2010 NLG Convention Coverage

We, the Students, Report from the 2010 NLG Convention

We began conspiring to get ourselves to New Orleans on our first day of law school orientation. We didn’t really know each other, but we knew the National Lawyers Guild and that we wanted to be a part of it. As activists in our home communities, Guild attorneys had not only represented many of our friends and allies in struggle, their examples had convinced us to go to law school in the first place. We had taken their advice, yet remained skeptical and nervous about the journey ahead. One of the few things that we did feel sure about was that we would have a home in the Guild.

Northeastern law students (and a baby) with Mass Chapter officers and staff at a pre-banquet reception.

And so, three weeks and one fundraising party later, we skipped our afternoon civil procedure class and boarded a plane to the convention. Our only regret was that we didn’t skip torts, too, and make an earlier flight.

The NLG Convention was, for us, affirming, challenging, and life-giving. We found ourselves amongst the practitioners that we dream of becoming, practitioners who were excited to meet us, excited to welcome us into the Guild, and eager to share their work and wisdom with us.

We were challenged to question what it means to “think like a lawyer” when the law itself seems designed to perpetuate injustice rather than further the common good. If the first year of law school tries to set out the “rules,” the convention taught us to think outside the box and look for useful law wherever we can find it. Creativity will take us places formulaic application never could! We heard presentations by lawyers and organizers who are re-envisioning the struggle of immigrant workers as not simply a labor contract issue, but as a 13th amendment issue—making workers rights a constitutional question of involuntary servitude. We heard from an attorney who is actually trying to harness the hurdles of Iqbal for good by including a citizens’ tribunal report in a complaint concerning police brutality at political demonstrations in Puerto Rico.

We saw how the law exists in its inter-disciplinary, complex, multi-faceted glory. How a client’s or movement’s legal needs rarely fit into the neat categories of our law school curriculum but rather involve the intersection of many fields. Labor law, criminal law, and immigration law may all have bearing on a single case. With that comes the importance of working together, something we saw so much of in Guild practice. Legal workers and community organizers, scholars and attorneys, engaged in a cooperative struggle for justice, came together to share it with an even wider audience.

We heard rumors and murmurs of notable members of the Guild, of the groundbreaking cases they litigated and the other landmark occasions in People’s History in which the organization took part. We were heartened and inspired to hear about these historic people and moments and wanted to learn more. In fact, after we returned we organized a “History of NLG” event for our school chapter.

We also learned about the “Alabama Manifesto” and the Guild’s own struggle to improve and challenge itself to embody the equality and inclusiveness that it seeks on the global scale.

Most importantly, we left the Convention with a greater sense of community and hope. Friday’s plenary session on the importance of labor in the 21st century left us astounded, by both the amount of work that still needs to be done and the energy of the Guild to do it. In this economy especially, it is easy to feel redundant in law school. The Convention, however, reminded us that in the struggle to prioritize human rights over property interests, there is always room for more feet on the ground. Which side are you on? For us, there’s no question.

Stephanie Gharakhanian and Sharlyn Grace are 1st year students at Northeastern University School of Law.

National Convention 2010 Legal Worker Award to Urszula Masny-Latos

Biography from the Convention Banquet Dinner Program

The rumors are true — Urszula is Polish. And as you’d expect, Urszula was involved in politics in Poland. In 1976 she had just taken her university entrance exams when riots triggered by increased food prices were met with increasingly harsh government repression. Urszula joined an underground committee in defense of workers, cleverly hiding the group’s newspapers under son Sebastian’s crib mattress.

When Solidarnosc (Solidarity) was formed in 1980, Urszula and her former husband were active in the student branch. But by 1981, they needed a break and planned to leave Poland for a year. They obtained Italian tourist visas but sought political asylum in Vienna. They spent three months as political refugees until a Michigan church agreed to sponsor their petition for U.S. citizenship.

NBC News interviewed Urszula for a story on Austria’s refugee crisis. Of course the crew was smitten with this fiery ladna dziewczyna (cutie pie). She invited them — and half the local village — to the family’s going-away party, complete with a DJ and plenty of vodka. Urszula eventually starred in an NBC propaganda piece, although NBC forgot to mention that Urszula and her then-husband were socialists.

When Poland closed its borders, they decided to stay in the U.S. After earning a degree in the sociology of law, Urszula was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study back in Poland. In Kraków, she became involved with Fundacja eFKa (The Women’s Foundation). Contrary to Fulbright rules, she helped organize against the ban on abortion. Niektóre rzeczy nigdy sie nie zmieniaja. (Some things never change.) After organizing a film festival for Polish and American women directors, she decided to switch her focus to arts management.

Upon her return to the U.S., Urszula earned a Masters in non-profit management. While acting as business director for an Eastern European theater company in New York, she also translated materials for UNITE, a union that was organizing in New England. That led to a year in Boston and naturally, a return to Urszula’s old organizing ways. During this time she met Massachusetts NLG members. In 1996, the chapter needed a new executive director, Urszula applied – and the rest is herstory.

No, some things never change – thank goodness. During her 14 years with the Massachusetts chapter, Urszula’s revolutionary fervor has never dimmed. And she can still out-party the rest of us. You go, odwazna kobieto (gurrrrl).

– Barb Dougan-

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