Abolition has been a huge topic in the wake of the uprising sparked by the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Calls to defund or abolish the police are now experiencing a surge of interest, in the form of street art, protest signs, op eds, and more. In this episode, I’ll be exploring things to consider as you take your first steps toward joining the abolitionist movement, especially in this tumultuous moment of a pandemic and global uprising, in a conversation with Mariame Kaba.
Mariame Kaba is a longtime PIC abolitionist and organizer. She’s the founder and director of Project NIA, a co-founder and co-organizer of Survived and Punished, and a co-founder and researcher of Interrupting Criminalization. She also authored the children’s book Missing Daddy and co-authored Fumbling Towards Repair: A Workbook for Community Accountability Facilitators. Read her recent New York Times Op Ed “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.”
Mentioned by Mariame on the lineage of the terminology:
- “Hell factories in the field: a prison-industrial complex” by Mike Davis in the Nation (1995)
- “The Prison-Industrial Complex” by Eric Schlosser in the Atlantic (1998)
- Dan Berger’s Twitter Thread (He learned about the North Carolina Prisoners Labor Union via Amanda Hughett’s research)
- “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex” by Angela Davis in Colorlines (1998)
- “The Prison Industrial Complex” by Angela Davis (Recorded in Colorado Springs, CO on May 5, 1997)
There are many lists of resources out there about abolition right now! These links represent resources that inspired the episode or that we found especially helpful or that have been recommended by abolitionists recently. Many of these resources include links to further resources as well!
Current Legal Defense Funds and Medical Funds for Protesters and Articles about Repression and the Cases
- Support for Urooj Rahman & Support for Colinford Mattis (Read more about their case in “Protesters face life in prison over police car attacks in NY” from Yahoo! News)
- Medical and Legal Fund for Survivors of Violence (New Mexico)
- “Mapping The State’s Strategy Of Repression Against The Rebellion” from It’s Going Down
- “The hidden details in photo that helped police find accused arsonist” in Yahoo! News
Online Reading about Abolition
- 8 to Abolition outlines steps toward abolition. It is a direct response to 8 Can’t Wait.
- What We Mean When We Say Abolish Prisons by K Agbebiyi in Rewire News.
- “Common Question about Police and Prison Abolition and Responses” by Dean Spade with assistance from Mariame Kaba which is a short read that answers questions like “What about Rapists? What about murderers? What about public safety?”
- Prison Abolition FAQ by K Agbebiyi which includes links to more sources.
- TransformHarm.org is a resource hub about ending violence. It offers an introduction to transformative justice. Especially check out “Thinking Through A World Without Policing” by Mariame Kaba which includes links to further resources.
- Critical Resistance provides many resources on abolishing policing on their website.
- “What the Prison-Abolition Movement Wants” by Kim Kelly in Teen Vogue
- “The Black Lives Matter Revolution Can’t Be Co-Opted By Police and Lawmakers” by Kandist Mallett in Teen Vogue.
- Red Emma’s Zine on Abolition (great to print and distribute at protests and events)
- An Introduction to Police Abolition with Bilphena Yahwon by Lisa Snowden-McCray in the Baltimore Beat.
- For a World Without Policing breaks down the problem of police and a strategy for beginning to build a world without police as well as a 7 part study guide with extensive reading suggestions.
- Redistribution and World Building: A conversation with K Agbebiyi in the New Inquiry.
- “Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind” by Rachel Kushner in the New York Times.
- Beyond Bars Prison Abolition Should Be the American Dream by Reina Sultan in Bitch Magazine.
- How Defund and Disband Became the Demands by Amna A. Akbar in New York Review of Books
- Prisons and Class Warfare: An Interview with Ruth Wilson Gilmore by Clément Petitjean on Verso’s Blog
- “Abolition Cannot Wait: Visions for Transformation and Radical World Building” By K. Agbebiyi, Sarah T. Hamid, Rachel Kuo, and Mon Mohapatra
Toolkits & Educational Tools
- Interrupting Criminalization #DefundPolice Toolkit
- Dream Defenders Defund Police, Rebuild our Communities Toolkit
- Abolish The NYPD: A compilation of resources, information, and actions on defunding (and abolishing) the NYPD.
