Having been an activist in high school and college, I went to law school because I wanted to be as useful as possible in order to save the planet and its inhabitants. After a few years as an environmental lawyer suing the Forest Service and other governmental agencies, I remember the day I was asked by my clients to go out to a timber sale location. The day before, the court had denied us a TRO (temporary restraining order—or emergency injunction), and now irreparable logging harm was scheduled to occur in this pristine, amazing forest. As I approached the Forest Service gate, I saw many of my clients locked to the gate by their necks, smiling at me. I stood nearby, pretty helpless, talking to the media about what motivated the action, and then watched as each was cut out of the U-locks and loaded into the police van and carted away. Their experience in the criminal legal system was less than empowering, and many left the movement feeling disillusioned. Through this process I realized that there were a lot of lawyers handling civil environmental cases, but when that failed, there were very few criminal defense lawyers who had the backs of the organizers and activists who put their bodies on the line as the last line of defense. This is what inspired me to begin learning from incredible movement lawyers from around the country who mentored and counseled me as I began to fill the gap I saw in the environmental movement.
September 11, 2001, the World Trade Towers fell, and in the aftermath authoritarians exploited a moment of fear to pass the USA Patriot Act. I believed that law was one of the gravest threats to dissent and democracy, and began traveling the country raising the alarm. I worked to educate the movement about what that law contained and how it could be weaponized against activists. The FBI seized on the opportunity, using newly acquired funds for the “war on terror,” to focus on animal and environmental activists — thus, the “Green Scare” began in early 2003. A few short months later, in June 2003, Misha Dunlap and I filed the nonprofit paperwork that started the Civil Liberties Defense Center.
It’s hard to believe 20 years has passed. And yet, given the thousands of political cases we have worked on in that time period, I feel as if I have earned each one of those years! In that time we have defended environmental and social justice activists, we have represented grand jury resisters, we have sued cops and government agencies for violating the constitutional rights of activists, we have defended activists sued by corporations, we have answered countless phone calls from activists and their loved ones, and we have provided legal information and support when asked.
There have been amazingly joyous victories—too many to recount here! But there have also been tragedies. I have been called to the scene of too many people killed by police, I have had to witness autopsies, I have mourned and cried with families and communities who will never be the same. I have been targeted and threatened by the State and by fascists — especially in the post-Trump reality, and living for 2 decades under threat can be exhausting at times. Despite challenges and hardship, I am still so grateful for the life I have had the privilege to live and am proud of the organization we created, and the love and community CLDC continues to be a part of.
What started out as a one-woman operation with the help of volunteers, has become a national organization with 8 staff, 9-person board, 21-person advisory board, and 10 law clerks and 3 undergrad interns each year. I can’t help but feel nostalgic looking back on the last 20 years and all of the stories there are to tell! We look forward to sharing many of those stories with you this commemorative year — and hope you will share your CLDC story with us as well! The next 20 years will be even more challenging — for the planet and for activists facing unprecedented state repression and violence. I hope CLDC will be there to have your back as we defend what we love together.
With your generous support in our 20th year, your gift will ensure our longevity.
Until all are free, we’ve got your back.
Lauren Regan, Executive Director & Senior Staff Attorney