len book

Len, A Lawyer in History is the important story of Leonard Weinglass and other activist lawyers in the US who represented people targeted for their politics, finds Alan Wieder


Len, A Lawyer in History, Illustrated and written by Seth Tobocman, edited by Paul Buhle and Michael Steven Smith (AK Press 2016), 200pp.

Cartoonist, writer, activist Seth Tobocman, in collaboration with Michael Smith, Paul Buhle, and publisher, AK Press, again provide us with important history that is seldom taught. In this particular case, Len, A Lawyer in History, is the story of struggle lawyer, Leonard Weinglass, who along with the likes of various committed attorneys, represented political prisoners who have been targeted because of their radical ideas and actions in this the ‘yet to be United States of Amerika’.

Weinglass is probably known to progressives, as are contemporaries like William Kunstler, Charles Garry, and Leonard Boudin. But one of the many joys of Lenis the book’s documentation of lesser-known activist lawyers: Charlie Nessen, Thomas Lesser, Steven Schlang, and Betsy Oconner Tomlinson are some of the people noted. The book begins with an introduction from Michael Steven Smith, and Tobocman follows with chapters on particular cases: institutional racism in Newark, the Chicago Eight (Seven), the Pentagon Papers, Native American rights in Walla Walla, Washington, the CIA, the Cuban Five, and the Patriot Act.

Placing the word ‘in’ amidst the subtitle foreshadows both the strength and beauty of this book. A Lawyer in History expands this book on Weinglass as it places the individual within the collective. Yes, the book is a celebration of Len in the struggle, but more importantly the book portrays his work and hope with other people for a more just world.

Tobocman constructs a book for all. For newcomers, the book offers portraits of important events in the struggle for real democracy that are seldom part of school textbooks. For people who have lived and studied progressive struggles in the United States, there is a deepened picture of Len’s place within the fight against internal colonialism, racism, and class disparity.

And there are wonderful surprises. As Ron Jacobs has already noted in Counterpunch, a chapter titled, ‘Their Second Chance’, tells the story of Len’s involvement, with activist Karen Rudolph, in the successful murder defense of Jimi Simmons, a Native American man who had been incarcerated again and again because of the color of his skin. This chapter’s ‘lagniappe’ is the subsequent marriage and life-long love affair of Karen and Jimi.

Tobocman’s work is clever as he shows the seriousness of Weinglass’ life amidst the humanity and even humor. The Chicago Eight (Seven) Trial is case in point. I don’t know if I was ever aware of Judge Hoffman’s continual mispronunciation of Len’s name – Weingrass, Weinberg, and Weiss were three of the pseudonyms.

Most important in Len, A Lawyer in History is Weinglass’s commitment to the collective struggle. He used his invaluable legal skills to serve the fight, but correspondingly he was ever aware that those talents were within his relationships with the individuals and groups that he helped represent. Studs Terkel had a great understanding that democracy does not exist without authentic conversation. Seth Tobocman saw that same spirit in Len Weinglass’s life and work; it is portrayed in-large in this short, beautifully crafted, and significant book.