With Immediate Cause: Intense Dreaming as World-making

by Lena Palacios

Boston, 1979. Photo by Tina Cross
Boston, 1979. Photo by Tina Cross

 

We cannot live without our lives.

–Banner held by Combahee River Collective members protesting the sexual assault and murder of twelve Black women in the Boston area in the first six months of 1979.[1]

The body count of stigmatized, criminalized, incarcerated, legally eliminated, socially dead, expendable and disposable, sexually violated, tortured, missing and murdered Indigenous girls, girls and women of color, queer and trans youth of color, continues to climb. The growing murder-suicide rates, statistics of missing and murdered Indigenous and Black women, should no longer surprise or overwhelm us but incite us to urgent action and theorization in line with radical women of color feminist movements mobilizing to end gendered and racialized violence endemic to the carceral state. A feeling of mortal urgency hounds us everywhere, every day, all the time, all at once in white settler societies like ours; it surrounds, envelops, and blankets us, most often lulling us into a deep, depressed, dreamless stupor rendering us hopeless and immobilized. Many of us have already lost the battle. How many Black and Indigenous girls and women have had their lives cut short by interpersonal, intimate, state and state-sponsored violence since the Black socialist lesbian feminist Combahee River Collective first held up that banner boldly declaring “We cannot live without our lives” and initiated a self-help and anti-violence community mobilization in the late 1970s? At other times, when not killed-off, bought-off, coopted, or placated by the carceral state and its so-called ‘kinder and gentler’ politics of recognition and reconciliation and its non-profit, professionalized social service apparatuses, we channel the pent-up sum of our intergenerational rage into ‘dreaming big’ and ‘making power’ within our families, intimate relations, and communities. The mortal urgency lies in us staying dormant and continuing to patiently over-rely on the carceral state to guarantee the health of our lands and waterways, our human and civil rights, our bodily integrity, our safety and security, our health and well-being, our children’s futures rather than aligning ourselves with radical Black feminist, Indigenous decolonial, and prison abolitionist movements. We fail to listen and actively disengage with these (re)emergent and resurgent movements that resist the liberal and neoliberal state’s politics of recognition, visibility, and inclusion at our own peril. Five hundred years after the advent of colonial genocide and chattel slavery, the stakes are as high as ever. As Ntozake Shange declares, “We all have immediate cause.”

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The Audacity of Black Pleasure

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by Jallicia Jolly

 

I adore Detroit summers. The calm of the crisp summer breeze creates a soothing serenity. The cacophony of laughter, music, and car horns filled my ears while strolling down the river walk with my friend. As I reveled in the joy of witnessing black and brown pleasure, I remembered how revolutionary these public expressions of love are amidst tides of hate and violence.

 

Suddenly, my friend and I noticed a crowd gathered around the parking lot. Tow trucks, police officers, and families filled the space of the open lot for what seemed to be a massive towing event. It was a public spectacle!

 

“It looks like they’re towing all those vehicles,” my friend exclaimed. As I nodded in astonishment, my wide eyes wandered to the bike holder on a silver 2006 Ford Fusion that was gradually lifted onto one of the trucks. “That’s your car!” I yelled in disbelief. My friend raced across the pavement and towards the crowd. I followed.

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With focused dedication, the workers of the towing company lifted at least 10 vehicles. As we approached the tow truck driver, he explained that the city hired him to pick up cars “illegally parked” near the river walk. After accepting my friend’s frantic plea to pay the cost ($200) to receive her car, the workers released the vehicle. They chuckled as one joked: “do I get to have $50 out of this?” I cringed.

 

 

I felt incomplete as I saw sullen black and brown faces while driving away. The assaults on pleasure meant more than just no more fun. It meant no transportation to home and work. It meant possible unemployment. In the context of constrained income and an increasingly dehumanizing carceral state, it meant arrest for minor offenses. “That was the money I just worked for today,” stated my friend.

 

I thought about witnessing working class people enjoying the suffering of other working class people. I pondered the psychic toll that arises from such explicit and implicit acts of terror that occur alongside quotidian activities such as parking, driving, and playing music. I wondered how marginalized people could develop a sense of community that moved beyond the deep feelings of non-belonging in a world that tells you that you are not deserving of pleasure.

 

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Black pleasure is a political act in the era of anti-black (& poor) state sanctioned violence. It is more important than ever to secure healing spaces that revive spirits as they uplift souls. As I’ve learned, calls to embrace black joy become revolutionary in the wake of the dehumanization of the militarized carceral state.

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Mass Incarceration Is Religious (and So Is Abolition): A Provocation

by Joshua Dubler and Vincent Lloyd

[This intervention is part of Abolition’s inaugural issue.]

 

The United States is not just a nation with an enormous number of prisons. It is a prison nation. Carceral logics and affects pervade U.S. culture, including in the arguments we make and in the fear and fury we feel. Not all Americans are equally implicated, but none of us is untouched. Just as Clifford Geertz once read from a cockfight a set of collectively shared secrets endemic to and constitutive of Balinese culture, so too in the United States today, careful observers can witness the knot of pathologies rooted in our prisons, pathologies that are also endemic to the politics and culture outside the walls. Mass incarceration contributes to this culture and politics, and it depends on it. A cursory list of our carceral maladies would include racial inequities, brutal class conflict, the violence of rigid gender norms, broken health care, hollow rhetoric of rights, the management of bare life, and much more. For our nation the prison is an apt synecdoche, and there’s no way to disentangle the part from the whole. For readers of Abolition, in asserting the preceding we are surely breaking little new ground.

Where we might stir you to surprise or resistance pertains to the issue of religion. Coastal elites and the media they control generally portray a country governed by fundamentally secular ideals, but the majority of our fellow citizens and non-citizens know better. We say this not to trot out statistics showing how many of us believe in God, or to venerate the vantage point of the marginalized millions who do. It is to make a more substantive claim about the ideals and values that motivate Americans to collective action. Namely, even those of us who would never be caught dead in a church are filled by the spirit of religion to roughly the same degree that we are subjects of this great and grotesque nation. American culture is soaked through with religious languages, practices, and themes: redemption, hope, love of neighbor, hate of other neighbor, beloved community, holy crusade. These and other religious tropes are woven into the national cultural fabric, and they furnish the tools by which Americans fashion selves and collectivities. This is true of those who comprise the ruling order, and it is equally if not especially true of those of us who struggle to dismantle that order. Considered in this way, religion then becomes a promise and a problem. In public, private, and in mass mediated spaces, elites frequently repress or carefully manage religion – just as they repress or carefully manage race, gender, sexuality, disability, immigration, and labor, so as to smoothly and seamlessly integrate these sites of potential disruption into the workings of power and flows of capital. To understand the U.S. as a prison nation—and to cure the maladies that afflict us—it is imperative that we understand the U.S. as a religious prison nation, and more specifically, as a Christian prison nation.

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