- Reflections on Legal Support and Occupy Wall Street
I have never been able to quite figure out how to coherently be a young, feminist radical attorney. My uncertainty over whether I could engage with the established legal system while striving for entirely new systems only intensified due to my legal support of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protestors.
I was admitted to the New York Bar during OWS, and able to formally represent arrested protesters. With my attorney secure pass in hand, I was able to skip past security and see individuals in police custody at hospitals and precincts. I was paid to coordinate the criminal court efforts of the National Lawyer’s Guild New York City Chapter. Through my work with the guild’s Mass Defense Committee, I met many other attorneys, which led to additional paid legal work for me. As an official spokesperson for the committee, I have done countless interviews about the treatment of OWS protesters by the police and the courts. Indeed, I was asked to curate this piece. I have been well compensated, in money and in respect, for my work with OWS.
Yet there were constant reminders of how I am perceived by the criminal justice system and its actors as a relatively young woman. I was asked to show my attorney I.D. more often than older male attorneys—the shorter my suit skirt, the more likely I was to be asked. Nearly everyone I encountered, including protesters, other attorneys, news reporters, and court officers, expressed visible shock upon learning that I am an attorney. I got hit on regularly by men waiting in courtrooms, and have been asked, “Damn, girl, will you be my lawyer?” more times than I care to recall. In some cases, there were advantages. For example, police and court officers were often [End Page 299] more eager to help out a young, sweet, confused girl than my older male colleagues.
In sum, my work surrounding OWS was a far cry from unpaid and underappreciated care work. Yet my age and gender persistently affected my legal work and how it was interpreted. These twin conclusions lead me to wonder whether, from a radical feminist standpoint, my legal work did any good. Can other young women be compensated for their legal work in the ways I was? The next time a cute girl shows up in court, will anyone be less surprised that she is a lawyer? Did I help to transform anything?
Below are reflections from two other women, both also perceived as quite young by the legal establishment, each trained and involved differently in the same endeavor to shepherd protesters safely through the legal system. In their essays, they reflect upon the ways in which they attempted to force the repressive structures of the criminal penal system to transform and accommodate systems of radical community care, in spite of, but also because of their experiences as women.
I was the daytime jail support coordinator for Occupy Wall Street. I was unemployed before Occupy. I was unemployed during Occupy. I was unemployed after Occupy. I am amazed by the level of involvement that many people, like my partner, managed to maintain while working fulltime. But, for me, it was just Occupy and plenty of time to think about my labor for Occupy in the context of my labor outside of Occupy.
Jail support is the cleanup after a march or action. It is a crucial part of taking care of ourselves and standing up to state harassment of activists through the use of an increasingly militarized police force and judicial system. It is long, boring, lonely, and frequently frustrating. Many people have never heard of it, and those who have, frequently think of the large days of action when there’s a sizable group waiting for the arrestees to be released and the overall mood is a continuation of the sense of community felt earlier. When there are only a couple of arrestees and they are the more vulnerable, those with fewer resources, including social resources, the experience is frequently far less joyous, but the support provided...