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ATL Field Trip: A Visit to Occupy Wall Street

No joke. The sign for the “Legal” department was printed, charmingly enough, on the bottom of a pizza box. I chatted with the OWS protester who was manning the Legal desk, a young woman from Boston who provided me with her first name, Marlena. She said she has been at Zuccotti Park on and off since the protest started on September 17.

“Legal is one of the working groups at Occupy Wall Street, just like Media or Food,” Marlena explained. “We connect occupiers with legal information and resources, including the National Lawyers Guild.” (In case you’re not familiar with it, the NLG is “a non-profit federation of lawyers, legal workers, and law students…. [whose] members have been using the law to advance social justice and support progressive social movements,” since 1937.)

Staffers at the Legal desk of OWS provide jail support services, track the status of arrestees, and conduct observation of protest actions. The staffers are generally volunteers, not attorneys.

“We’re a coordinating body and an information-channeling body,” said Marlena, applying beeswax balm to various parts of her body as she chatted with me, “but we are not making legal decisions for people. Individuals with legal cases need to consult their own attorneys.”

(In other words, no unauthorized practice of law — good to know!)

This hasn’t been easy work, according to Marlena. “It has been a struggle to have a presence here in the square,” she said. “We need people with a willingness to be in the square and to learn about law and legal issues. That has been a challenge.”

Well, thanks to the crummy job market for lawyers, there’s certainly a surplus of lawyers with legal knowledge to spare. If you’d like to help out, you can volunteer by calling the NLG through an Occupy protest hotline in your city. (The number for NYC is 212-679-6018.)

Maybe this next guy can help….

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