Class was in session at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law this weekend, but it was not a typical class nor were the attendees actual students.
Over 100 people sat attentively in a lecture hall, Saturday, Feb. 11, for a “Know Your Rights” training seminar.
Co-sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies, the D.C. chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), and the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law, the event was free and open to the public.
The training included sessions spanned the day and touched on various legal issues including students’ rights, legal risks of civil disobedience, search and seizures, federal worker rights, immigration law, obtaining permits in the District, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and legal observing.
Speakers and attendees varied from lawyers and activists to everyday citizens.
“In the current political climate, I recognized there was a strong demand for a program where people could learn about their rights in a variety of areas,” said Jaime Davis Smith, the program’s main organizer.
Smith, a former lawyer turned full-time mother, was inspired to organize the event when a fellow lawyer told her about an influx of requests for legal advise following President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order moving forward on building the wall at the Mexican border.
“It’s really important to be educated on what your rights are so that you can be empowered to take the steps necessary to resist the administration in the way you feel most comfortable,” Smith said. “Especially during a time when our rights are under attack, it’s important that we don’t take our rights for granted, and aren’t intimidated.”
Trump is moving rapidly to fulfill campaign promises, and is doing so with little activity from Congress, using executive actions to achieve his goals.
Executive actions are unilateral moves presidents can use to achieve a desired outcome. A Heritage Foundation report said there are at least 24 types of presidential directives including the most commonly known executive orders, memorandums and proclamations. They can be struck down by Congress or federal courts if they exceed the scope of the president’s authority.
Analysis by The Daily Signal, the Heritage Foundation’s news website, said that Trump’s use of executive power is “in line with past presidents,” but many are still worried.
“If we don’t assert our rights, I think Trump has shown that he won’t hesitate to take them away,” Smith said.
At the beginning of his fourth week, Trump issued 12 executive orders including reinstatement of the “Mexico City policy” on abortion, a federal employee hiring freeze, and the ban of refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country.
By the start of his fourth week in office in 2009, President Barack Obama had issued 14 executive orders.
So far, Trump has issued a total of 26 executive orders. In addition to his 12 executive orders, Trump also issued 12 presidential memorandums and two proclamations.
Smith and her co-sponsors organized the event in under two weeks and began marketing for it just a week before. They gained nearly 300 registration submissions.
The group hopes to make the event more frequent and accessible to a broader audience. They said they received requests during the registration period for the sessions to be held in Spanish and sign language and in various parts of the city, as well as more frequently.
Smith said in order to host future events, they must raise money to do so.
“It was a huge turnout,” said Ann Wilcox, organizer and NLG board member. “People stayed throughout what was a really long day, with hardly any breaks.”
Wilcox said the university “wants to have this be almost a monthly thing.”
“There are a lot of topics we couldn’t even get to today,” she said.