Rethinking American Prisons

This essay is adapted from Dan Berger and Toussaint Losier’s 2017 Rethinking the American Prison Movement (Routledge Press), a book that examines how incarcerated people have challenged prison conditions and other forms of inequality through strikes, uprisings, and other creative tactics, and in doing so have waged transformational struggles against America’s prison system. We republish it here on occasion of the nationwide prison strike, in the hopes that it will provide useful perspective on the ongoing struggles of our incarcerated comrades. To the end of prisons.

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Burn it Down: Abolition, Insurgent Political Praxis, and the Destruction of Decency

“Let us burn this motherfucking system to the ground and build something better.”

-Claire Vaye Watkins

In this article, the authors examine the ways in which the state, broadly understood as a technique, practice, and effect of modern governance and its optimization, creates impossible conditions for radical political transformation in the U.S. To illustrate these conditions, the authors show how the state relies upon notions of decency or civility to enact and elide blatant colonialism. The authors draw from the following examples to advance this argument: the “EPA Spill” or the ongoing environmental genocide shaping life across occupied Indigenous lands in the U.S. Southwest; the surprising, yet all too ordinary, election of President Trump; and the racist detainment of children from Central America in the name of humanitarian “law and order.” The authors contend that because these acts illustrate how Euro-American colonial norms continue to shape everyday violence, abolition as a praxis and vision must contend with how to burn down all of the mechanics of contemporary governance, to cooperatively dismantle the state as such, before promoting alternative social systems and political worlds. One way that the authors propose to accomplish this is to incinerate decency as an organizing precept for democracy, civic comportment, and political participation.

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All our Community’s Voices: Unteaching the Prison Literacy Complex

by Michael Sutcliffe

Education, and particularly literacy, is often held up as a panacea for criminality and the key to prisoners’ reinvented social mobility. Reformers, educators, administrators, and government-funded corporate surveys tell us that if prisoners are educated, their behaviors will change as they learn to “solve their problems” in constructive rather than destructive ways. While much is to be said for the value of education, learning to read and write according to institutionally authorized conventional modes of discourse does little to counter the systems of state-sponsored violence, near-permanent poverty, racism, and devastating economic inequity that propagate the prison industrial complex.

This essay will demonstrate how current applications of prisoner education contribute to a “Prison Literacy Complex” by assuming deficits in the prisoner and positing education as remediation or as therapy. Traditional top-down models of literacy and their “voices-in” pedagogies mask systemic privilege and stratification. Instead, I argue for a “voices-out” pedagogical reframing for community programs in prisons and jails that can further substantive, redistributive social change. By bringing silenced voices and counterhegemonic memories out from behind bars, community efforts can reveal inconsistencies in popular “truths” and inspire the historicized criticism necessary for sustained projects of abolition. While primarily addressed to educators and community organizers working inside, the theoretical reorientation is a broader call for rethinking and reteaching ideological inheritance and community participation.

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(re)Thinking Sex Positivity, Abolition Feminism, and the #MeToo Movement: Opportunity for a New Synthesis

by Brooke Lober

Sexism, gendered harassment, and sexual assault are so common in our culture that they constitute norms; the phrase “rape culture” puts a name to this phenomenon. While assault and harassment remain rampant, a renewed sexual conservatism—consonant with the current right-wing power-grab and evacuation of the already ravaged social safety net—reproduces systematic inequity through an overt culture of misogyny, along with the privileging of marriage and monogamous partnership, heterosexuality, and sex/gender normativity. This hierarchy is produced at the expense of sexual outsiders including survivors of rape, abuse, and harassment, who lead the current public outcry on gender-based violence.

For the last forty years and more, feminist and queer movements have arisen to identify and resist the conditions of social subordination that are created through sex and gender hierarchy, while at the same time, these movements propose expansions of sexual freedom and gender self-determination. The current wave of protest and public speech against sexual violence, under the sign of #MeToo, while extraordinary, is not without precedent. But it offers a renewed chance to synthesize a popular framework for freedom through which we can work toward two longstanding feminist goals: freedom from sexual violence, and freedom to enact and celebrate all forms of consensual sexuality. Two feminist actions demonstrate these two aspects of sexual liberty. Since 1975, Take Back the Night marches and rallies have provided space for the outpouring of stories of sexual assault; and since 2011, Slutwalk has offered a site for the reclamation of self-determined sexuality as a public, political, and participatory act. While often emerging as opposed interests, freedom from violence and the struggle for sexual liberation are linked. As Adrienne Marie Brown writes, “Your strong and solid no makes way for your deep, authentic yes.” Feminist movements including women of color feminism, abolition feminism, and the sex-workers’ rights movement all offer possibilities for the integration of freedom from sexual coercion, and the freedom to engage in all consensual forms of sex. The radical imaginaries offered by these movements are crucial for activists who are now considering the next steps for countering omnipresent sexual harassment, abuse, and assault.

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Caption This: Police in Pussyhats, White Ladies, and Carceral Psychology Under Trump

Caption this: white ladies hugging Black cops in pussyhats. It goes deeper than the multiculturalist perfection of absorbing a racialized threat as justification for the continued exploitation of those deemed unassimilable. A Black man donning a uniform and a pussyhat at once obscures and reveals the historical relation of the symbols he now sports. This is what an analysis of heteropatriarchal white supremacy must account for, and what carceral psychology cannot. Literally embracing cops illustrates the ongoing investment in police as “benevolent” masters over an abstract notion of safety that criminalizes people of color. A system rooted in racialized social control cannot get an antiracist makeover through a few public dialogues between cops and community members. As Tariq Khan writes, “Heartwarming Barbecues and Hugging Cops Ain’t the Solution.” This obsession with individual acts of peace-making with cops is the liberal face of carceral psychology.

