The following is a transcription of the conversation between Angela Y. Davis, Linda Evans, Kamau Walton, and Mary Hooks that took place at Critical Resistance’s twenty-year anniversary event on December 9, 2018 in Oakland, CA. The event can be watched online here.
Angela Y. Davis (AD): How did you become involved in the abolitionist movement? What was your entry point? When was it? Did it have anything to do with Critical Resistance?
Linda Evans (LE): I was locked up in federal prison when the first Critical Resistance conference happened, and I remember very distinctly that Eve Goldberg—my partner—and I were working on an article. We had just decided to do this. I was studying neoliberalism, finishing college in prison, and felt like we needed to write something about how neoliberalism and global capitalism were affecting prisons and what prison had to do with that. So, we were writing. Eve was going to the library, doing research in the library, looking up things in, you know, those magazine indexes, Xeroxing things, and sending them in to me in prison. Trying to write together was quite a project. In the middle of this, a friend of mine who was visiting, another former political prisoner, Bo Brown, told me about an organization that was forming called Critical Resistance. I don’t even know if that name existed then, when Bo was telling me about it. And I remember being in awe that there was an organization forming that was going to try to abolish prisons. I felt like this is impossible, you know, I was in prison, hello. Like, okay, good, let’s abolish prisons, but how the heck are we going to do it? She told me about a conference that was happening, and the Prison Activist Resource Center decided that they would publish our article, “The Prison Industrial Complex and the Global Economy,” which many of you hopefully have read, although it definitely needs updating. This was an incredibly important connection for me as an activist locked up inside federal prison looking at a 40-year sentence, and the feeling that I could have a voice—a voice that would be listened to and respected, and that I could be a part of building an abolitionist movement. For me, the production of this, and the inclusion of it in the registration packets of the conference, was a tremendous connection and very important psychologically, emotionally, and I think helped me understand, at a different level, what really was going on outside—because when you’re locked up, it’s very, very difficult to get any kind of information about what activists are doing, about what the political arguments are that are going on, what is of the moment. So, I was extremely appreciative of that effort of Critical Resistance to include me and prisoners in the process of connecting with that first conference.
The other thing that I learned at the same time was about the Delano II campaign and the effort to prevent the construction of a second prison in Delano. The fact that people were going after prison construction in that time, when there had been 23 new prisons in the last ten years built in California, was awe-inspiring and shocking. And I feel like it’s very important for all of us here today to recognize that it was the unity of activists on the outside, the building of very unusual coalitions including the environmental movement, including the NAACP and the ACLU, including a legislative strategy, including a litigation strategy—creative thinking built our movement. And I think that that’s crucial for us to continue to engage in the level of discussion and strategizing that we need at a deep level to move forward. So those are the two entry points for me.
Kamau Walton (KW): Mine is not nearly as intricate or glorious or brilliant as Linda framed for herself. I joined Critical Resistance in 2010. I came in to CR after doing a lot of LGBT organizing but mostly L and G, if you know what I mean, and I was really dissatisfied with the ways that it was not really having an impact on all of my people and all of my communities and all of the folks that I throw down with and for. And this one muffin named Isaac Lev Szmonko, who I said I would name drop, kept inviting me to all these random things like this town hall about these gang injunctions. I went to some CR workshops at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit that year, and my mind was blown. I’m from Ohio, we don’t have like ethnic studies and cultural studies and things like that in middle school, so these were not things that I knew. I was new to California too, and I think after I went to those workshops I joined CR like maybe three or four weeks later. There’s this activity if any of y’all have ever been to a CR workshop where they have the concentric circles that talks about how the prison industrial complex is a set of interests that uses these tools that impacts these problems and impacts these people all of these different parts, right, and I was like those are my people, those are my people, I see that thing this is there too, oh my gosh. And I had an understanding in that two hours of how abolition was going to help to liberate all of my people. I started showing back up, and prisoner mail was the first piece of work that I did in CR and then eventually I joined the Stop the Injunctions Coalition because the injunctions were happening in the neighborhood where I was living. That was the first campaign and I ever participated in and the first campaign I ever won.