- Abolitionist Recommendations to Defund the NYPD from No New Jails
- Defund the Police Talking Points, Q&A, and more from The Movement for Black Lives
- Chicago PIC Teaching Collective: PIC 101
- From Survived and Punished: Criminalizing Survival (“includes curriculum units and activities that can be used for political education focused on the intersections between racialized gender-based violence and criminalization.”)
- The PIC Is: Resources including curricula
- Black & Blue History and Current Manifestations of Policing, Violence & Resistance Activity Guide
- Are Prisons Obsolete? By Angela Davis
- Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire by Angela Davis
- The End of Police by Alex Vitale
- Abolition Now! Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle against the Prison Industrial Complex by Critical Resistance
- Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter, Edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton
- Fumbling Towards Repair : A Workbook for Community Accountability Facilitators by Mariame Kaba and Shira Hassan
- Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California by Ruth Wilson Gilmore
Many of these episodes can be found on this Spotify playlist we made. All of these are available via podcast apps but below links are to the original sources.
- Hella Black Podcast: “EP 64: Abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex (Feat Mariame Kaba)”
- Red Nation Podcast “Abolition & COVID-19 w/ Nicolás Cruz, Mohamed Shehk, Emmy Rakete, Ruth Wilson Gilmore”
- Intercepted Podcast: “Ruth Wilson Gilmore Makes the Case for Abolition”
- Intercepted Podcast: Mariame Kaba discusses the history of prisons in “There’s Something About Jared Kushner” (Begins at 0:31)
- It’s Going Down: “Yannick Marshall On Anti-Colonial Rebellion And Pushing Back Against Liberal Co-Option” and “Rebellion, Counter-Insurgency, And Cracks Within The Ruling Class”
- The Death Panel Podcast: Abolition and Democracy (6/4/20) Features interview with K Agbebiyi @SheaButterFemme from Survived and Punished about their work and why the goal is abolition, not reform. (Interview at 1:22:10)
- CrimeThinc: “#77: Minneapolis Uprising, Part 1—How to Abolish the Police”
- Coffee with Comrades “90: Abolition Now”
- Srsly Wrong: “Ep 199 Abolish Prisons”
- Rustbelt Abolition Radio
- Rebel Steps: Season 1, Episode 3 “Write a letter” talks about prisoner solidarity projects Anarchist Black Cross and Books Through Bars.
- Justice In America: “Episode 20: Mariame Kaba and Prison Abolition”
- Millennials Are Killing Capitalism: “#8ToAbolition featuring Nnennaya Amuchie, Rachel Kuo, Eli, Micah Herskind and Reina Sultan”
- Why Is This Happening with Chris Hayes: “Thinking about how to abolish prisons with Mariame Kaba: podcast & transcript”
- The Magnificast: “#8toAbolition w/ Micah Herskind”
- Rev Left Radio: “Toward Abolition: Building a World Without Police or Prisons”
- The Final Straw: Police Abolition: An Interview with Kristian Williams (author of Our Enemies in Blue)
- The Dig Radio: “Defund Police Organizers Forum”
Panels and Other Videos
- Dream Defender’s Sunday School “Unlock us, Abolition in Our Lifetime” ft. Dr. Angela Davis, K Agbebiyi, Cherrell Brown, and Derecka Purnell (starts 6:20 in the video.)
- “On the Road With Abolition: Assessing Our Steps Along the Way: How can we assess which proposals to support or to oppose in our organizing? What are some abolitionist proposals? Join Dean Spade, Woods Ervin & Kamau Walton from Critical Resistance, K Agbebiyi from Survived and Punished NY and Mariame Kaba from Project NIA and Survived & Punished to discuss these questions and more.”
- “Ruth Wilson Gilmore on Covid-19, Decarceration, and Abolition” from Haymarket Books
- Future event from Haymarket Books: “Abolition Can’t Wait: A Teach-In with #8toAbolition: June 25, 2020 at 5:00pm – 6:30pm. Online Teach-in”
- Future event from Haymarket, Truthout, and New Press: “Abolishing Policing, not just Police: July 2, 8:00pm-9:30pm with Mariame Kaba, Maya Schenwar, and Victoria Law”
Organizations to get involved in or donate resources to:
Welcome to Rebel Steps! I’m your host, Liz.
