Representing an Idea: How Occupy Wall Street's Attorneys Overcame the Challenges of Representing Non-Hierarchical Movements

By Marton, Janos D. | Fordham Urban Law Journal, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Representing an Idea: How Occupy Wall Street's Attorneys Overcame the Challenges of Representing Non-Hierarchical Movements


Marton, Janos D., Fordham Urban Law Journal


Introduction
  I. Occupy Wall Street: New York Activists and Lawyers In The
        Spotlight
  II. Other Occupations and Their Legal Battles
        A. Meet The Occupy Lawyers
        B. "Client" Communication
           1. Nashville
           2. Portland
           3. Washington, D.C
           4. Atlanta
           5. Cleveland
           6. Delaware
           7. Houston
           8. Seattle
           9. Boston
           10. New Orleans
           11. Pittsburgh
           12. Miami
           13. San Diego
           14. Oakland
           15. Minneapolis
           16. Austin
           17. Los Angeles
        C. Local Government: Friend or Foe?
           1. Friendly Relations
              a. Rochester
              b. Maine
              c. Houston
              d. Delaware
              e. Pittsburgh
           2. Unraveling Over Time
              a. Albany
              b. New Orleans
              c. Dallas
              d. Buffalo
              e. Miami
              f. Seattle
           3. Hostility Comes With the Territory
              a. Atlanta
              b. Oakland
              c. Fort Myers
              d. Charleston
        D. Movement Victories
           1. Nashville
           2. Cleveland
           3. Minnesota
           4. New Orleans
           5. Boston
           6. Olympia
           7. Fort Myers
           8. Columbia
           9. New Orleans
Conclusion

INTRODUCTION

On the morning of Thursday, October 13, 2011, some of New York City's most prominent civil rights attorneys gathered in a small office several blocks from Zuccotti Park, the home of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) encampment that has generated headlines across the world. (1) The previous evening, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had announced that the park would be "temporarily" cleared on Friday morning for a "cleaning." (2) To both occupiers and lawyers, the "cleaning" seemed to be a pretense to end the occupation in its present form and would permit protesters to return only under strict new rules. (3) The lawyers at the meeting debated the wisdom of filing affirmative litigation and settled on sending a strongly worded letter to Mayor Bloomberg, New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Brookfield Properties Chief Executive Officer Richard Clark, arguing that the proposed cleaning of the park would violate the First Amendment and that cleaning efforts from OWS made such an effort unnecessary. (4) They signed the letter, "Liberty Park Legal Working Group." (5) When a massive crowd flooded Zuccotti Park the next morning, Brookfield Properties called off the cleaning and handed OWS one of its most visible public victories. (6) Nevertheless, a month later, a midnight NYPD raid ended the Zuccotti Park occupation and, in the months since, no substantial litigation has been filed to defend the rights of OWS. (7)

This Article will evaluate the challenges that Occupy movement attorneys faced in representing large, non-hierarchical, democratic movements. During the fall of 2011, occupations took root in hundreds of communities across the country, with several occupations lasting into the winter (8) and many others continuing activist efforts without a permanent space. (9) A broad variety of lawyers have played critical roles in fighting for occupiers' First Amendment rights in court, negotiating with governments, and advising occupations in legally uncharted terrain. (10) This Article will explore how several attorneys got involved with the Occupy movement, liaised with it, worked with the consensus process, and addressed their clients' needs through a legal system that is part of the broader political system against which the Occupy movement protests. Many scholarly works have addressed the role of the activist lawyer in social justice lawyering. (11) In studying the first months of the Occupy movement, social justice lawyering principles and strategies were put to the test across the nation.

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