AD: It is really great to win the first campaign.
KW: I tell myself that now when I’m not winning. That one time, though, that one time.
Mary Hooks (MH): Wow this is a great question, but I have to say thank you so much for the CR family for having me and for having SONG (Southerners on New Ground) sit as one, but represent thousands of dangerous queer and trans folks across the South, who have been blessed and inspired by the work of CR, so thank you. Thank you, and just shout out to Cara Page who is deep SONG fam and love that’s in the audience.
So, yeah, I’ll answer the question. I could go on all night being gracious and grateful. I would say that my entry point into abolition was how I entered movement, and many folks have heard this story before. One night I was kickin’ it with my homies and in our lesi fashion was getting ready to go to a ladies play party in Atlanta, and she spotted a hottie and was like, “Yo, Mary, go talk to her. Get the read.” And, no problem I’m a good wingman. So, I went over to this woman and I asked her, you know, just chopping it up, and I said, “Well what do you do?” And she’s like, “I’m trying to stop the shackling of Black women while giving birth in prison.” What! Yo, what! Blew my whole mind blew my whole mind. I come from a place, my people are from Racine, Wisconsin, ain’t nobody really talking about that, you know. And they should have, given how much Wisconsin is caging up our people. But she said that to me, and it blew my mind that it was happening and it blew my mind that she was doing something about it. I was like what in the world, and that’s when she became one of my really great friends. And she said, “I want to introduce you to my political home,” and that was Southerners on New Ground, and that was Paris Hatcher. I know many of you may know of her work with Black Feminist Future, but Paris Hatcher was the woman in the bar that night.
This was probably 2009 I believe or so. And then in 2011, I believe it was Kai Lumumba Barrow that joined the SONG staff. My word, and she blew our whole minds again. Kai’s role at the time was to build the fighting arm and the campaign arm inside of SONG and really strengthen our work when it comes down to campaigns. Like we wanna win some stuff. We wanna dismantle some stuff. And I remember we would sit in her house in Durham, and you know Kai—who knows Kai Lumumba Barrow? Okay, if you know it you gots to love her, Lord. And she would be writing and drawing and art and music, and I remember like one time her heat went out, we just in there cold. I can’t even describe to you the scenario which we were in, and she just would tell us stories and complicate what we knew and understood about this work, and how we understood organizing and the broader fight that we were up against. Her role was to like get our little scrappy selves together. A lot of us was new inside of the work of SONG, and she spent years, and we sat at her feet. Many of the things that she taught us at the time, we’re like I can’t even, what is happening, I don’t even know the language, what are you saying right now? But it was a lot of her that instilled in myself and others inside of SONG the language in me the analysis around the prison industrial complex, and really, you know, held us to task, like if we gonna fight. If we’re gonna be out here fighting, don’t be on no BS, we got to come with the real and we can’t just go for the arm, things that aren’t the crumbs for people. And this is a longer-term work envisioned around abolition that we’re here for. So, I’ll stop there, but that’s how I got in.
AD: Since this is a period in in which we don’t have a lot of victories to celebrate and particularly since, well you raised that question of becoming involved in this stop gang injunctions campaign and experiencing a victory immediately. I was wondering if the rest of you could, or all of you could, perhaps think about some important victories that you’ve been involved in in relation to the abolitionist movement.
KW: I’ll start off talking about the Stop the Injunctions Coalition. Just because I think, yeah it was successful and we won, but we were acting like we won before we even officially won because I think it’s important to define and frame victories beyond what the definitions of the state offers up to us. So even before the injunctions got repealed, because that was five years after everything had started, we had tested and seen they weren’t actually being enforced. We were like, we won.
