time to part ways with attorney Katya Komisaruk.
Legal Support for FTAA - Quebec, Burlington, San Diego/TijuanaOur focus on personal growth and individual autonomy allows us to do effective work in many places at once. For example, the protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quebec city were historic in that they occurred throughout North, Central, and South America. Midnight Special was able to assist in providing legal support in Quebec City; Burlington, Vermont, at the border convergence; and at the San Diego/Tijuana southern border action simultaneously and with great success.
Legal Support for BioJusticeThe sustainability of the movement is a key goal of ours. To this end, we have revised our methodology for providing legal support for mass actions. Instead of keeping our experience and skill within a small cadre of initiates, our new approach is to help set up a local legal team in advance of the action, and then work in coalition with them. 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 them as well. This June, we did just that. BIO 2001 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.
TrainingsWhen it comes to disseminating skills which allow activists to be safe, more effective, and make informed decisions, our answer is what we call "Dim Sum trainings. Our trainings are a series of brief role plays, where we as trainers take the role of police officers. Participants play the role of the activist. Each role play is accompanied by a brief lesson, and a question and answer session, before moving on to the next role play. The format keeps the audience's attention, and drives each lesson home. The Know Your Rights training we gave at the STARC West Coast convergence consisted of 10 such role plays in about two hours. We have expanded our menu of role plays to encompass consensus decision making, deescalation techniques, a mass arrest at a Food Not Bombs serving, police attempts to intimidate an activist into giving up her rights, and others. From working with activists and lawyers to make sure our information is authentic and accurate, to practicing them so our presentation is clear, we spend hours creating each new role play. The strength of Dim Sum trainings is that we can make a unique training for a group's specific needs without having to create an entirely new workshop.
Using this format, we have presented workshops on Know Your Rights, Navigating the Legal System, Legal Observer, and other topics. Each group we train has different needs and experience levels and we strive to tailor each training accordingly.
Law Collective ConferenceAs part of the growing movement, several activist legal collectives have formed since the year 2000. Law collectives are community-based activist organizations familiar with the law and the politics of the legal system which support the movement and work to protect the individuals within it through pooling information and resources. We worked with members from law collectives in NYC, Boston, Philly, Cincinnati, Quebec, Toronto, Cincinnati, and DC to organize the first annual law collective conference. The goals of this conference were to share skills and provide resources for each other, to discuss different legal support strategies, and to build the foundations for a network of radical legal support. The conference was held in January, 2002.
Guide to Documenting InjuriesAs part of our work with PUEBLO's Police Accountability Program, we created a guide to documenting injuries called Shooting the Wounded. This guide is an effective resource for activists or community members who are victims of police abuse as well as victims of domestic or other violence.
Legal support for CIW (March 2002)The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker organization in Florida, has asked to speak with Taco Bell representatives to discuss working and living conditions of the farmworkers who pick Taco Bell's tomatoes, but Taco Bell refuses to do so. These farmworkers don't have the right to organize a union, have no health insurance, no pension, and no sick leave. The median annual income of farmworkers is $7,500 while Taco bell earned over $5 billion in 1999. In March, 2002, the CIW and supporters from around the country are going to march in Los Angeles and on the Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, CA. Keeping with our goals of empowering individuals and fostering the creation of activist legal teams and law collectives, Midnight Special Law Collective has helped local organizers put together and train a team in LA to support activists in the streets, in the jails and in the courts!
Action Legal Team MaterialsWe have created a suite of materials to help organizers form an effective legal team for a mass action. Topics include: how to set up an office, coordinating information, what to research, coordinating with the local legal community, trainings, roles, security culture, etc.
PUEBLO Police Accountability ProjectWe are collaborating with PUEBLO, a community organization in Oakland, on the Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB) facet of their Police Accountability Project. Our work with them falls into three sections:
- Advocacy -Acting as advocates for individuals bringing complaints before the CPRB in Oakland.
- Guides for Complainants and Advocates - Writing easily understood materials on how to prepare effectively for a hearing both as a complainant and an advocate.
- Curriculum for Advocates - Designing a training for community-members on how to be effective advocates. By having members of the community, rather than outsiders, advocate at hearings for each other, the community is strengthened and empowered.