Abolition has been a huge topic in the wake of the uprising sparked by the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Calls to defund or abolish the police are now experiencing a surge of interest, in the form of street art, protest signs, op eds, and more. Maybe you’ve found yourself chanting defund the police or sharing articles online, but aren’t sure how to act on them. So in this episode, I’ll be exploring things to consider as you take your first steps toward joining the abolitionist movement, especially in this tumultuous moment of a pandemic and global uprising.
This episode is not meant to convince you that abolition is necessary. There are so many resources out there documenting why police can not be reformed and need to be abolished. If you’re not already convinced or finding yourself confused about abolition, I’d highly recommend the book _Are Prisons Obsolete? _By Angela Davis. If podcasts are more your style, I’d recommend Intercepted’s 2 part episode with Ruth Wilson Gilmore on the case for abolition. And you can look at the show notes for tons of resources and answers to commonly asked questions. There are statistics and studies. There are histories charting the racist roots of prisons and policing. And I don’t want to rehash all that information here.
Rather, this episode is about some steps and things to think about once you’ve decided that you want to participate in the abolitionist movement. This episode is an invitation to join that movement. And I’m really excited to be talking to Mariame Kaba about these topics.
Mariame Kaba: My name is Mariame Kaba I am an organizer and educator. And I live in New York City. I am born in the city and raised here, but I spent over two decades living in Chicago where I worked and organized for many years. So that’s a little bit about me.
I am a huge fan of Mariame’s work so I was thrilled to chat with Marime about this moment and abolition in general. She’s the founder and director of Project NIA, a co-founder and co-organizer of Survived and Punished, and a co-founder and researcher of Interrupting Criminalization. You may know her from twitter as @PrisonCulture. And she recently wrote an Op Ed for the New York Times entitled “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.”
Terms to Know
Since “Defund the Police” has become a rallying cry across the US, I started by asking Mariame about how she would define that phrase. Many media outlets and elected officials have rushed to soften the vocabulary. One example is the June 8th New York Times article entitled “When Protesters Cry ‘Defund the Police,’ What Does It Mean?” which includes the line, “But what does “defund the police” mean? It’s not necessarily about gutting police department budgets.” So I wanted to hear a clear definition from a longtime abolitionist.
MK: Defund the Police is a strategy that goes beyond focusing on dollars and cents. It’s not just about decreasing police budgets. It’s also about reducing the power and the scope and the size of police departments. It’s also about delegitimizing institutions of surveillance and policing and punishment, no matter who’s actually deploying them, to so-called produce safety. It is a strategy in terms of part of how to advance what I see is a vision of abolition of police through disinvestment or divestment from policing as a practice. And it helps us to figure out how we get from where we are to where we want to go. And for me where we want to go in the interim is to be building lots of community-based responses to harm and conflict that don’t actually rely on surveillance policing and punishment. That’s kind of an interim goal that I think most PIC abolitionists have on the way towards a fully abolitionist future.
As you heard, defunding the police is a demand to move us toward abolition. Abolition is a new concept for many, so I asked Mariame to explain this term. To really understand the term abolition, Mariame says you need to start by getting a grasp on the term “prison industrial complex,” which is often called by its acronym PIC.
MK: Critical resistance which is an organization that started in the late nineties and is very much kind of responsible for popularizing PIC abolition in the modern era here in the US, they offer that to a definition of the prison industrial complex as a term to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are in actuality economic, social, and political problems. I think when people think about PIC abolition often they think of the prison at the center of that project, when in fact, prison industrial complex abolitionists really stress the overlapping interconnections between surveillance, policing, and imprisonment. Those things all together have to be abolished if we’re to be able to get to where we want to go. I think it’s also important to highlight that the PIC is dynamic and it’s constantly adapting. And so we need to be doing the same in our strategies and in our approach.
