May Day: Day 12 at Just Info

On Day 12 at Just Info, on May Day, a celebration of the rights of working people, I’m in Union Square Park for outreach. I’m joined by Moira Meltzer-Cohen, an attorney and one of the founders of the Just Info Hotline, the premier project of the New York Law Collective. Two other members of Just Info, Christopher and Abigail, pass through.

We set up a small, battle-worn folding table that looks like it has seen many of these campaigns. In fact, it looks like it has been around since the Revolutionary War, which is fitting since we set the table up in the south plaza not too far from the bronze statue of George Washington, which depicts the day when Washington reclaimed the City from the British.

Given current events across the country, specifically cases of law enforcement misconduct and the killings of unarmed men of color by police officers, most recently Freddie Gray in Baltimore, concerned citizens and people of goodwill are looking to reclaim the power of the People. The talk early in the afternoon is about the six police officers who have been arrested for the death of Gray. This seems to be a sign, a turning point; perhaps real change is in the air.

People are slowly gathering. Some stop at the Just Info table to ask when the May Day festivities will begin. We are not sure, but it looks like we have chosen the epicenter, since most people are gathering in the south plaza of the park, where George Washington seems to be leading the charge. (Note that after the Revolutionary War, Washington retired. He reentered public life because he was dissatisfied with the new provisional government, much as today’s rally is dissatisfied with ours.) We take this opportunity to hand out Just Info Hotline cards, as well as “Know Your Rights” pamphlets of the National Lawyers Guild (NYC Chapter).

The 24-hour Just Info Hotline, 1-85-JUST-INFO, provides support and information for anyone impacted by the criminal legal system. The founders of the Hotline knew that “a lack of reliable information [about the legal system] is predictive of lasting damage.” In fact, on this May Day, we hope to remind people that a call to the Just Info Hotline can prevent a “mayday” distress call, where people charged with crimes crash and burn without reliable legal information. The phone number on the “Know Your Rights” pamphlet is specific to protestors who might be arrested; Just Info, we remind people, is for everyone in the five boroughs, no matter when or why they are impacted by the system.

Before our day is over, we have talked to both young and old alike, including a 30-year veteran of the Labor Movement, and an Asian man with two signs in two languages with the legend on three lines, “PROTECT HUMANITY; PEACE FREEDOM DEMOCRACY; A LONG WAY TO GO.”) He tells us to post the pictures we are taking of him “all over the Internet.” Additionally, Moira has circled the park a couple of times handing out Just Info cards. We handed out about 550 cards, all in all, a successful celebration of people’s struggles for more control over the systems by which they are governed, whether the bosses or the laws.

William Eric Waters
Project Manager, Just Info
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