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Political Prisoner Herman Bell Assaulted by Prison Guards

Black Panther Party political prisoner Herman Bell was viciously assaulted by guards at Great Meadow Correctional Facility (Comstock) on September 5, 2017. While being “escorted” by a guard back to his housing unit, a guard struck Herman, age 69, in the face causing his glasses to drop to the floor. He pushed Herman against the wall, Herman stumbled and fell to the ground. The guard then continued viciously hitting and kicking Herman. Very soon about 5 other guards arrived and joined in the violent attack, hitting and kicking Herman all over his body. He was also maced in the eye and face. One of the guards kneed Herman in the chest causing two cracked ribs. At one point, one of the guards took Herman’s head and slammed it very hard into the pavement three times. Herman said when this happened he thought he was at the end of his life.

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Aggrieved Whiteness: White Identity Politics and Modern American Racial Formation

by Mike King

Recent social psychological research, opinion polls, and political movements, such as the Tea Party and the candidacy and election of Donald Trump, have highlighted an increasingly widespread sentiment among white Americans that they are a structurally oppressed racial group. In spite of persistent socio-cultural and political economic structures of white supremacy, real racial inequalities that serve to privilege rather than oppress white people as a group, a politics of aggrieved whiteness has become increasingly prevalent. Aggrieved whiteness is a white identity politics aimed at maintaining white socio-political hegemony through challenging efforts to combat actual material racial inequality, while supporting heavily racialized investments in policing, prisons, and the military, and positing a narrative of antiwhite racial oppression loosely rooted in an assortment of racialized threats. This political manifestation of white supremacy does not deviate from previous incarnations; it lacks a legitimate grounding in reason and fact, but still produces very real social consequences. This article will sketch how W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept of socio-psychological wages of whiteness, Paula Ioanide’s discussion of modern racial affect, and Wendy Brown’s application of ressentiment to modern political conceptions of identity can help provide a contextualized understanding of aggrieved whiteness and the challenges it poses to pursuits for genuine racial justice.

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Abolish Border Imperialism! – Seeking Proposals for a Convergence

Call for Proposals:

Abolish Border Imperialism!

a weekend convergence for working towards abolition and decolonization

October 6-8, 2017 – Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota

Resurgent border imperialism is producing a new round of repressions, deportations, and bans. It is emboldening white fascism and militarizing walls. From the reservation to the city, Indigenous peoples, immigrants, women, workers, queer and trans folks, Black and brown communities are facing criminalization, exploitation, deportation, incarceration, harassment, and violence. The organizing collective of Abolition: a journal of insurgent politics invites your proposals for a multi-faceted, multi-group convergence in the Twin Cities this fall!

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“Break Every Chain”: An Engagement with _Break Every Yoke: Religion, Justice, and the Abolition of Prisons_ by Joshua Dubler and Vincent Lloyd

by Joy James –
Spirituality without structure is not easily sustained in hostile, authoritarian environments. Although religions have historically been practitioners of organized predatory violence (the Catholic church’s child abuse scandals come to mind), Break Every Yoke illustrates how we can counter violence with religion that supports resilience and a healthy spirituality to resist: school to prison pipelines, foster care, residential homes for special needs children, detention centers, mental asylums, solitary confinement, death row, political imprisonment and mass incarceration.

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Nazi-Punching Praxis: Against the Liberal Theology of Reason & Non-Violence

[George Ciccariello-Maher interviewed by Daniel Denvir – Part 2]

I think what is being missed is the fact that [punching Nazis] is a praxis, that this is not simply a performance—it’s not an expression of frustration. It’s an actual political practice that is constructive and creative. The effects that punching Nazis creates include, first, as Richard Spencer through his own absurd inability to think strategically has admitted, it has made his life a living hell already. He admitted that it’s making it very difficult for them to organize. He’s admitted, in other words, everything that many of us have said about how Nazis need to be treated and about this famous apocryphal quote from Hitler that says, “If someone had recognized early on and crushed our movement with the utmost brutality of violence, then we would never have been able to grow.”

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“White Genocide” and the Myth of White Victimhood

[George Ciccariello-Maher interviewed by Daniel Denvir – Part 1]

White genocide is a paranoid conspiracy theory held by white supremacists who, on the one hand, believe in race as a biological reality and believe that whites are under existential threat by multicultural policies and intermarriage and every time a mixed baby is born, that the white race suffers a fatal blow. These are really the kind of people that traffic in this idea of white genocide and these are the kind of people who at the same time, wanted to take my tweet which sought to mock white genocide, and to interpret it literally as though I were actually wishing for the death of all white people.

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Intro/Conclusion to Abolition’s Elections 2016 Blog Series

[Joy James gives an Intro/Conclusion to the Abolition Collective 2016 Election Blog.]

“Welcome to the party.

So, we “lost.” That is the refrain and the grief cue for those seeking justice or peace or freedom, or all of the above in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States.

In losing the election, which was not a referendum on justice or peace or freedom, we gained increasing clarity (and, from late night comics, more hilarity laced with obscenities).

To be clear, we wanted to share free land and labor, love, and sacred nature—what we’ve never had. To be certain, those who wield disciplinary and predatory powers were not and will never be our protectors, allies or benevolent governors. …”

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