MK: So what I mean and I think what some other PIC abolitionists mean by PIC abolition is that we want to end the whole system of reinforcing relationships between surveillance, policing, the courts, imprisonment, that fuel, maintain, and expand social and economic inequality, institutional racism, capitalism. So it’s not just prisons which is why it’s really more accurate to talk about PIC abolition. I would add that it means that we’re really interested in kind of doing away with the system rather than finding ways to make it work better or for it to be kinder and gentler. Cause at its bottom abolitionists, PIC abolitionists, don’t see the prison industrial complex as like broken the way that if you hear a lot of reformers talk, they talk about the criminal punishment system being broken. Abolitionists really think no actually it’s working really really well at surveilling and policing and imprisoning and killing exactly the people that it’s targeting. And so our job as PIC abolitionists is to work to diminish drastically the scope and the power of the prison industrial complex while we’re simultaneously increasing the ability of the communities that are targeted by it to be stronger, to be more self determined, to be healthier. And that’s part of that and as part of our practice we’re always asking consistently, what is actual accountability? What is safety? What can justice look like and feel like and what are the ways that we can actually build our world so that violence all of its forms is addressed and reduced? That’s a huge part I think of what a lot of people don’t understand about PIC abolitionists is that we’re really concerned with ending the sources of violence, right? We think prisons don’t actually solve violence because they’re inherently violent and we think that they’re actually a very concentrated form of violence and that prisons are designed to actually bring premature death. So if you’re an abolitionist and a PIC abolitionist and your concerns are about harm and violence then you don’t want to quote unquote “end violence by using violence. That’s a huge no no. And so a big part of the work is to expose that the logic of using prisons and policing and punishment have actually not proven effective to address the systemic causes of violence. And PIC abolition is about challenging those logics that make those institutions and practices possible. So that’s how I do define PIC abolition for myself and it’s also in part how I try to talk about it with people in my life. I’m always talking about the fact that as an abolitionist a big part of my interest in abolition it’s because I was really really, as a person who’s a survivor of violence myself, really really interested in like how to actually drastically diminish forms of violence. That’s how I came to this work and that’s still the center of my interest in addressing that work.
While abolitionist ideas are new to the mainstream, there’s a long history behind the movement and the terms Mariame is using.
MK: I raise up Critical Resistance’s definition but I want to say that oftentimes when people think about the prison industrial complex they might connect it to Eisenhower’s use of the military industrial complex. In the modern kind of era of the mid to late 1990’s is when the concept of the prison industrial complex really gets popularized. People often point to Mike Davis’ article in the Nation in ‘95 as like the first time that phrase got used. And then they point to Angela Davis’ speech that she gave in ‘97 called “The Prison Industrial Complex” followed by an article that was published by Color Lines by [Angela] Davis called “Masked Racism.” I think people should read it if they’re interested and “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex.” And that gets followed like a couple months later by Eric Schlosser’s piece in the Atlantic. And the reason I want to speak to lineage years questions, I loved, a few years ago, historian Dan Berger mentioned on Twitter that in 1974, the North Carolina prisoners labor union called for an end to the judicial prison parole industrial complex. I love to think about how ideas travel and build off of each other and speak to each other. But we really do have to up lift and reiterate in my opinion that so much of what we know and learn about prisons and state violence and policing has been theorized by incarcerated and formerly criminalized people. A lot of what we kind of use as colloquial terms and ideas in this current moment build off of the thinking and the intellectual labor and the organizing of incarcerated people and people who are targeted by the prison industrial complex. I think a lot of times in the conversations that are had, especially recently that’s completely lost and decontextualized. And I don’t think we can and should be doing that. I think it’s important to think about lineage in our work.
Here’s a clip from that 1997 speech by Angela Davis on the Prison Industrial Complex:
Angela Davis: I spoke about a prison industrial complex. And I haven’t really explained what I mean about that. What often also happens is that prisons move in where to the vacuum that has been left by these transnational corporations that go to the third world. And they are the institutions that provide jobs. And if you look at the construction industry, one of the most developed sectors of the construction industry is prison construction. That’s where the profits are now. Look at the role that architects play in creating these new institutions. Look at the extent to which prisons have privatized and the extent to which private corporations move in to take advantage of prison labor because it is as cheap oftentimes, or almost as cheap, as third world labor. So there’s a sense in which prisons are becoming an integral part of the US economy which means that there are stakes other than the anti-crime stakes that will keep the prison industry expanding. So it’s acquiring its own momentum which if we don’t attempt to intervene and stop it now, we will be, into the next millennium, we will be an increasingly incarcerated society.
