Michael Zurav Letwin (born 1956) is a public defender in Brooklyn, New York, and a third-generation political activist. His grandparents (Manya Tsfasman Zurav and Zellick Zurav; Bessie Rosenthal Letwin and Lazar Letwin) participated in the Russian Revolution of October 1917, before coming to the United States in the early 1920s, where they and their children (Alita Zurav Letwin and Leon Letwin) continued their activism. In the context of this family background, and at a very early age, Letwin became involved in the mass civil rights, antiwar, and related movements of the 1960s.
He is former President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325 (1990-2002), the oldest and largest (1000+) attorney labor union in the United States. He has been an outspoken critic of mass incarceration, police brutality, the “war on drugs,” the New Jim Crow, government targeting of immigrants, and racist violence. He has championed labor solidarity and grassroots, democratic trade unionism.
He was an active opponent of the U.S. war in Vietnam, apartheid South Africa, and colonialism in southern Africa. He is a co-founder of New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) (2001), Labor for Palestine (2004), and Jews for Palestinian Right of Return (2013), and Labor for Standing Rock (2016)
He is affiliated with Al-Awda NY, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, MENA Solidarity Network US, and is a member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel Organizing Collective.
Since September 11, 2001, Letwin has traveled widely to address issues of war, racism, apartheid, colonialism, and repression. On November 18, 2001, he represented the U.S. antiwar movement at a National Demonstration Against the War in London, and in 2003 was part of an antiwar speaking tour in London. He also spoke at numerous large antiwar protests in Washington, DC, and on February 15, 2003, was labor coordinator of the massive NYC antiwar march and rally.
In 2007, he was a member of an attorney/activist delegation to the West Bank and 1948 Palestine. In 2010, he was a featured speaker at a Palestine solidarity conference of the Irish Confederation of Trade Unions. In 2012, he was on a National Lawyers Guild delegation to investigate U.S. support of military repression against the Egyptian revolution. In 2016, he was a panelist on Shifting Geographies of Knowledge and Power: Palestine and American Studies, at the Fragments of Empire conference at the American University of Beirut.
He helped launch the successful campaign for Stevie Wonder to withdraw from a Los Angeles fundraiser for the Israeli military (2012), and was active in both UAW 2865’s adoption of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and Block the Boat’s campaign to prevent Israeli Zim Line ships from docking at U.S. ports (2014).
His writing on Palestine includes “Labor for Palestine: Challenging US Labor Zionism” (American Quarterly, December 2015), “Labor Zionism and the Histadrut” (2010), “The Jewish Labor Committee and Apartheid Israel” (2010), and numerous statements issued by Labor for Palestine and Jews for Palestinian Right of Return.
He has also been active in Occupy Wall Street and the Black Lives Matter movement.
From 1971-1976, he was a leader of the Red Tide, a Marxist high school underground newspaper collective that began in Los Angeles, and subsequently relocated to Detroit as youth organization of the International Socialists (IS).
In spring 1976, he helped initiate the Red Tide’s campaign to free Gary Tyler, a Black teenager in Louisiana who had been wrongly convicted — and sentenced to death — for killing a white student during a racist mob attack on school busing. Gaining rapid momentum, the Red Tide worked with Rosa Parks and other prominent civil rights activists to prevent Gary’s execution; soon after, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
From 1977-1979, Letwin was a founding member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO).
His political history includes the following:
1956-1966. Camp Midvale, NJ.
June 23, 1967. With family, among thousands of antiwar protesters attacked by LAPD while protesting President Lyndon B. Johnson’s appearance at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.
1968-1969. Volunteer for Eugene McCarthy presidential campaign, Transport-a-Child school desegregation program in LAUSD, Tom Bradley’s first mayoral campaign, petition to stop NBC’s cancellation of Star Trek TOS.
1969-1970. Picket captain for the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) grape boycott; organizer for 18-year-old vote; protests in defense of Angela Davis, Black Panther Party, and Chicago Eight (The Day After); Fall 1969 Vietnam War Moratoriums (L.A., San Francisco); first Earth Day commemoration, April 22, 1970, front lawn at 2226 Manning Ave.; April 1970 student sit-in at Emerson Jr. High in support of UTLA teacher’s strike; May 1970 UCLA student occupation following Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and subsequent massacres at Kent and Jackson state; support for GI antiwar movement at Camp Pendleton and Oceanside, Armed Forces Day 1970.
1970-1971 (London). 1970 Isle of Wight Music Festival; cast member, Hampstead Comprehensive School’s “Lakota” opera about 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre; South African anti-apartheid, antiwar, Palestine solidarity, Oz magazine obscenity trial defense (with John Lennon and others) activism.
Fall 1971. Founding member of the Red Tide, Marxist underground newspaper at University High School, Los Angeles.
March 14, 1972. Occupation of University High School administration building following suspension of students distributing Red Tide on campus.
April 1972. Red Tide campaign against Native American mascots (finally removed in 1997) at University High School.
April 1972-January 1973. Red Tide antiwar student walkouts; protests at UCLA and Nixon reelection HQ, Ron Kovic (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) at University High School, to protest Nixon’s escalation of bombing in Vietnam; Militant Labor Forum speaking events.
September 1972. Godfather review.
1973-1974. Alliance with Socialist Collective, South Central L.A.
February 22, 1973. After long Red Tide campaign against censorship, Jane Fonda speaks against the war at University High School.
March 1973. Wounded Knee Support Committee, Los Angeles; American Indian Movement relief caravan from Los Angeles to AIM occupation at Wounded Knee SD, arrested March 16 by FBI at CA/NV border.
May 1973. Marxists debate Zionists at University High School.
