Issue 31: 20 Years of Abolitionist Strategy and Struggle

Dear Readers,

Greetings readers! We hope that Issue #31 of The Abolitionist finds you in strong and irrepressible spirits.

Last September marked the twenty-year anniversary of the first “Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex” conference, which ignited the contemporary abolitionist movement and gave birth to Critical Resistance as an organization. Upon reaching this milestone, we have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the years of struggle, losses, victories, and lessons learned in the fight against the prison industrial complex (PIC). We are humbled by how far the movement for PIC abolition has come, and are inspired by where its headed. Importantly, we wanted to share these thoughts and reflections with our readers behind prison walls, in this special issue, “20 Years of Strategy and Struggle for Abolition.”

We know very well that while the PIC plays a fundamental role in caging and controlling our communities, it is also very good at shifting shape and changing appearance. It is a deceptive enemy, a system of violence whose legitimacy is utterly normalized beyond belief. And in a period of intensifying protest and mobilization against state terror and violence, it is easy to get caught up in fighting against an image of the past. The goals of this reflection are therefore not intended to be celebration as much as an occasion to reassess the terrain of struggle and gear up for the long road ahead.

In reflecting over the years, we ask: How has the nature of the system we fight changed over the years? Has the PIC weakened, or has it grown stronger? If things are indeed different now than when our organization first began pushing for abolition, how should we adapt and chance how we organize against it? These are some of the essential questions that we dig into throughout Issue 31.

One thing is for certain. At time of our 1998 conference, the words “prison industrial complex” and “abolition” were not commonplace at all. Today they have become common vocabulary for practically everyone involved in struggles for racial, gender, and economic justice. To claim the identity of an abolitionist working to eliminate imprisonment, policing, and surveillance back then was a phenomenon commonly ostracized for being “unrealistic.” Yet today many wear the abolitionist label with pride and conviction, with calls for the abolition of repressive state structures even making their way into the political mainstream.

Sections like “Gender and PIC” and “Environmental Justice and PIC” look into how abolitionists made common cause with other movements, and made connections between different sectors. We also look at the impact of Critical Resistance’s conferences over the years in the spreading of popular notions of abolitionist theory and practice in “CR Conferences” and “CR South.”

As with all birthdays, last winter we celebrated reaching our twenty-year mark through a 700 person event featuring a conversation between the incomparable Angela Davis, Linda Evans (former political prisoner, founder of All Of Us Or None), Mary Hooks (co-Director of Southerners On New Ground), and Kamau Walton (Critical Resistance member in Oakland, CA). In this issue, we share a transcript of their conversation looking back at where our movement has been and where it might possibly go.

We encourage readers to send us their reflections—both in response to the contents of Issue 31 but also on the history and future of PIC abolition.

We hope to hear from you, and hope that you enjoy this issue of The Abolitionist.

Forward Ever,

Abolitionist Editorial Collective