As soon as Defund the Police emerged as a widespread demand, centrist organizations and elected officials quickly moved to redirect the movement. As I mentioned earlier, part of that is attempting to redefine the basic terms. There are also attempts to redefine the demands. The 8 Can’t Wait campaign is one example of this. The 8 proposals are already in place in many police departments, including Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered. And there’s just everyday people that are learning about this for the first time and trying to understand it in the midst of these attempts to moderate the demands. Mariame offered some ideas on how to navigate the challenges posed by these types of co-optation.
MK: First I wanna really say that I think that some of what’s happening isn’t so much co-optation, but rather I think that people are new to these ideas, like the vast majority of people. So they’re trying to make sense of it in real time and they’re also projecting onto the ideas the meanings that they want and need. And I think and I want to say that I want us to be generous with ourselves and understanding with others. That oftentimes when you encounter something for the first time, it raises so much within you and it makes you grasp for familiar things to explain the thing that you may not quite understand.
MK: I do agree that there are kind of malevolent forces that are purposely twisting ideas and trying to fix those ideas to fit within what they already want to do. But that’s mostly is I think people with power and the elites. Like they always do that right. They’re always working towards that goal and some reformers are kind of the middle management of the elite and they’re trying to do the same thing. And I do want to point out one more thing which I think for people particularly if you’re new and you’re trying to understand what PIC abolition is and you’re trying to avoid co-optation of it , that abolition is a flexible praxis, contingent on social conditions and communal needs. That’s true like it’s flexible in that way, but it’s built on a set of core principles. And you declare yourself to be an abolitionist, a PIC abolitionist, then you’re committing to some basic obligations. And those obligations are that prison industrial complex abolition calls for the elimination of policing, imprisonment, and surveillance. That PIC abolition rejects the expansion and breadth or scope of or legitimation of all aspects of the PIC. That’s all aspects like surveillance and policing and sentencing, imprisonment of all sorts. And that PIC abolition really refuses premature death and organized abandonment as Ruthie [Wilson] Gilmore talks about. Both premature death and organized abandonment are the state’s modes of reprisal and punishment. So these principles matter. And you have to know that you can actually advocate for radical reform of surveillance and policing and sentencing and imprisonment without defining yourself as a PIC abolitionist. And I think this may need to be explicitly stated in this current historical moment for folks. Part of how we prevent co-optation is that we have to let people know that everyone doesn’t have to be an abolitionist. And that we really need to hold the line on the obligations that you take on the core set principles that you have to believe in. We really push back by consistently always stating those core principles. If you don’t want the elimination of policing imprisonment and surveillance, then you’re not a PIC abolitionist and that’s not gatekeeping that’s just like basic.
With so many ideas circulating and so many new people learning about abolition, it can be challenging to discern what proposals are really moving our society toward an abolitionist future. Mariame offered some thoughts on assessing these proposals.
MK: I like the questions that Dean Spade offers. Dean is a long time PIC abolitionist and a lawyer and an organizer. Dean offers these questions for assessing if reforms are what he calls recuperative or liberatory. Recuperative is basically reforms that legitimate the current system and liberatory are reforms that get us closer towards freedom and self determination and an abolitionist future. So the questions that Dean asks is: Does the reform of the tactic or the proposal provide material relief? I think this is really important because a lot of reforms and proposals that are out there don’t actually provide material relief to the people most impacted by the things that are being attempted to reform. So that’s really important. Does it leave out an especially marginalized part of the affected group, creating deserving and undeserving distinctions? We wanna stay away from like the real innocent people versus the horrible violent criminals, right? People who are deserving of our forbearance and people or not. Everybody is deserving of it not being harmed, no matter what they’ve done. I think that’s important to keep in mind. Does that legitimize or expand a system that we’re trying to dismantle? In other words, are we gonna have to come back in like three years to dismantle the very thing that is the proposal that’s been offered, right? Because it’s actually harming people or it’s morphed into harming more people. And then does how we are winning the particular reform or proposal, mobilize the most affected for ongoing struggle? So that question is really a question about are we building power. And I think those are good questions to guide us in trying to make decisions about what is an abolitionist demand that’s liberatory versus what is a reform that is actually recuperative, as in solidifying, expanding, legitimizing the current system that’s harmful.