August 1973. Following visit to International Socialists (GB), joins International Socialists (US).
September 1973-1974. Protests against Pinochet’s US-backed coup in Chile.
1973-1975. Labor solidarity for United Farmworkers boycott of lettuce and Gallo wine; Farah Pants; Sloan Rubber; British miners.
January 20, 1974. Speaks at Los Angeles Nixon impeachment rally.
June 8, 1974. Protest of LAPD murder of Symbionese Liberation Army members.
December 1974. Red Tide protests against LAPD drug sweeps in LA schools.
December 14-15, 1974. Elected National Secretary of Red Tide becomes youth organization of International Socialists (IS).
1975-1977. Solidarity with Portuguese revolution.
April 7, 1975. Protest against Israeli general Moshe Dayan at UCLA.
April 1975. Attica Brothers defense campaign.
May 8, 1975. Rank and file labor contingent marches in DC.
1975-1976. Defense of school desegregation against racist attack.
1975-1978. Solidarity with South African anti-apartheid and liberation movements.
September 1975. Relocation of Red Tide from California to Detroit.
February 20 1976. Arrested for distributing Red Tide at MacKenzie High School; later acquitted after jury trial.
February-September 1976. Red Tide campaign to Free Gary Tyler, with support of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
March 1976. Campaign against racist violence at Denby High School, Detroit.
April 10, 1976. Protest George Wallace appearance, Detroit.
Spring-Summer 1976. Autoworkers for a Decent Contract (UAW), Teamsters for a Decent Contract (IBT), and Upsurge (IBT).
1977-1979. Founding member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO).
1978-1981. UMass-Boston: Student Strike Committee, Committee Against Tuition Hikes and Budget Cuts, Public Education Now, Student Organizing Committee, and Anti-War Committee (counter-military recruitment, Central America solidarity), April 1980 student occupation for affirmative action and other demands, Mass Media columnist.
1979-1981. Boston: Boston Coalition Against U.S. Intervention in Iran, Boston Coalition Against Registration and the Draft, protest against racist and police violence, school bus driver strike solidarity.
1981-1982: New York Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES); Haiti refugee rights.
September 15, 1982. Vietnam Vets, Their War Goes On (WIN Magazine, Sept. 15, 1982)
October 1982. Counter-military recruitment, Rutgers-Newark Law School.
September 1985-Present. Public defender at the NYC Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn.
1985-1986. South Africa anti-apartheid divestment.
July 15, 1987. An Open Letter on the Goetz Trial (City Sun, July 15-21, 1987)
August 17, 1988. Institutionalized Racism In The Criminal-Justice System (City Sun).
1989-1990. Vice-President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys.
September 29, 1989. N.Y. Justice: Not Color Blind (NY Times op-ed).
1990-2002. President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, NYC.
Spring 1990. Report From the Front Line: The Bennett Plan, Street-Level Drug Enforcement in New York City and the Legalization Debate (Hofstra Law Review).
August 1990. Expose of Rikers Island guards’ mass beating of inmates.
August 30, 1990. Our Drug Laws Are to Blame (NY Newsday op-ed).
October 16, 1990. Wrong Way to Fight Crime (NY Times op-ed).
March 2, 1991. Labor Unionists Activists Launch Peace Group (Amsterdam News).
1991-1994. CourtTV trial commentator.
October 11, 1991. WCBS News Radio 88 op-ed against arming NYPD with Glock pistols.
November 21, 1991. Epidemic of Police Abuse in NYC (NYC Human Rights Commission).
May 4, 1992. About Los Angeles, This Means War (NY Newsday op-ed).
May 20, 1992. ALAA Statement on the Rodney King Beating Trial Verdict.
September 15, 1992. Affirmative Action at New York Legal Aid.
February 2, 1994. Three Strikes And You’re Out, Mario (NY Newsday op-ed).
April 18, 1994. Sentencing Angela Thompson (NY Law Journal op-ed).
October 1-4, 1994. Legal Aid attorney/support staff strike, in defiance of Giuliani administration.
September 10, 1996. Attacks by Giuliani Administration on The Legal Aid Society (NLG, NCBL, CCR, NECCL joint resolution)
March 6, 1999. Giuliani’s Attack on Legal Aid (City Workers For Real Change Founding Conf.)
1999-2000. Protests against NYPD murders of Amadou Diallo.
October 23, 1999. NYC Stop the Klan in rally.
December 23, 1999. In Defense of Free Speech, Labor and Civil Rights in New York City.
December 1999. Solidarity with TWU Local 100 Right to Strike.
1999-2001. City Workers 2000 NYC cross-union rank-and-file coalition.
March 3, 2000. Statement on Police Violence & Abuse (Association of Legal Aid Attorneys).
March 2000. Protests against NYPD murder of Patrick Dorismond.
March 9, 2001. P.D.’s War on Men of Color (Chief-Leader).
April 14, 2001. Fixing New York City’s Drive-By Defense Crisis (Chief-Leader).
September 10, 2001. Labor Resolution to Defend Legal Aid
September 27, 2001. Co-Convener, New York City Labor Against the War.
November 18, 2001. Speaker, National Demonstration Against the War, London.
February 2, 2002. Speaker, Counter-World Economic Forum protests, NYC.
February 21, 2002. In Defense of Civil Liberties (ALAA).
March 23, 2002. NYC Labor Groups Support Immigrant Detainees.
April 20, 2002. Co-convener, first post-9/11 national antiwar protest, DC.
April 29, 2002. NYCLAW Protest against Israeli Consul’s speech at Central Labor Council.
October 19, 2002. NYCLAW One-Day Organizing Conference.
May 21, 2002. End AFL-CIO Complicity with Sharon’s War Crimes.