Abolition and the Evolving Pursuit of Freedom
Abolition reminds us to pursue freedom. It names the systems that thrive on a lack of freedom—white supremacy and settler-colonialism, patriarchy and heteronormativity, capitalism and debt. It critiques the violent forces that structure unfreedom—police and prisons, borders and the death penalty. And it pushes us to think and act better than the systems that confine, cage, and kill. Abolition names a past as well as a future: it reminds us, as Maria Mies wrote of patriarchy, that structures of violence have a beginning and can therefore have an ending. That is a powerful reminder when brutality reigns supreme.
Abolition’s enjoinder to pursue freedom evolves alongside the violence it subverts. Abolition is not just a paradigm but a set of interconnected historical experiments: to abolish slavery, debt peonage, the prison industrial complex. In each, abolition has served as a moral compass, a set of political principles, and a call to action. In other words, abolition is both about the end goal—the substance of freedom—as well as the strategies for getting there. Abolition can help us sort through the ways victory and defeat may coexist, the ways in which radical critiques get redirected into oppressive reforms.
Abolition reminds us that political horizons shift, presenting obstacles previously unimaginable. But within that realization is another one: we are powerful and we can win.
As issues such as “prison reform” move to the center of American politics, abolition calls on us to critique the inherent limitations and endemic problems of elite-sponsored solutions to elite-created problems. At the same time, abolition is a call to throw ourselves full force into the struggle—to give life to our critiques through a series of practical challenges to the emerging order alongside the existing one.
–Dan Berger (@authordanberger)