We who believe in freedom, cannot rest: Ahmad Greene-Hayes on Abolition

Frederick Douglass, the great black prophet, abolitionist, and freedom fighter proclaimed in 1857, nine years before the end of U.S. chattel slavery in 1865, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” His words, like those of so many others, set the stage for the Abolition movement of the 19th century and conjured what Cornel West terms, “black prophetic fire.” His push for struggle was abolitionist in nature. Douglass worked to abolish, or completely obliterate white supremacy as it had been practiced through institutionalized racism, colonization, and enslavement. Black feminist ancestor Ida B. Wells-Barnett fought alongside Douglass, holding him and his comrades accountable to their sexist/masculinist conceptions of black liberation, and led an international anti-lynching campaign. Her efforts debunked white women’s false claims of black-on-white rape, exposed the sadism inherent in post-enslavement racial-sexual politics, and told of the horrors of the lynching tree in the American nation-state. She, too, was an abolitionist. Abolitionism, in its truest form, is indebted to these two legacies. It is transnationally anti-racist, anti-colonial, and feminist. “Struggle,” as Douglass opined, and as Wells-Barnett perfected, is both interracially and intraracially focused.

It is both a critique of systems of oppression perpetuated by the oppressor and a critique of those systems internalized by the oppressed. It is the acknowledgement of inherited bodies of power and also the actualization of accountability among those who struggle. It stands as the symbiosis of gender, class and racial justice, the embodiment of ancestral vision and familial prowess, and the activation of political consciousness, salient anti-racist warfare and black healing. As an abolitionist in the 21st century, my work follows the footsteps of black prophet Frederick Douglass and black prophetess Ida B. Wells-Barnett, as I fight to deconstruct racial-sexual violence and police terrorism at the intersection of criminal (in)justice. I build on the prophetic interventions of Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Vernon Johns, Robert F. Williams, Bayard Rustin and Audre Lorde, who, too, aligned themselves with the spiritual and political mediations of Douglass and Wells-Barnett. With our dying pleas in Ferguson, in New York City and across the nation, “please don’t shoot me dead, I have my hands in the air,” we give credence to political prisoner Assata Shakur’s words from 1973, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” That which held us bound shall be no more. Abolish. Abolition. New Abolitionists. We shall overcome. We who believe in freedom, cannot rest. Will not rest. Shall not rest. This is our time. Right now. Black Liberation.

—Ahmad Greene-Hayes (@_BrothaG)

[This post is part of a series of “Abolition Statements” from members of the Abolition Journal Collective and Editorial Review Board. See here for a brief introduction to these posts.]