Before that we were building strong political relationships with folks all across Oakland including Chicano Moratorium Coalition, and because of that we said we won because we had people who had been directly impacted listed on the gang injunctions, their loved ones were on the gang injunctions, and they were galvanized to start engaging in community centered work and building out community-based solutions to increase public safety that weren’t criminalizing and ostracizing their own people. We said that we won, and so way before they were officially deauthorized, way before we you know had the victory parties, we knew that in all of these particular ways we had won already. We built the skills of a lot of the members of Critical Resistance including myself and many people who some are here and some aren’t here, and I’m holding them all in my heart. But, I think we also pushed out police chiefs, three I believe we got rid of. That’s to reflect not to be on the “not in my backyard” tip because unfortunately some of those police chiefs ended up in different cities, like Anthony Batts, who was in Baltimore when Freddie Gray was murdered. I don’t want to be like, we got rid of him and that’s dope. He’s still in other places ruining many people’s lives and terrorizing communities. But it did give us the ability to show the power of the people and to put fear in the hearts of those decision-makers who were trying to play folks to the left, and act like this wasn’t a big deal.
The shifting of the conversation around what the purpose and impact of policing is, what should public safety look like in Oakland, who does know what the solutions are—it was these conversations and the messaging and the energy that showed we know what our communities need, we know how to keep each other safe, and I think that has been something that has carried on into other anti-policing work and abolition work more broadly in Oakland, whether it’s from Stop Urban Shield to closing down the San Francisco City jail. It’s based on the fact that community members know what they need, community members are the experts in their experiences, and because of those things, I think it’s important to highlight the Stop the Injunctions Coalition and highlight like all the different angles of what victory means and what it looks like and not just the five years after.
MH: I love this question for a lot of the same reasons that you unpacked. I think for SONG, and for many folks in the South in in a red state, you know policy victories are oftentimes far and few between. However, I think that inside of SONG’s work, we’ve been able to have a blessing of being able to work inside of coalitions and alliances that have enabled for us to advance our vision of what a South free from fear looks like. And some of that has looked like when we started really throwing down and doing direct action alongside of one of our comrade organizations, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. This is at the time when the Arizona anti-immigration bills were spreading across the South, and Georgia had adopted its version of it. Part of that work was being able to dismantle some of the things that they had in there, one of which was deeply important, where they were going to begin arresting folk who were caught with folk who were undocumented, saying that we could not be sanctuary for each other, and that was one of the interventions we were able to make together.
I think over the last few years, we’re feeling victorious for the leaders we’ve been able to develop and bring into the work. Some of the leadership development pipeline is like the fellowship program “The Lorde’s Work” and seeing the results of that and many have come to the work through the Mama’s Day Bailout campaign work which is highlighting the crisis of what’s happening in our communities around the issue of bail and pretrial detention. In Atlanta, we’ve been able to move the needle around bail, and last year I believe some of the numbers were saying that last year, before the bail ordinance, there were up to 700 so people in the Atlanta City Jail. A year later, it’s like a hundred and something, and they’re like looking crazy because they’re like, “Oh snap, we’re like having to give folk the pink
slip.” I think in our victory, we also have to grapple with what does it mean that those are primarily black people getting the pink slip. And we all saw, begging the question, and we know this isn’t the work. At least we hope that folks didn’t like we wanted it to be caging our people and being a part of this system in this way. I think that it creates opportunities for us to really think about what is on the other side of that for people and to go back to even do some visioning with folk who have been corrections officers, like what has been your dream, what is it that you want and desire, and then create openings to do that as we real building and building something else in terms of alternatives. But I just have to shout out some of the comrades in Harrisonburg, Virginia a few years ago, who were the coalition of folks stopped the opening of a jail in Harrisonburg. We’ve seen and many folks have been clocking it, just what it has meant particularly in rural southern communities where jails and prisons are becoming the way in which people are getting their bread and butter, and folks are like, “I don’t care if you’re gonna bring jobs, we don’t want those kinds of jobs.” I think that you know those are some of the things that are on top, but I’ll stop there.