As new people look for ways to join movements, it’s inevitable that some will search for a quick fix. If you’re new and looking to get involved, remember that it’s not about just hashtags or a day of protest. It’s about joining the struggle.
MK: That’s in the air, right? The question of allies. And I mentioned that I don’t actually believe in allyship and I’m actually super bored with the concept of performativity. And that I believe in co-strugglers and I believe in co-workers and I believe in solidarity. And I believe we need more people all the time in all of our work, in all of our movements, in all of our struggles. And I think the question is how do we get folks to struggle alongside us and with us. That is to me the constant thinking all the time that I have which is what are points of entry for people so that they can find a way to lend what they know how to do, their talent, their ideas to whatever it is that we’re doing while also learning in the process. I think that I think about sites of struggle as just constant learning. I’m an incredibly curious person and I feel like that’s a huge help in finding yourself connected to struggles is be super curious, come with what you know, be willing to learn, and be willing to be transformed in the service of the work. I think Mary Hooks has that right, that you have to be willing to be transformed in the service of the work and the struggle. And if you’re coming to things in that way, then you know you’ll be welcome and, if you’re not welcome, then you’ll make a place for yourself where you can be welcome. And I think that’s just really really important.
As the protests have continued, one major way the state has fought back is with the types of repression we always see. This includes mass arrests for everything from breaking curfew to alleged property damage. Already we’ve seen around ten thousand people arrested across the U. S. since the protests began, some facing very long sentences. As one example, here in New York, Samantha Shader, Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman are all facing seven charges including arson and possession and use of explosives after police allege they threw explosive devices at police cars. Despite no one being injured, all three are facing up to life in prison if convicted. We’ve also seen the state and media start dividing protesters into categories like good by which they usually mean just marching or bad by which they usually mean someone who has destroyed property. I asked Mariame for advice on participating in a movement facing such repression
MK: Of course this is how the police would respond. You know they’re the gate keepers for the state and the state has a monopoly on violence and they confer that monopoly on violence to police and allow police to have unlimited discretion in the use of that monopoly of violence. So of course this is how they would respond. They’re doing violence work, their violence work. So it’s not a surprise it’s expected. It’s one of the main reasons we have to chip away at their power. They’re actually in the way. They’re oppressive, they’re harmful, and we’re not gonna be able to restructure the world in the way that we want with them in the way. So we have to try to figure out how to move them out of the way and that’s key to the struggle. And I think a lot about the point that you just made about ten thousand arrests and hundreds I’m sure people who are facing massively punitive charges right now. And as PIC abolitionists, one of the most important things that we need to be always doing is being in solidarity with the folks who are criminalized and folks who are targeted by the criminal punishment system. And I have no doubt anyway that you know a big part of the work that many PIC abolitionists are engaged is working with political prisoners and being in consistent and continued relationship with them, writing to people on a regular basis, raising money for legal fees, doing connections with people’s families to make sure they have care and support, and we’re gonna need everybody who is kind of maybe new and joining a PIC abolitionist movement to get ready, because we are going to have mass amounts of work for the foreseeable future, years in fighting to make sure those folks who are currently in the net are free from it.
Outside the US, especially in parts of Europe, protesters will often continue protesting until officials grant amnesty for all protesters arrested. Sadly, this is not something seen in the US. When the coverage of street protests stops, often people forget about all those arrested. Mariame encourages us not to leave anyone behind.
MK: I want to say this without judgment though I feel judgmental, so I have to acknowledge that. But it’s what I find so appalling from some people who call themselves revolutionaries or want to be in the revolutionary vanguard and whatever but really just leave people behind. We know these systems are set up to actually repress. We know what’s gonna happen when people take actions that the state wants to completely tamp down on in order to make examples of folks so they can deter future actions that are similar. This is particularly the case when people take violent reprisal action against the state. And so we have to figure out in… And that work by the way, that care work, cannot be laid at the feet of women, femmes, trans, and non binary people who tend to be the folks who end up having to run these long term defense campaigns supporting folks who are entangled and ensnared in the system. And I think we have to like get real clear on the fact that if you’re ready to jump and applaud or you know run along side or cheer from the sidelines about revolutionary practice etc., then you got to open up your wallet, give up your time, figure out how we’re gonna free these folks. We have to be alongside them. We have to accompany them. And it’s just a necessity, a requirement.
