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It was a case of deja vu for the National Lawyers Guild at last summer’s Republican National Convention. The guild’s Philadelphia chapter, which traces its activism back to the late 1930s when it defended New Deal legislation, reaffirmed its activist roots by placing “legal observers” at the convention. Monitoring and recording activities surrounding activist protests, NLG members forged a cooperative relationship with the R2K Network, an organization devoted to coordinating various demonstration groups at the convention. NLG members were joined by volunteer observers from across the country. The NLG continued to work with the R2K Network as it evolved into the R2K Legal Collective, aiding the 400 or so protesters arrested during the convention. To raise funds for both the National Lawyers Guild and the R2K Legal Collective, the NLG hosted a talk last week by Chip Berlet, senior analyst and co-founder of Political Research Associates, titled “Dissent and Surveillance: Protecting Civil Rights and Civil Liberties” at the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Preceding the talk, the NLG held its annual summer associates wine and cheese event. Berlet, who has appeared on many nationally syndicated programs including NBC’s “Today Show,” ABC’s “Nightline” and CBS’s “This Morning,” as well as National Public Radio and CNN, is also a widely published author on topics such as police misconduct, right-wing surveillance and covert action. HISTORY OF THE NLG The National Lawyers Guild was formed in the late 1930s by a group of lawyers in response to the discriminatory membership practices exercised at the time by the American Bar Association, specifically the exclusion of blacks. “The feeling among right-minded people was that this practice was unfair,” said Angus Love, past president of the Philadelphia chapter and current executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. In addition to supporting New Deal legislation, the NLG fought McCarthy-era witch-hunts, rallied behind the civil rights movement and supported anti-Vietnam sentiment in the 1960s. It provided counsel to antiwar activists in the 1970s and focused attention on affirmative action in the 1980s. During the 1990s, the organization scrutinized issues of workers’ rights. Today, the NLG acts as an advocate for causes such as corporate responsibility and governmental accountability. Love, who has been a member of the NLG since his law school days — for about 25 years — differentiated the organization from the more mainstream ABA as a little “harder edged.” Its membership base in Philadelphia is composed mainly of public interest lawyers and, to a lesser extent, members from other practice areas and professions. The NLG has no independent funding sources; rather, it relies on dues from its members and fund-raising events. Roseanne Scotti, a Temple University law student and member of the NLG, said that money is tight, especially since most of the members are in public law and, therefore, do not receive the large salaries of their law firm counterparts. Scotti, who is interested in public interest law, stressed the beneficial nature of the organization, especially to law students. “The emphasis in law school is to go join the big corporate firms,” she said. “But I would love to be able to do the kind of work the lawyers who defended protesters at the convention did.” RALLYING TOGETHER The turning point in the NLG’s involvement with the R2K Network occurred Aug. 1, the day slated for direct-action campaigns at the Republican National Convention. Several groups were set to protest, but before the protesters were able to undertake their demonstrations, the police launched a pre-emptive strike. “It reminded me of the MOVE siege,” Love said. Love was one of many observers stationed on street corners in Philadelphia’s Center City with notebooks and cameras. In addition to fielding observers, the NLG and the American Civil Liberties Union held legal-observer training sessions before the convention. Roy Zipris, an NLG member who coordinated the training, said NLG members also sat in on preconvention R2K planning sessions to help the group with “game theory.” The “yellow hats,” as the legal observers were called because of their distinguishing gear, functioned to ensure that there would be documentation that would stand up as evidence in court of all events that transpired. The R2K Network let legal observers from groups like the NLG and American Civil Liberties Union know where actions were planned. And when the police arrested the demonstrators on Aug. 1 in what would be known as the “puppet warehouse raid,” Love tried to intervene. “I hung around and tried to negotiate with the police, but all 400 people [planning to protest] were arrested and spent up to two weeks in jail,” he said. “We didn’t know prior to the convention that [the R2K Legal Collective] had a need to form,” said Bill Beckler, an R2K volunteer. “And we did not form from scratch, but from the ashes of other organizations that were demonstrating.” Beckler said he was forced to put his law career on hold as a result of being jailed in an incident related to his convention protests. THE AFTERMATH The protesters who were arrested were eventually exonerated and have filed a civil suit alleging that their First Amendment rights were violated. Thirty-two cases are still pending. Partial proceeds from last night will help defray the remaining legal costs. According to Beckler, the R2K Legal Collective has plans to dissolve once the remaining trials are complete. Since the convention, the NLG has moved on to tackle a series of other, smaller-scale issues in the Philadelphia community. “We haven’t since had a single activity that demanded as much attention and energy as the convention,” said Zipris. “There [has been] nothing quite as crystallizing as the RNC.”

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