LE: Well I’ll just give a little bit more context to the Stop the Injunctions coalition because All of Us or None, which is a civil rights grassroots organization of people who have been in prison and our families joined with Critical Resistance to start a campaign before to Stop the Injunctions Coalition which was called Plan for a Safer Oakland. You can probably see some of the posters that we produced during that time, we had lots and lots of rallies and did a lot of advocating for a series of real policy recommendations that Stop the Injunctions Coalition came out of. One of the policy initiatives that we pushed really hard for, is a national campaign that I’m sure some of you have heard of, which is Ban the Box. I would say that one of the major victories that Critical Resistance really accomplished, starting with Plan for a Safer Oakland, and probably even before, is that we have changed the discourse about public safety and public health, and that is crucially important because it has laid the basis for a whole range of policy initiatives that are really important—for example, the Drug Policy Alliance initiatives to legalize drugs, to expand treatment, to basically stop the incarceration of people who suffer from drug addiction. I think that the importance of changing that discourse should not be underestimated, because it is the basis for us making a mass argument about stopping incarceration, specifically stopping the mass incarceration of Black and brown people, and it gives us a way forward, which is a positive plan for making our communities safer with community leadership, not the elected officials, not the corporations, not the Chamber of Commerce, but us. And Oakland Power Projects is building on that, so I think it’s really important just as a historical moment, to look at the fact that we started with Plan for a Safer Oakland, that built because of the positive nature of what we were fighting for, that led us to recognize what the militarization of our communities was happening with the injunctions, and the fact that Oakland won and stopped the gang injunctions in a precedent-setting way. You know they aren’t using gang injunctions in the same way that they were trying to and then to recognize that as we developed and countered the state. We were able to Stop Urban Shield, we were able to stop the construction of new jails and immigration detention centers, so if we look at the development of our movement through history, and it’s a short history, 20 years is not that long, I think that we can see the momentum is building and it’s our job to keep that momentum going.
I just wanted to say one more thing. I do also think it’s really important that we recognize that Critical Resistance was key in developing Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), which has enabled us as a statewide movement to be very much more powerful and more unified. So, I don’t think we should underestimate the importance of Critical Resistance’s contribution to starting CURB, and the also really important contribution that CURB is making to our ability to impact state policy.
AD: Thank you so much, Linda. I think that you’ve all been describing what we might call abolitionist victories, and I’d like to move the conversation in the direction of thinking about precisely what abolition means because there are those who assume that when we say that we want to abolish the prison industrial complex, that in short of getting rid of the whole system, you know, what might be a victory in an abolitionist struggle is sort of you know similar to the whole debate around reform and revolution. There have been those who argue that reforms really are not helpful to the revolution. But the conception of the revolution is often bringing the capitalist system down in one fell swoop, and I don’t think we’re ever going to do that. So how do we know when we’re winning abolitionists victories as opposed to say the larger victory of having ever-increasing numbers of people focusing on the prison question, which means that there are also right-wing people thinking about what to do about the prison crisis. There’s that,
Organization, the Right on Crime, and Newt Gingrich and all of those folks who think of the of mass incarceration as the largest governmental project, so it needs to be down scaled. But I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about something very different so how does one distinguish between simply the popularization of the problems related to prison, and moving along an abolitionist trajectory.
MH: I’ll chew on that for a second.
MH: I got a few thoughts here now, let me see. Well, one thing that’s been stirring in my spirit lately is that I believe that abolition has always been a demand, has always been a demand for Black people that survived the Middle Passage, the abolition of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, the prison industrial complex. I believe that demand is not just one of the systems that are very much in place, but it’s also calling for a different level of spiritual transformation. I think that when we think about abolitionists wins, and when we think about those victories, that they also can be recognized by the way in which our relationships to each other have shifted, and the way power relationships have shifted, the way our hearts and minds bring more compassion to the way in which we think about harm, and the way we respond when harm has happened. I think that it calls for a clear divestment in cages, in courts, cops, and into community-based resources and infrastructure and in an investment in those things, which is a frame for many folk doing the work I’ve been talking about. We must divest and we must invest. I think some of those things are what stands up for me, and I believe particularly in the South, the Black radical tradition calls us to think about and to be steadfast in the spiritual transformation that we are seeking in this time. For years, SONG has begged the question, are we willing to be transformed in the service of the work and in doing the work of abolishing jails and prisons and cages and the PIC? I see there is something different that we all should feel different, wake up different, more alive, more in love. So, I’m gonna lay that down, but that’s what some for us, that’s how we clockin’ it, and that’s how we recognize it.
