When Political Protests Become Theater

May 3, 2021

We are living in a time of social activism, having witnessed some of the biggest and most influential instances of protests and unrest in America in just the last few years – Black Lives Matter, the March for Our Lives Movement, the Women’s March, and the Capitol Riot. In some cases, protests have resulted in violence, and when this occurs, the legal system is called upon to establish what crime was committed and who is culpable.

This wave of high profile political protests, and the way these protests have captured the public’s attention, is reminiscent of the past, particularly the media sensation that was the Trial of the Chicago 7. The trial, which took place in Chicago in connection with the Presidential Election of 1968, is now back in the news with an Oscar-Nominated movie. One of the two surviving defendants, Lee Weiner, recently published a memoir, Conspiracy to Riot: The Life and Times of One of the Chicago 7, about the protests at the Democratic National Convention in Lincoln Park and the ensuing trial.

Given this moment in time of radical politics and the trials that determine what acts go beyond the protections of the First Amendment, FOLCS was pleased to host a Conversation with one of the Chicago 7, Lee Weiner, and renowned Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, Jr., on May 3, 2021.

Watch When Political Protests Become Theater here.

See more from FOLCS here.

Lee Weiner

Lee Weiner was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side. His activist life began with free-speech demonstrations at the University of Illinois in 1960, continued with years as a community organizer in desperately poor neighborhoods in Chicago, and work and friendships with other political activists that ultimately led to his indictment in the notorious trial of the Chicago 7 in 1969. After the trial, his continued political work included direct response fundraising for members of Congress and national nonprofit organizations. Along the way, he collected a couple of master’s degrees and a PhD in sociology. His critically acclaimed memoir of the trial and of his life in activism, Conspiracy to Riot: The Life and Times of One of the Chicago 7, was published last year by Belt Publishing. He now lives in Florida.

Cyrus Vance, Jr.
Manhattan D.A.

Since taking office in 2010, D.A. Vance has expanded the impact of the Manhattan District Attorney beyond the Office’s traditional courtroom role to encompass sustained investment in communities, reform of the criminal legal system, and the proactive prevention of cybercrime, terrorism, trafficking, and other 21st-century criminal threats.

In addition to leading landmark courtroom victories in cases including Trump v. Vance and People v. Weinstein, D.A. Vance has strengthened Manhattan communities by directing aggressive investigations against eleven of the world’s biggest banks, and investing the forfeited proceeds of their economic crimes in 50 community-grounded organizations that support young people, crime survivors, and reentering New Yorkers in under-served Manhattan neighborhoods.

D.A. Vance has added justice reform to the mission of the D.A.’s Office. In addition to right-sizing the justice system by slashing the Office’s total prosecutions by 58%, D.A. Vance established New York’s first-ever: Conviction Integrity Program, College-in-Prison Program, Citywide Supervised Release Program, Implicit Bias Review, and Equity and Social Justice Advisory Board.

Under D.A. Vance’s leadership, the D.A.’s Office has repositioned itself to confront contemporary threats to New Yorkers including international cybercrime, white nationalist terrorism, human trafficking, and the national rape kit backlog. D.A. Vance co-founded and co-chairs Prosecutors Against Gun Violence and the Global Cyber Alliance, and in Washington, D.C., he successfully advocated on behalf of New Yorkers to stop the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act and enact the first-ever Congressional appropriations toward ending the rape kit backlog.

In 2020, D.A. Vance won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Trump v. Vance, which established that Presidents are not immune from criminal process, and People v. Weinstein, a “landmark step” in the field of sex crimes prosecutions. During the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, he proactively consented to the release of more than 300 New Yorkers from Rikers, reducing Manhattan’s jail population by 45 percent; converted the D.A.’s Office’s West Harlem Youth Opportunity Hub into a major food bank site; and successfully lobbied the U.S. Small Business Administration to reverse its exclusion of people with criminal history from the crucial Paycheck Protection Program.

D.A. Vance is a graduate of Yale University and Georgetown University Law Center.