In Republican-controlled regions across the country, people are engaged in abolitionist organizing: Even though conditions vary, people are organizing for freedom virtually everywhere. This is nothing new. The South, for example, has been a site for abolitionist organizing for centuries, and it continues to be one, despite the attacks on long-settled civil rights being organized by Republican supermajorities in statehouses. Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson is the first Black woman to codirect the Highlander Research and Education Center, a century-old nexus for abolitionist and labor organizing in Tennessee and beyond. She is also a cofounder of the Movement for Black Lives.
The horrific choking murder of 30-year-old Jordan Neely by a white MTA rider on May 1, 2023, in the New York City subway sparked mass outrage, with demonstrators converging on subway stations while cops brought “force and chaos” to a vigil in his memory. The murder has put a renewed spotlight on carceral logics of the state that assume the disposability of Black, poor and unhoused people — in particular those said to be in “mental health crisis.” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s response to Neely’s killing deflects from the white supremacist violence and ongoing lack of accountability for the killer, and instead medicalizes Neely’s death: “People who are homeless in our subways, many of them in the throes of mental health episodes, and that’s what I believe were some of the factors involved here.
Abolitionists from the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement traveled from Houston to Galveston on Aug. 26 to address the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ) about issues affecting those incarcerated in Texas. TBCJ is in charge of nearly 150,000 imprisoned people. The families and friends of these people went to give voice to the issues that affect people most harmed by the horrific system. The Houston-based abolitionists took off from the S.H.A.P.E. center, a Pan-African community center before meeting up with abolitionists from across the state. Many of them have, or have had, loved ones incarcerated within a prison system with conditions so brutal that countries like Scotland refuse to extradite its citizens to be sentenced in Texas. (The Marshall Project, March 17)
Julian Akil Rose: Yeah, so I actually got my grounding in organizing for a few reasons, and to be honest the timeline isn’t 100% clear simply because so many things were happening at once. So, don’t read this as a timeline, these are the co-incident layers. Layer One: when I arrived at UConn in 2012 there was a big class action lawsuit against the university for mishandling sexual assault cases…I believe it was 7 women that came forward. Layer Two: I was invited to participate in a program called The Men’s Project – the goal of the Men’s Project is to train students who identify as men to positively influence their peers by challenging social norms that promote gender-based violence; understanding their connection to survivors of gender-based violence; and role modeling effective bystander interventions – permanently changed my life.
The painter Jacob Lawrence, in his 22-piece series ‘The Legend of John Brown’, first exhibited in 1941, chronicles in each of his panels a seminal stage in the life of the abolitionist John Brown. The first panel depicts Brown as Christ nailed to a cross, blood flowing from his nailed feet to the ground. The next scenes portray Brown as a man of exceptional religious conviction, willing to suffer financial failure and hardship in his fight for abolition. The middle compositions tell the story of Brown’s plans to free slaves, including his raids that massacred pro-slavery settlers in Kansas, his failed attack on the US arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and the final panels portray his capture, with his head bent, covered by long hair, and holding a cross, his sentencing and hanging.
Atrocities targeting people and bodies we identify as our own tend to incite powerful feelings of exception. A shared sense of singular vulnerability and violation circulates virally, and the epidemiology of toxic intimacy with violence is simultaneously social and personal. The sheer quantity of casualties matters less than the bare fact of unexpected cruelty. Singularity and exception yield to righteous outrage, communal mobilization, and militant demand on surrounding authorities. Something must be done now. A famous few may issue bounties for individual culprits, with no regard for the collateral consequences of such grandstanding. A larger narrative quickly forms, condensing in precious keywords: hate, hate crime, justice, ignorance, safety, policing, prosecution, inclusion, education, criminal.
Activist and prison-industrial complex abolitionist Mariame Kaba celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by praising NU Community Not Cops and speaking to the importance of mutual aid and political organizing in Wednesday’s MLK Dream Week virtual keynote. The keynote, which was broadcast to over 1,000 attendees, began with a virtual performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Northwestern Community Ensemble members and alumni. Kaba then delivered her speech in which she laid out core tenets of abolitionist practice, tying the current movement to King’s principles. “Abolitionists have a lot to learn from Dr. King,” Kaba said.
Reform is best understood as a logic rather than an outcome: an approach to institutional change that sustains existing social, economic, political, and/or legal systems, including but not limited to policing, two-party electoral politics, heteronormativity, criminal justice, and corporate destruction of the natural world. To reform a system is to adjust isolated aspects of its operation in order to protect that system from total collapse, whether by internal or external forces. Such adjustments usually rest on the fundamental assumption that these systems must remain intact...
Both within and outside of the frameworks of “permissive” bargaining, the desire and urgency to create a world centered around care cannot be granted by a university or union bureaucracy. Throughout the GEO strike, GEO’s demands, and especially the anti-policing demands, were criticized for their “impossibility.” It was impossible for a graduate workers union to demand cuts to a campus police budget, it was impossible to negotiate over campus police’s role in making workplaces unsafe, it was impossible to ask a university to cut ties with local police and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
By Natasha Frost for Atlas Obscura. During his life and after his death, many people, Rediker says, thought of Benjamin Lay as deranged. “[Historians] thought he was not sane, and this was a very effective way of putting him at the margins.” Ableism, too, seems to have factored in this general unwillingness to take him seriously. But some of those in the abolitionist movement did feel the need to celebrate this “Quaker comet,” as he came to be known. Benjamin Rush, one of his earliest biographers, said Lay was known to virtually everyone in Pennsylvania; his curious portrait was said to hang in many Philadelphia homes. This early abolitionist burned bright, and, despite his exclusion from many abolitionist narratives, refuses to be extinguished from history.