KW: One of the ways that I measure where abolition is going, and if you’ve heard me talk you probably heard this before too, is my mom, Joyce Walton, is a Leo that lives in Columbus, Ohio. She is my mom, I love her, and she definitely does not identify as an abolitionist, and eight years deep she’s still calling Critical Resistance “critical political.” And, through my time in CR, which isn’t even half the time the CR has existed, my family’s been impacted by policing and imprisonment a lot. And I think that in me just talking to her about the work, I think conversations are shifting from what it is to why aren’t we actually doing things that actually make people safer, don’t put people in the same position. So, why are we investing in building a new police station when your little cousin has a school that’s falling apart? I think there are a lot more questions that are coming up, and I think that’s an important part of abolition, is actually digging into what the root causes are of things. People trying to figure out what are the conditions that need to be shifted to prevent this from happening, not how do we criminalize or isolate or dehumanize or disappear this person because they did this thing, but where were you at when that thing was happening, what did you need when that thing was happening, what do we need to ensure that thing doesn’t happen again, or how can we build up the skills to respond to that thing ourselves. I think when it comes to abolitionist victories and abolitionist work, it’s not necessarily just everyone being like yes “F the police.” It’s not shouting after the police, which is not what my mom is saying, but I think she and many other folks too have started to question what the purpose of policing is.
I think abolition also looks like building up what we want and need instead, like the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, the StoryTelling and Organizing Project, the Oakland Power Project. After the Stop the Injunctions Coalition won, there had been folks on the injunction list in East Oakland that built out these community and cultural spaces including a community garden in East Oakland where community members were interviewed about their stories around emergencies that led them to call 9-1-1, cops showed up, didn’t actually resolve the thing that needed to be resolved, and also shared what they would want to see instead. Out of that came the Oakland Power Projects, which the goal of it is to eventually abolish the Oakland Police Department by building the capacity of folks in Oakland to respond to harm, or moments of crisis, without involving the police. From that there has been a lot of political and personal building with healers and health workers across the city to build out these workshops that have trained, I don’t even know how many people, hundreds of folks around how to respond to emergency situations whether it’s a mental health crisis, or an opioid overdose. Part of abolition is actually shifting so that we can look to ourselves to keep each other safe, like what does that mean? It means concrete skill building, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody needs to know how to respond to every part. Somebody can deescalate, the other person can make a sandwich, because we all need to eat. But you know, it’s building up the skills so that we’re not like, “we don’t know what else to do except call 9-1-1.” It’s giving ourselves more of those options and building that up within ourselves and not necessarily depending on the state, which is trying to maintain the status quo in a lot of ways to do that for us.
LE: I’ll just add that we have a lot of abolitionist victories to still fight for. And one of the things that the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and other organizations around the state is fighting to do, is to drop life without parole (LWOP) sentencing. Now, it’s a very crucial moment that we’re in because in the last election, the felony murder rule was defeated in California. That is a major victory that came about through the electoral process. Now our job is to move that forward, because what it means is that at least 5,000 people in the California prison system can be resentenced. It’s a tremendous number of people that will be able to be resentenced with the end of the felony murder rule. And a lot of those people were sentenced to life without parole, so this is an opportunity for us to have a major impact on decreasing the number of our people who are imprisoned. So those are the kinds of opportunities that I think we as activists and our organizations need to unite to take advantage of and to push forward.