In addition to police violence, the far right has been jumping to attack this movement, attempting to intimidate protesters into staying home. Scott Williams was shot by a far right militia member in New Mexico while protesting at a statue of Juan De Onate, a Spanish conquistador responsible for the massacre and enslavement of the Acoma people. There have also been several incidents of vehicular violence. And in Bakersfield, California, a protester named Robert Forbes died soon after being run over by a car. While it may be surprising to new participants, unfortunately both the state repression and the right wing backlash we’re facing is to be expected.
MK: There’s always a counter movement or counter moments. We expect it or if you don’t you should. I think there’s actually no way to prevent backlash. I think that’s part of that kind of the movement of history. There’s always just gonna be actions, prompt reactions, reactions, prompt actions, like that dialectic is real. I think we weather it. This is why it’s so essential to build organization, because that will help to weather the backlash. And if you’ve got a whole bunch of individuals, harder to be able to come together in the moments that we need to to build enough power so that we can protect each other, protect ourselves, and be ready for what is to come.
It’s important to remember what we’re up against. Find some comrades so you can navigate this moment a little more safely.
MK: I think it’s important not to travel alone and I mean that both in a literal sense and in a not literal sense you know. I think you need other people. I think if you can try to find a political home. I think you should make safety plans. It is just true that we are interrelated. That it is the case that your liberation absolutely tied up in mine. And I think the more we really understand that and operationalize that the better off all of us are going to be. So I know people want to be kind of freelancers and I’m for that. I don’t think everyone needs to join an organization, that’s not what I’m saying. But I think if you’re committed to the long haul work, it helps to be part of an organization or organization without being an organization. So try to find a political home because you need people who are going to have your back.
An Abolitionist Future
While this moment is challenging, it’s also inspiring to see so much momentum for abolitionist aims. There’s been a flurry of new explainers created as well as policy proposals, such as 8 to Abolition, the abolitionist response to 8 Can’t Wait. But none of this gives a picture of what a completely abolitionist society would look like. Part of the reason for that is there’s no clear answer.
MK: What as Ruthie [Wilson] Gilmore always says you know like the thing about abolition is not changing one thing but it’s changing everything. Like I can’t even imagine at this point how I’m going to be relating to other people in an abolitionist future. My brain can’t compute that everything’s changing means that everything I’m thinking will shift and change as well. I have hopes you know I want a world where everybody has what they need to live lives of dignity. I have hopes that and wishes that we all develop the skills we need to be able to solve our problems and interrupt conflicts, transform those conflicts . I want a world with that is not capitalist. I want a world where we truly have no borders and that we can be truly internationalist. I want a world for my niblings and my god kids that is environmentally sound and that we are in right relationship with the environment and nature as well as being in right relationship with each other. I want so much of what everybody else wants. I actually disagree with a lot of other people who talk about you might be in a post violence world. I think we’re always gonna harm each other as long as we’re human beings. I do. I think that’s inevitable actually and the issue is not about whether that’s true or not it’s more about , what are responses to that harm? How do we choose to address the harm? And so I want us to figure out good ways of addressing harm that don’t harm people in the process of addressing that harm. So I think I would say that I would say that. yeah yes thank you and I think
While the fully abolitionist future may be a vision slightly out of reach for us, we can take time to envision stepping stones toward that future. So much is changing and shifting right now. There’s room for movement. Mariame offered some concrete goals to look toward over the next weeks and months.
MK: Best possible outcomes of this moment, I think some of the links to what we’ve been talking about… That we won’t have dozens of new political prisoners and that if we do we’re prepared to do what we need to do to support them. That all of the newly activated people who really want to plug into ongoing work will find some points of entry to that work. That everyone who needs healing will have an opportunity to find what they need to embark on that journey. That more people will be ready to embrace radical proposals for transformation. And I think I would end by saying that maybe more people will make more things. And what I mean by that is I want a million experiments. I want more people to try more things and to not be afraid of failure but to embrace that failure is an actual inevitability if you’re going to try to make something. Because it’s just about lessons that we learn and lessons that allow us to figure out what needs to happen. So I think that’s what I would think about in terms of what best for me best outcomes are, a million different experiments.
