National Lawyer’s Guild Speech Notes – PDF

1995 NLG Speech Draft

I just want to cry and hug my friend Harold; my most moving moments with him on GTMO, in an HIV camp–a place from Dante’s 9th circle of Hell; warmest and most beautiful friend a person can have; a fighter who never gives up

Thank Rosa, Dottie and Franklin; Katy Margie and Jon; and NLG–30 years- from Columbia to Haiti–my defender, teacher and home;

Wife’s reaction; My wife is 12 yrs. younger; Karen story

Overwhelmed by the evening, particularly by the presence of my friends from our struggles over the last 25 years; I just want to hug you all. Someone asked me yesterday how I can go on and keep fighting in the face of the defeats overseas and the reactionary period we are in at home; Working with and having people I love and who love me is probably the greatest part of the answer of how we all keep going. more impt. than ideology–shared values and how we see the world

The other part of the answer is what choice do we really have? Yes as well off Americans we do have a choice; A professor at college once said to me when I was on a ban the bomb demonstration in the early 60’s–forget it go home and listen to Bach; well I still haven’t listened to Bach;

But really what choice do we have? When I am in Haiti and I see little 5 and six year olds–the age of my children–going blind-­ eyes exploding–because not enough Vitamin A– and it would only take an orange a week–I say what choice do we have; or when I see mothers and fathers here–in NYC–trying to raise their 5 and six year old children with the knowledge that the kids are going to terrible schools; that they may well not finish school, might wind up on drugs or in jail and that the futures they can hope for are not great; I say what choice do we have

Remember in GTMO with the children, beautiful children–but behind barbed wire, unbearable heat and hardscrabble ground–say in a note of optimism–your children will soon be in NY and play with my children and we will sit down at the table together; we–students­ Harold–Joe–Lucas- did do that for those few;

But that goal–all of us all of our children eating at the table together is what drives me and my friends and the NLG

That goal, that vision is now under severe attack both abroad and at home. It’s been since 1981, but I think this moment is particularly difficult.

Let me tell you what I saw in Haiti: I just got back yesterday. It was one of the most profoundly disturbing trips I have made.

course the US  was everywhere; it controls and dominates the – Elected officials from Aristide’s party- friends but stuck in a box-Of government; walking into palace; palace might have been in DC; business group–little to    do    with health and education; and with kids going blind.

3.  but the key to understanding Haiti today is that the thugs are still armed and in place; it is not safe and little can be done; brought home to me when officials issue a warrant–President wanted it issued–no one willing to–interior fired; prosecutor fired; time issued they had fled; partly same elite, but mostly fear–and reasonable fear; so how change if us let the bad guys continue in day to day life.

4. A politician–a popular one–one who wants to run on Aristide’s party and is sure to win; I ask him how he is doing-­ tell me the US is funding groups–workers that will oppose him in the June elections; don’t want what the people want

Only Optimistic and Exciting time I had was getting away from politicians and the palace–peasant organizer–really doing something for the kids with the eye problem–cooperatives, credit bank, lawyer, health–that is the hope for Haiti-far from US; I can promise you: but for this kind of organizing–6 yr. olds will still be going blind in Haiti 50 years from now.

No real change in role of the US; no real change in one of the critical issues of our time–the riches of the north and the poverty of the south.; sometimes, like now, the US control’s with a velvet glove, and language like economic restructuring; sometimes with steel as we did in the last decades; but the results are the same: high infant mortality, illiteracy, low wage slave jobs, and early death

Here at home of course we are suffering the worst attack and assault in decades on what we have won and on the constitution itself. The right has achieved some sort of victory at least temporarily and even if by only 20 percent of the voters.

Many of those who did vote did so for the scape-goating solutions of the right; as if the death penalty, more jails, an end to the 4th amend., the end of welfare, of abortion, the closing of hospitals and kicking out immigrants were somehow going to make their situation in life better.

Well of course these punitive measures will not make life

better or more secure; that is not what they are really about These measures did not just fall out of the sky; in part they a reaction  to  what  we  have gained; gains for women, African­ Americans, immigrants the poor, gays and lesbians; gains that make this society a very diff. one than I grew up in;

The authors of contract with America want to take us back; They can cause damage but they cannot succeed. The world they want to go back to is a time of innocence that never was; a world of Ozzie and Harriet families with no people of color, with no Gays and Lesbians, no immigrants and with a wife at home; with no one on welfare, no crime and no one losing a job. It is this idealized family that never was that Gingrich and co. wants to foist on the American people.

Despite the seriousness of the assault and the attempted rollback I am not a pessimist; I am not sure why I am not; Here are some of the reasons I thought of: 1st: We part in NLG are fighters; 2nd we cannot go back to a time that never was; 3d millions of people out there who are with us–they only have to be organized. There’s no one way to organize that’s going to save us. Some of my friends here tonight are from the New Party, whose strategies for electoral work are gaining ground.. Other friends here are from ACT UP, who lie down in the streets and block traffic. We have to do it all.

NLG special role–both nationally and locally;

First of all because we work directly with the organizers, the activists and the affected constituencies. This has always been the way we win our cases, to mobilize politically and work side by side with the grassroots.

Secondly, we have an important role here in NYC, which is bearing the brunt of serious cutbacks: happening where we live. Obligation and the skills to fight back; if we as lawyers can’t do it; what of those without our skills and resources

Thirdly, I believe we’re at a political moment when almost everything can be attacked legally–from hospital closings–to welfare cutbacks; from the death penalty to the end of affirmative action In some areas part. strong traditions. where principle counts and where we are experts–affirmative action, criminal law, 4th amend; prisoners’ rights, welfare, immigration; labor and gay rights to name a few


CUT THIS IF SHORT ON TIME Affirmative action example we did it before; coalition with NCBL and CCR; not do what liberal organizations did recently–won  not African-Americans; debunk a at neutrality is  unity; how break do   at Brent Staples at NYT ref  editorial affirm. action not solve the problem we should be Fighting the good fight not mean doing the same thing over and over–my gen a lot to learn–students-smartest most effective strategies; need to continue; Impt. not give up or be defeated; our struggle is what moves the whole thing forward.

Impt to Act; no excuse to go home and listen to Bach–except once in a while

 Close with a poem: not a touchy feely type; don’t like new age but got a few words from a book called feelings: sounds touch feely:            not leave at end–closing song by Mano

Let us share joy and pain let us dare everything

what is to be avoided above all else is to say nothing

And to want  nothing and to do nothing. — who wrote it Karl Marx.

    1. comradeship point–as important a
    2. On occasion worked with people  in the democratic party; on part. bee of the present  attacks form  alliances with them; it is not our answer–ob 1ious ; waver; 1ternative; issue oriented groups-militant and organize; other of our friends­ alternative political parties- art. new party- on a local level saying the period is not difficult.   expected the world to look like it does today–particularly the primary area I focus d on; supporting liberation and revolutionary movements in central Amererica and the Caribbean. Very painful to see the end of the 6p s and the aspirations that I thought  were possible twenty 9: even 10 years ago; many of friends put everything they 9ad I to those struggles even their lives; We have had to deal with the collapse the CA revolutionary movements, collapse of C deeply fled Soviet Communism –but a country that was nonetheless essentialt o out world view; a heroic Vietnam that is now a haven for foreign investors–a total change in the