KW: Can I also just add real quick that when talking about what abolitionists work looks like, I feel like a lot of people have an aversion to legislative work, have an aversion to the bureaucratic parts of the work—which I have a slight aversion myself—but there are reforms that are reformist that are things that we’re gonna have to work ourselves out of later, and that’s not the kind of reform that abolitionists are talking about. We’re talking about reforms that actually put us in better fighting form so that we can get more of our people free that put us in a position where communities have more decision-making power. And so, if it’s something that you might have to work yourself out of later, that’s not necessarily abolitionist. If it’s something that’s decriminalizing one group of people while increasing sentencing for another group of people, that’s not abolitionists, that’s not what we’re talking about. It’s how are we cutting back the life and scope of the prison industrial complex and its reach into our communities, and that can be done legislatively. It’s really hard, I haven’t seen it done as much, but again my slight aversion leads to that ignorance. But I think when thinking about abolitionist work, it’s not exclusively like in this particular container that’s in the streets and on the ground, and that might be the place where some of us are comfortable, but it’s important to remember and think about building relationships with other groups of folks who have shared politics but do the work in different spaces. Because there are possibilities to do more abolitionist work, but you have to be willing to push, you have to be able to identify the co-optation, which hopefully we’ll talk about a little bit more because that is a big piece of the thing. But I just want to name that because I feel like sometimes when we talked about abolition, folks don’t want to include legislative work, and it’s a real part of it.
AD: Yeah, thank you for naming it. I think that the shift from the kinds of questions that we used to ask, the specific questions about, “well how do you change them, how do you make the prison more relevant,” or you know, “how do you create rehabilitation programs?”—questions that leave the whole intact while focusing only on what appears to be the specific problem. The shift then to questions like, “How do we imagine a society that no longer needs prisons?” as opposed to focusing sort of myopically on the problems of the prison. So, it seems to me that it’s rather than a kind of assimilationist view, in which we want to keep everything else intact, keep the system intact, but change one particular, what appears to be the problem, change the prisons. I think I remember Rachel Herzing always making the point that we cannot confine ourselves to the footprint of the prison. In imagining ways to move in an abolitionist direction, we have to ask ourselves what social conditions would be necessary in order to guarantee that we no longer need to use these institutions of violence, these institutions of repression. I wanted to ask a question, I know we’re rapidly running out of time. I wanted to ask a question about the relationship between emotional transformation, and you know abolitionists visions. What does an abolitionist trajectory require us to do in terms of being self-critical of the ways in which we think, the ways in which we feel, the ways in which we oftentimes incorporate the impulse of the state in our very emotional reactions. Because the fact that we almost always want to hurt someone who has hurt us reflects the way the system of punishment works and so how can we make the connections of between these two realms. You know what I’m talking about, right?
MH: Oh, yes. I mean there are many days I want to smack…. Hey, I’m kidding, kind of. Our movements talk a lot about self-care. I think we have an opportunity to broaden that, and many of us have, to engage this conversation around self-work, and what does it look like for us to do the work of mending those things that are triggering us, that are bringing about massive anxiety. All of those things I think are some of the ways in which we can begin sort of sussing that out. And some of it is re-rooting ourselves in values, and looking back over our lives or hearing testimonies of other people. If somebody were to judge me on my worst days experienced and the times I have not shown up as my best, and have extended me grace and mercy, I wouldn’t be sitting right here talking to y’all. I think that part of our organizing practice is the environment in which we practice those things. It may not be in the concrete moment of inter-communal violence, but I think it does lend us an opportunity to say, hey, in our organizing when we have harmed somebody, how do we respond? You showing up like the state, calm down, you know what I mean? And really thinking about different approaches in the way in which we’re dealing with some of the things that happens when humans break the isolation. And I think that is what we are up against in a lot of ways—the deep isolation that has been brought on by capitalism. Our folks have to we have to
begin defrosting, and to actually be like, what does it mean to be a right relationship with each other in a different way? And that is gonna come through practice and come through breaking isolation. I think it’s going to come through us being able to humble ourselves and extend grace and mercy. And, yeah, that’s the path that I think we’re all along and trying to figure out though.