It’s easy to embrace a slogan, hashtag it, and move on. It’s harder to defend it in the long run. I think a lot of people want an easy way out of this moment. But there’s no easy action or answers! It’s all challenging and nuanced. Hopefully this conversation with Mariame gave some ideas on what to focus on in this time.
Since there are so many people mobilizing right now, I want to end some general thoughts to new participants.
First, remember this is not a new struggle. Many have come before and sowed the seeds of this movement. Look to those organizers to help level up your understanding not only of history itself, but also the tactics, strategies, and concepts that organizers and abolitionists have been developing for decades. If you’ve spent time in the streets, donated to bail funds, delivered supplies, participated in jail support, or helped in other ways, that’s amazing. While you engage in these acts of support, also take time to deepen your knowledge of what the struggle was before this moment. In the show notes, you can find links to articles, books, and podcasts. You don’t have to learn everything at once. But start digging in a little bit at a time.
Secondly, Remember that this is a long term struggle, you’ll need to find your place for the long haul. To really succeed in abolishing the police and the prison industrial complex as a whole, to stop the devastating police murders of Black and Brown people, we can’t go back to normal. And not going back to normal means that all of us will have to participate in transforming our society. Some ideas are Joining a group like Critical Resistance or Joining or starting a study group to discuss some of the books or other resources that interest you. Also, like Mariame mentioned, the police and the courts have already slapped huge charges on people and harassed organizers. So one place to pitch in is supporting those who are facing charges. Check out the show notes for some links to legal defense funds. And to be able to participate for the long haul, you’ll need to find a pace that works for you. A meeting or protest everyday isn’t sustainable forever. So make time and space that you can commit to regularly.
Lastly, if you’re feeling stuck, remember it’s normal to feel intimidated. The prison industrial complex is huge and sprawling. That’s part of why it’s so hard to take on! But don’t let this keep you from finding a place and getting involved. If you or someone you know is newly interested in getting involved, check out our first season. It charts out a handful of actions you can take to help you join social movements.
Before I end this episode, I want to share one last thought from Mariame about staying grounded.
MK: It’s really scary right? There are people putting their bodies on the line right now against cops who are being extra violent towards folks. People are taking chances to literally protest in a pandemic, putting themselves, potentially their families, at further risk. I don’t want us to lose sight of that, as we’re talking about these things. Like those aren’t abstractions, those are realities. These matters are matters of life and death and that’s not saying a lot, that’s not hyperbole. If we’re going to stay grounded right now we have to be clear about our values. We have to work like hell to actually be accountable to those values. We have to be prefiguring the world in which we want to live, which again goes back to being clear about our values and working like hell to actually be accountable to those. We have to be building a community of co-strugglers who care about us, our well being, and aren’t gonna be afraid to call us in and call us out when necessary. I go back to the really important thing about experimentation and not being afraid to fail. I think we have to let go of certainty. There’s so much we don’t know, we’re in uncharted waters. We should get comfortable with that uncertainty. I think we should be asking good questions informed by the past but not actually can constrained by it. And I hope everybody drinks a lot of water, dances and makes art. Those are all things that I think are so critical and important. If you’re not going to make art then be surrounded by beautiful things and by things that inspire you and that remind you that living is not just waiting to die. But that living is building with others, learning how we are going to support each other, and care for each other. Being surrounded by beautiful things.
You’ve been listening to Rebel Steps. I’m your host, Liz, believe in yourself trust one another and get organized.
This episode was written, edited, and produced by Amy and myself. Music for this episode was kindly gifted to us by Sephy and also includes some songs that I created. Special thanks to our interviewee, Mariame Kaba. For more resources, check out the show notes for this episode on rebelsteps.com.
If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider supporting us on Patreon or sharing this episode with your friends or via social media. This podcast is part of the Channel Zero Network, an anarchist podcast network run by radical media makers. Head over to ChannelZeroNetwork.com for more podcasts and stay tuned for a message from one of our comrades in the network. Kite Line Radio