Since William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2009, we have screened at festivals and theaters across the country. The most amazing thing about having the opportunity to travel with this film is the people we have met who were a part of our dad’s life.
We met a “reformed” FBI agent who testified at the Wounded Knee trial and who revealed the government’s illegal wiretaps of the defense team on the stand. He told us “you haven’t lived until you’ve been cross-examined by Bill Kunstler.
We met the man who, as a boy, delivered our dad’s newspaper.
We met a retired construction worker who organized a strike against the building of Brooklyn Law School because the school wouldn’t hire black laborers. He and other young men planned to lie down on the site to prevent bulldozers from breaking ground. Our dad told them he would represent them, and helped them think long and hard about whether they were willing to risk their lives.
We met a woman who was part of a student group taken to visit a courthouse where dad was trying a case. She remembered him asking the multiracial group of students how many of them were searched on the way in, and whether they felt targeted because of their race. It was a lesson in the politics of race that she carries with her to this day.
We met a tenant organizer from the Bronx who stopped our dad on the steps of a Bronx courthouse to ask him to help with the eviction of the tenants from her building. Dad filed an injunction the next day, giving the tenants the time they needed to organize in order to save their homes.
We met a speechwriter for Martin Luther King Jr. who remembered standing on the frontlines with our father in Albany, Georgia, during the desegregation campaign.
We met a draft resister whom dad represented. He said that dad made him realize that his struggle to avoid fighting in Vietnam was part of a continuum of oppression and struggle.
And we met people dad didn’t represent — formerly incarcerated people whose cases he turned down. Meeting these people was strangely, the most moving. One man told us that he’ll never forget that William Kunstler came to see him in jail. Dad was there visiting a client, and called this man down to the visiting room to tell him that he had received his letter, and to explain why he couldn’t take his case. “It meant the world to me,” the man told us, “that he had the courtesy to treat me like a human being.”
Making this film has allowed us to hear these stories and more. It is a gift for which we will always be grateful.