KW: I have many thoughts and many feelings. I think it’s important that we create spaces where people are able to dream wildly. I feel like that is one of the biggest things that I’ve taken from my time in CR is that I have some vision of a different way to respond to the harm and the violence, because I’ve actually had the opportunity to hear about no cop zones, harm free zones, the StoryTelling Organizing Project, the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, and all of these different crews that have been working quietly, consistently, experimenting, failing, sharing these different things. I think this is a way to catch a lot of other folk’s attention because they’re like, “what are you talking about you ain’t go and call the cops when so-and-so was turning up and acting a fool?” But I think it’s also helping other people to push and ask more questions and ask why things couldn’t look like this instead of the what’s been offered to us. I think in this political moment, it’s important for our people to be able to be as loud, as bold, as wild as these folks are who were plotting against us inside and outside of the White House. I feel like when I first joined CR there were many more folks when I was learning and talking about it who were like, “oh no, it sounds a little intense, what do you mean get rid of the police?” Then a few years after that, I see folks from Black Youth Project 100 on CNN talking about “we want to abolish the police.” in that moment I was like, “I’m gonna flip this table,” but I think it’s important that there are folks making bold statements and encouraging other people to dream wildly. I think what Mary was saying around how we respond to conflict and harm within our communities, organizations, and groups that we do this work with is really important. I think that has been a struggle, and centering healing in ways that go beyond miniscule gestures. Because the prison industrial complex is—I mean I’m sure folks have ideas and concrete ways that they understand that it has impacted their lives individually, and then amplify that to a collective level. I think there is a real need for healing, and it might not necessarily be in the political space that you’re in but seeking that out from folks who have political alignment feels like a really important part of sustaining this work. Because, we’re throwing down real hard. I see a lot of people throwing down real hard all the time, and I think it’s important that we balance those things out and do that physically and also with our visions and imaginations.
LE: I have felt the emotional connection with abolition really ever since I was in prison and got out and started working to end the prison industrial complex. But the feelings that really have overwhelmed me since coming out in 2001 was of joy, of joy and intense engagement and what it means to build political power because All of Us or None emerged from formerly incarcerated people. I remember sitting with Dorsey Nunn, Donna Wilmott, George Galvis, and Marlene Sanchez in the initial planning stages of our first organizing conference for All of Us or None, and Marlene and George really taught me a lesson about healing and the need for healing and how important it is that we incorporate that into our practices, into our organization. And recognizing that and being able to learn from younger people and recognize the need to incorporate healing and restorative justice in all of our practices. I think also we should recognize that that has now been more massified. Where I live in Santa Rosa, the school system now has a restorative justice program. And I don’t think that’s unusual. I know in Oakland there’s one also. So as many critiques as we may have of the ways that those are implemented in the public school system, it does mark the importance of healing and spiritual consciousness, and that that is being recognized as a way to abolish punishment in our school systems and in other places. That is an abolitionist victory, actually.
I think another important aspect of the emotional effects of abolition or our attachment to it, is that the people who are most impacted—black and brown people, people who have been imprisoned ourselves—are actually politically leading what our movement is trying to do. I think that that’s a really important principle. It carries over into all the immigration work. It carries into all of our work because actually what we have discovered, as part of many coalitions that include All of Us or None, is that no one is as close to the problems of mass incarceration, and what it does to people and our families, as we are, the people who have been imprisoned ourselves. And we are the ones who actually bring a crucial element of specific knowledge. I know in the Ban the Box efforts all over the country, formerly incarcerated people were the ones who actually came up with specific solutions, who understood the difference of counting time of when a felony is going to be disappeared from your record—it matters if it’s counted from the time of conviction or the time of release. A lot of our advocates may not have understood that before our participation in those movements. I think that that is an important element emotionally also is empowerment, is feeling that ability to make change. And that’s what the movement, the emerging movement of formerly incarcerated people, has done. We have attacked the structural discrimination on which the prison industrial complex and its effects are based by going after that symbol of the box in education, in employment, in housing, in many places where people must be able to enter, because we don’t believe most of us have ever entered to begin with, to reenter our communities.
