Mass Defense Committee Report
by Makis Antzoulatos & Josh Raisler Cohn
The Mass Defense Committee (MDC) continued its work throughout the year supporting social movements for justice. We have collaborated with groups working for racial, economic, climate, and migrant justice, Palestinian solidarity, and queer liberation and affordable housing struggles. While the white supremacist power structures launched attacks at individuals and communities across the country and the world, the people stood up in inspired and liberatory resistance. The MDC was proud to stand in support of these movements!
We sent half a dozen legal workers and lawyers to Standing Rock early this spring, providing legal observing, jail support, legal consultations, trainings, documenting police abuses, and office support to the Water Protectors Legal Collective that was based in the resistance encampment. We supported the Collective, an amazing legal team led mostly by Native American women. While the encampment has been cleared, there are still hundreds on ongoing criminal cases that people need support with. (see https://waterprotectorlegal.org/)
In local anti-pipeline efforts, we continued to support the campaign resisting the West Roxbury Pipeline. This pipeline is a spur project to a much larger pipeline project being built that will take fracked natural gas and send it to international markets, further fueling disastrous climate change. There is a group of activists from this campaign who are working with a group of MDC lawyers to mount a climate change-based necessity defense to their criminal charges from blocking the construction of the pipeline. We also supported activists who engaged in sit-ins at local banks that are financing pipeline projects. These protests occurred both in central and eastern Massachusetts, and after a number of court appearances we were able to help the activists successfully resolve their criminal charges.
In anti-nuclear news, the MDC has continued its work supporting activists campaigning to finally shut down the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth. We have supported activists who have engaged in civil disobedience this year, including a group that met with their prosecutor and had an opportunity to really lay out the risks of the plant to him, and ended up obtaining a very favorable result in their criminal cases. The MDC has had an incredible working relationship over the past few years with If Not Now. If Not Now is a movement working towards an American Jewish community that stands for freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians by ending support for the occupation.
The MDC has led a number of legal trainings for the Boston chapter of If Not Now. Our volunteer lawyers represented members of If Not Now following several civil disobedience actions, including an arrest that occurred during a “liberation Seder” held outside the officers of AIPAC.
Late this summer the MDC made a strong showing in supporting the anti-Nazis resistance led by Black Lives Matters and other groups to a small rally of white supremacists on the Boston Common. On short notice we provided legal trainings for over 1,000 activists, including simultaneous trainings in different locations leading up to the march. We provided over 25 legal observers to a variety of marches and rallies during the events. Through a collaboration with Law for Black Lives and the Mass Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers we were able to provide representation to all the anti-racist activists who were arrested. A number of those cases have resulted in dismissed charges, and others are ongoing. We continue to work with Black led groups and other organizations that are resisting race based violence by both state and non-state actors.
The MDC continues to provide trainings, legal support and attorneys to individuals and communities targeted by ICE. This work includes a wide range of activities, from supporting sanctuary work to legal advice at airports during travel bans to individual legal advice to supporting communities that are working to resist raids and stop deportations. We also represented actvists this year who engaged in a sit in at the South Bay House of Corrections in protest of jails contracted to hold people detained on alleged immigration law violations.
We continue to conduct Legal Observer trainings, and have trained new volunteers to lead the civil disobedience legal briefings. We also continue to support campus based activism, working to support student leadership in campus campaigns about fair wages, climate change, and upending racist legacies.
We are always interested in new volunteers to help with this work, so if you are interested, please let us know and volunteer!
Makis Antzoulatos & Josh Raisler Cohn are co-coordinators of the Mass Chapter Mass Defense Committee.