Donziger celebrates freedom in Williamsburg

By Matthew Fischetti

Steve Donziger is doing all right.

After 993 days under detention, Steve Donziger can celebrate freedom. Donziger, an environmental lawyer, was part of the team that won a multi-billion dollar settlement against Chevron for polluting millions of gallons of contaminants into the Amazon over decades. Later, Chevron lawyers claimed that Donzigers team tried to solicit a bribe in the case; the judge who made the original accusation later admitted in court that it was a lie and that he had been prepped over 50 times by Chevron lawyers, as Vice has reported.

A group of U.S. Representatives including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have called on President Biden to pardon Donziger.

The first-day Donziger was able to unstrap his ankle monitoring unit, he was welcomed by dozens of his Upper West Side neighbors at a block party. 

“It was complete exhilaration. Made me a little sad, thinking of the lost opportunity I’ve had with my wife and son over the last three years. But it was really really awesome to know we stood up to what they threw at us when we came out the other side intact, happy and stronger” Donziger said in an interview about the moment he first experienced a slice of liberty and walked outside his apartment. 

But on Thursday Night, Donziger took his newfound freedom to Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg. Advertised as a “Donziger Release Party”, the event first hosted a panel discussion between Donziger and Amazon Labor Union founder Chris Smalls and was moderated by socialist podcast host Will Menaker of Chapo Trap House before musical performances. Tickets to the event supported the Donziger Legal Defense fund.

“[Donziger is] battling the real Amazon, I’m battling the retail Amazon. So there’s always a commonality with that – just beating up on billionaires and their lawyers,” Smalls, the fired Amazon worker who beat the odds to form the first independent Amazon Labor union in Staten Island, said in an interview. Both Amazon and Chevron have retained the law practices of Gibson Dunn to fight against Donziger and Smalls.

“I would say it’s important to know about because I think primarily because it’s not really being talked about in the corporate media very much,” Olivia Riggio, 25, a critic with progressive media watchdog FAIR who attended the party said. FAIR has released numerous reports highlighting much of the mainstream media’s lack of coverage concerning the case.  “I think it says a lot about corporate influencing corporate greed. And I think it’s important because it kind of is it sits at the intersection of corporate greed, of environmental rights, of human rights, of indigenous rights.”

The moderator of the panel, Will Menaker, said that the discussion was important to have at a moment when politics seemed stagnant and the future seems doomed.

“I don’t know about you guys, but the last two, three years now, it’s felt pretty f*cking grim out there,” Menaker said to kick off the panel. “It’s my pleasure to be on stage tonight with two men who have caused more stress and billable hours for America’s top corporate law firms.”

In an interview, Menaker said that both Donziger and Smalls’s stories were important as they are people taking up the seemingly unwinnable fights against the “worst people in the world” – and securing victories.

“It’s because I think, we as a society, have quite rationally given up on the future. Because it’s been decided for us. We have no voice or agency, in our political process, and even our culture; just like the dignity in our day-to-day lives to varying degrees. And I think the solution to that is embodied by these two guys, because they’re two individuals but they couldn’t have done it without a movement supporting them,” Menaker said. “I think that is what I take inspiration from. That’s what I was happy to try to highlight.”

Donziger said that one of the first Brooklyn spots he was going to hit would be Vinegar Hill in DUMBO. He still plans on fighting to get his law license back.But, for now, he’s just enjoying his freedom and the first beer he’s had in a bar for years.

“I’m giving myself away like I’m some fancy guy. I love good food.”