There is one other thing I just wanted to say because we may not have time. Angela talked about not responding to those who do harm to us in the same ways that we have been harmed. And that is something to aspire to definitely, but I feel as a white person, and addressing this audience, that we really have to recognize a couple of major dangers. One is the expansion and the growth and the normalization of white supremacy in our society right now. And it’s crucial that—and I keep using that word because I feel like we are here together, and we have the opportunity to steel ourselves more in the struggle against white supremacy and against racism and all of it the ways that it manifests. And if we don’t do that, we will not build an abolitionist movement, we will not build the kind of society that we all envision. I feel we must rededicate ourselves to that fight. And the other aspect that has really been emotionally upsetting to me, and tests my ability to respond appropriately, is the reassertion of patriarchy and the attacks against women, the normalization of attacks against women, sexual violence, and the attempt to render trans people non-existent, which of course is an absurdity. For us to really recognize that the progress that we have made in all of these different arenas is vulnerable. We have a strong movement, and you know we’re building it stronger every day. I truly believe that. I see it up in Santa Rosa, everywhere. But we must be vigilant, and we can’t let our guard down because the forces of evil are really arrayed against us. And we have to hold on to those positive emotions that we’re building together: that joy, that power, that feeling of being able to make change, which we recognize if we look at our history, we’ve made change. But we have to keep that in our hearts so that we can move forward and rededicate ourselves to the struggles that are so imminently important.
Angela Y. Davis is Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Davis came to national attention after being removed from her teaching position at UCLA because of her activism and membership in the Communist Party, USA. In 1970 she was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List on false charges. During her sixteen-month incarceration, a massive international “Free Angela Davis” campaign was organized, leading to her acquittal in 1972. Today Prof. Davis remains an advocate of prison abolition and has developed a powerful critique of racism in the criminal justice system. She is the author of many books, including her most recent collection, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (City Lights Open Media).
Linda Evans is a co-founder of All of Us or None and a former political prisoner, imprisoned for anti-imperialistactionsinthe70s and 80s. Linda has been a close ally of CR’s since being released from prison in 2001 and acted as an important, informal advisor for the organization’s work since that time, before joining the CR Community Advisory Board in 2014. With All of Us or None, Linda worked alongside CR Oakland in the 2000s to build the Plan for Safer Oakland, a campaign whose 3 point platform (Invest in People, Not Police and Prisons; Stand Up for Youth; and Re-Entry Support for People Coming Home from Prisons) served as a radical foundation to unite anti-policing and anti-prison work in Oakland and advanced the now-national Ban the Box campaign. Building off the Plan for a Safer Oakland in 2010, Linda and All of Us or None ignited the Stop the Injunctions campaign and helped build the coalition with CR Oakland that was able to fully defeat Oakland’s gang injunctions.
Mary Hooks is Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), a home for LGBTQ liberation across all lines of race, class, abilities, age, culture, gender, and sexuality in the South. With SONG, Mary supports strategic projects and campaigns in the South developed in response to the current conditions in LGBTQ and intersectional communities. The original architect behind the 2017Black Mama’s Bail Out Actions, Mary brings a fierce dedication to liberation, self-determination and love to the movement to abolish the PIC. Mary joined the SONG team as a field organizer for the state of Alabama in March 2011 and has been unstoppable ever since.
Kamau Walton is a member of Critical Resistance. After attending a workshop at the US Social Forum, they joined CR Oakland chapter in 2010. Kamau was a key organizer in the victorious Stop the Injunctions campaign, supporting outreach, mobilizations and community events to build up Oaklanders’ resistance to policing. Kamau advanced outside outreach, mobilizations and legislative strategy in the movement to abolish solitary confinement in California following the 2013 prisoner hunger strikes. They were also an early organizer in the Stop Urban Shield campaign, helping to root the campaign in Oakland and increase resistance to the SWAT team training that Stop Urban Shield defeated this year! Kamau has represented CR to the Movement for Black Lives policy gatherings and shared prison industrial complex abolition through dozens of workshops, presentations, and campaign mobilizations.