Lynne Stewart, Peoples' Lawyer

World Can't Wait | March 24, 2017

We in the World Can’t Wait movement join with millions of people in mourning for Lynne Stewart, the renowned radical attorney, a woman with the whole world in her heart, and a dear friend. After years of battling breast cancer, and then recent strokes, Lynne died March 7, 2017, on the evening before International Women’s Day at her home in Brooklyn. She was 77 years old.

Among the generation of radical attorneys whose mission as people’s lawyers erupted out of the uprisings of the 1960s and 70s, it’s quite possible that few have been as defamed by the system or as beloved by the people as Lynne Stewart.

Revcom.us reported at the time, "On April 9, 2002, in a chilling first application of the USA-Patriot Act (pushed into law after 9-11), the U.S. government indicted attorney Lynne Stewart along with three Arab men: Mohammed Yousry, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, and Yassir Al-Sirri. Lynne Stewart is the lawyer for Islamic cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted and sentenced to life for seditious conspiracy in connection with supposed plots to attack New York landmarks. Prosecutors claimed these plots were part of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.  Stewart was arrested and indicted chiefly because of conversations that are supposed to be constitutionally protected – that between an attorney and client."

Throughout the ensuing 15 years, Lynne Stewart was unrelentingly persecuted and prosecuted by the government for her unrelenting work doing exactly what any good lawyer should do: defend a controversial defendant to the full extent of an attorney’s professional ability.  In 2005 she was convicted, and in 2009 she was sentenced to ten years in federal prison.

The government’s attack on Lynne was always in reality an attack on all lawyers who advocate without fear of government displeasure. She was attacked with an Alice-In-Wonderland kind of legal case where many ruptures and violations of normal “rights” were thrown out the window under the justification of fighting “terrorism.” And Lynne was also targeted and attacked for who she was and the work she’d been doing, and refused to stop doing: defending both in the courtroom, and also speaking up everywhere, for so many! The Guantánamo and Pelican Bay prisoners – Hugo Yogi Pinell –Ruchell Magee – Aafia Siddiqui – the Angola 3. She was stalwart and devoted to many behind bars for decades and she wouldn’t let them be forgotten: Jalil Muntaqim, Sekou Odinga, Herman Bell, Seth Hayes, David Gilbert, Kevin Cooper.

Her cancer and life-and-death need for treatment became part of the governnment’s toolbox. She was tortured and left to die in prison for fighting the system. Despite her medical situation as her cancer progressed – not only did the prisons delay and deny her most basic medical needs, it took months of a loud mass campaign to finally win her “compassionate release” in January 2014. Lynne would have died in prison without the outcry and the support and the struggle raised by all of us around the world, led by Ralph Poynter.

Lynne stood up to all that with her deep internationalist heart, holding the people of the world and political prisoners in her thoughts always, with dignity and caring. When she got out of prison even while dealing with her medical crisis Lynne stayed involved, active, and outspoken in fighting the power (see photo).

Lynne showed us all what you do when you find yourself up against persecution, prosecution, prison and torture. She faced it all without regret or retreat. She wrote to supporters from prison in 2013, "The acknowledgement of the life-political, and solutions brought about by group unity and support, is important to all of us. Equally, so is the courage to sign on to a demand for a person whom the Government has branded with the "T" word – Terrorist. Understanding that the attack on me is a subterfuge for an attack on all lawyers who advocate without fear of Government displeasure, with intellectual honesty guided by their knowledge and their client's desire for his or her case, I hope our effort can be a crack in the American bastion."

In prison, locked away from her family, community, her life work, and the medical care her life depended on, Lynne still kept her compass true: opening her heart to her fellow prisoners, learning from them, sharing her expertise with them. She kept her full-on outrage against this illegitimate system of so-called “justice” which functions to oppress people in this country and around the world. And her love for the people, she kept that full-on too.

Cindy Sheehan wrote of Lynne, "It's one thing to observe a public figure and draw conclusions, but if you knew Lynne, you knew that her life and her activism (inseparable from her life) was motivated by love for the poor and oppressed. It is a cliché to say that a 'bright light has been extinguished,' but I can think of few people that this is more true of than our dear Lynne Stewart. Lynne's legacy will persist and her light will keep shining whenever we work to end war and other oppression." 

We shared many battles together, we will miss Lynne immeasurably, and we will never forget her.

Deanna Gorzynski: "There are few people who can go through what Lynne did and still keep her perpetual smile...as a matter of fact the smile was only bigger after her release."

 

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Photos by: Deanna Gorzynski

 

 

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.