What Abolition Looks Like In My Life
Organizing and Experimenting
I got to hear Mariame Kaba speak in person at the Abolition Conference in Mississippi a few years ago (Making and Unmaking of Mass Incarceration). I left that conference feeling frustrated that there was disagreement between abolitionists on the direction to go, but now that abolition has become a mainstream conversation after the George Floyd protests, I feel less tender about it and realize that it’s all in the experimentation. I’m reading Kaba’s new book: We Do This ’Til We Free Us and I’m reminded that abolition is about trying out new things and changing culture, starting with ourselves.
We Do This 'Til We Free Us
"Mariame Kaba is a humble phenom in the most important of traditions - abolition. What we have in these pages is a wide…
I believe abolitionist movements should be led by BIPOC people, and for awhile that also made me step back as a white person and let go of challenging myself on the issues. “I’ll just follow BIPOC people,” I told myself, and didn’t see where I could do the work personally. I realize now that that is part of the challenge, and instead of seeing a challenge I saw a dead end in the past. Now I am thinking, how do I support BIPOC movements in my everyday life? Might seem like a “duh” moment, but for me it has been a shift. I can’t just do the work on my own, no one can. I need to build community and find my place in the work as a white accomplice. Kaba also writes about the need for a written record of work done in organizing circles- not so much that it puts the groups at risk, but so that organizers that follow can have a blueprint to see what was done, and what works. It’s inspired me to blog my activist journey again.
What does abolition look like? Kaba writes that “We’ll figure it out by working to get there.” So let’s work on getting there.
We Will Not Cancel Us
In We Will Not Cancel Us , movement mediator adrienne maree brown reframes the discussion around "call-out culture" for…
The book We Will Not Cancel Us by adrienne maree brown has really got me thinking about prison abolition in the daily context, outside of traditional prisons. It’s got me thinking about the difference between accountability and revenge, and navigating my own thoughts in emotional situations.
I think of my work as a lost cause because it is not a radical organization, but I have recently had the revelation that that shouldn’t matter. And I should still be challenging myself to hold radical politics within, and not let this organization break me and my ideals down. It’s gotten to the point where the best choice is to leave, however.
I have also reflected on the idea that shouting the loudest is not always the “radical” thing to do. Right now, I am at a cross roads where I want revenge for where I feel I have been wronged at my work. But the revenge I am seeking only tears another person down. I have tried communication, but it has not worked within the bureaucratic hierarchy, so I am now reverting to the only power I feel I have left- to tear someone else down. I was reading up on abolition lately though, and was reminded that if I truly believe in an abolitionist future, I need to start experimenting and practicing with it in every way and that includes when I am feeling emotions and in pain. That’s when it really counts. So I have started to reflect on what an abolitionist exit from this abusive job looks like. And I think accountability is necessary, so I will be honest as I leave, but I also will not go to the lengths I was planning to just to make a point and just to try and hurt someone else. That instinct for revenge is a part of our culture that lives within me, was cultivated within me, and while I never want to let go of the push for accountability, I need to start practicing how to let go of revenge.
Rent is Theft
Steal This Book
The 50th anniversary edition of the notorious, radical survival guide to living free as a revolutionary from one of the…
I’m reading Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman, which is reminding me of the rebelliousness of activism. In connection to We Will Not Cancel Us, Steal This Book reminds me that none of us are angels, and there is no such thing as perfect morals because we live within an imperfect system. Thus, we can reframe the way that we see things. My favorite line that I have read so far in Steal This Book is “To steal from a brother or sister is evil. To not steal from the institutions that are the pillars of the Pig Empire is equally immoral.” It’s reminding me of hippie roots of dumpster diving and living on the run, and the cultural revolution that I think is necessary for any organized revolution to actually take place.
I’ve started diving into organizing with the most radical group in Kansas City- KC Tenants. At a recent meeting one of the organizers explained more in depth why “rent is theft”. The basic idea is that the we the public pay for the schools and infrastructure around the land which is bought and that is where the real property value of a place comes from (from its location to publicly funding things). Property is valuable because of people, so the people should not have to be changed to live there, and no one should be making money off of people’s need for shelter. Radical ideas that are really pushing me, but prison abolition also pushed me in the beginning and now it’s life goal to advocate for it.
I’m also ding some research on public officials with some other activists, and many of them are working on their Phds while working other jobs while doing activism on the side. I feel humbled and inspired to be working with this group, and I am learning. You can look up campaign contributions for your local representatives, and thus see who they are beholden to, etc.
I’ve realized is that tearing down prison systems is not enough, we need to also build new things. Thus, abolition informs my activism, but my activism is now focused on mutual aid, making sure that people have access to truly affordable homes, etc. We are building things to replace the prison and police industrial complex we don’t need.
“When you see people call themselves revolutionary always talking about destroying, destroying, destroying but never talking about building or creating, they’re not revolutionary. They do not understand the first thing about revolution. It’s creating.”