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Dismantle, Change, Build

By: 
The Road to CR10
Date Published: 
October 01, 2008

For the past 18 months, dozens of organizers across the country have been preparing for Critical Resistance 10 (CR10).  While CR10 is an organizing project celebrating the tenth anniversary of Critical Resistance, a national prison-industrial complex (PIC) abolition organization, it is also a project providing a unique opportunity for people across the US and internationally to assess where the movement against the PIC has been during the past decade and to consider what it will take to make the movement stronger and more vibrant moving forward. September 26-28, thousands of people will gather for the CR10 conference in Oakland. What follows is just a sampling of voices - compiled by Left Turn editor and CR10 organizer Rachel Herzing - of people and organizations involved in making CR10 a reality. They speak to the context for the work as well as the hopes and challenges associated with the project.

 

The prison-industrial complex is a key site of struggle for those in the US committed to building a revolutionary antiracist and anti-imperialist movement for human liberation. Over the last 10 years, Critical Resistance has played a leading role in cohering a national movement to abolish this monster through organizing, creative thinking, and alliance building. Their campaign work and strategic gatherings have offered glimmers of hope in often-desperate times. With our support, CR10 has the potential to convene the forces needed to challenge the US prison system in this critical moment. This timely gathering promises to provide those concerned with freedom and justice space for the strategic thinking and alliance building needed to take our movements forward.

--Josh Warren-White, Design Action Collective

 

For 10 years, Critical Resistance has been the conscience of the criminal justice reform movement. CR refuses to let us forget about the over seven million people currently under the control of the criminal justice system and reminds us of the community-destroying realities that go along with imprisonment and continued investments in police and surveillance. CR's sophisticated analysis of the prison-industrial complex has helped the movement go beyond empty rhetoric about crime and punishment. The Justice Policy Institute is honored to contribute to CR's tenth anniversary a report that provides a retrospective of the past ten years of struggling against the PIC, and documents the changing nature of the PIC in response to the movement's victories. The report also cautions that we must remain vigilant and focused on dismantling all aspects of the prison-industrial complex, while simultaneously building on the strengths of our communities.

--Justice Policy Institute

 

Many of the criminalization and policing tactics the US is exporting to Latin America today grew out of programs that were used to destroy the popular base of the Black Panther Party and [email protected] movements in the US in the 1960s and 1970s. The US government's systematic assault on rebellious Black and Brown youth in the last century paved the way for new slavery plantations and the largest prison economy in the world.

At the same time, Latin America has historically served as a "testing ground" for strategies of US imperial wars. We think it is important to share with the social movement in the US what strategies are being tested today (eg, trying antiprivatization protesters defending water as terrorists, and joint military and police raids) in order to develop a strategic, cross-border approach.

At the CR10 conference, we want to learn from people and organizations that have consistently and effectively challenged these tests through grassroots education and organizing. For example, we admire the strength of CR's abolitionist framework as an effective way to resist the binaries that propel this system (eg "nonviolent" versus "violent" offender) and to resist reformist ideology. While we learn a lot from our compañ[email protected] in El Salvador about revolutionary ideology, we want to connect with others from across the US that are committed to the same.

--Heyward and Alexis, Bay Area CISPES Committee

 

It is crucial to participate in a critical thinking process regarding the PIC. AFSC articulated a "goal" of prison abolition in 1978, but has done little to pragmatically address that goal. In order to make abolition viable, a strategy needs to be developed that is more than a vision, but something tangible that people can begin to see is real and possible. CR10 is both that tangible thing and a perfect venue to develop a pragmatic strategy.

Often when people discuss the PIC, the conversation becomes rhetorical rather than practical. At this point in time, we can no longer afford to waste our time on rhetoric; it is time to get concrete, to share solutions, develop strategy, and build unity.

Coming out of CR10, I hope to see a commitment to build the kind of network that can impact the PIC. This network will have to include a methodology to create viable conversations with people.

--Jamie Bissonnette, American Friends Service Committee

 

Critical Resistance conferences represent watershed moments in the movement to abolish the PIC. With each one we've closed the gap between theory and practice in concrete ways.  In the same breath, a record 7.2 million people are ensnared in the criminal injustice system.

The real challenge we face is giving abolition mass appeal. The outreach that has been done around the country leading up to CR10 has both revitalized and put in place important networks that connect work being done in various communities. We need to go wider and deeper, though. I hope CR10 inspires us to take bigger risks together.

I'm inspired by the transformative justice projects and harm free zones that are popping up across the country. The sooner we deal with violence in our communities in healthy, healing ways, the sooner we will undermine the legitimacy of the police as arbiters of safety.

Western Regional Advocacy Project is building a regional campaign to counter the emergence of laws, policing programs, business improvement districts, and private security, and special courts that criminalize people solely on the basis of their social, economic, and housing status. The name of the panel we are organizing is "From Anti-Okie to Jim Crow to New Cities America:  Building A New Civil Rights Movement."

--Michael Callahan, Western Regional Advocacy Project

 

I'm participating in CR10 because I don't believe we have any other moral, ethical, or political option than to struggle as creatively and mightily as we can for the abolition of the prison-industrial complex and the larger oppressive order of which it is a fundamental part. The US prison regime is part of the institutional substructure of contemporary global white supremacy. Truly, history calls on us now to summon the courage to hold ourselves accountable to a political practice that is otherwise somewhat self-evident:  if you love freedom (or the idea of it), you don't reform, negotiate with, or manage white supremacist genocide, you end it.

Effectively communicating the irreconcilability of the existing racist punitive state with any legitimate notion of peace, freedom, or safety remains a challenge. CR10, and everything that succeeds it, has to embrace the privileged opportunity to make an historical announcement that the valorized violence of the US nation-building project is intolerable.

--Dylan Rodrìguez, Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, Riverside

 

CR has had great success in changing the frame of the debate around prisons and the people most impacted by the prison-industrial complex. They make the vision of a world without prisons accessible to both activists and the mainstream. CR also makes the links to other important issues such as racism, gender violence, economic justice, and public education.

We at GIFT want to help organizations that will be at CR10 develop fundraising strategies that are tied to social justice and that further their missions. We know that fundraising and access to resources is an important and challenging issue for many of them. To change something like the prison-industrial complex - something so entrenched in the modern US - requires the support and investment of a broad cross-section of people. Grassroots fundraising helps build that investment and connection to the movement.

On a personal note, I was a student at UC Berkeley when Critical Resistance was founded. I feel like my own political consciousness and activism has grown alongside the growth of this movement. It has been a rallying cry and point of entry for many activists of my generation, almost our version of the Civil Rights Movement. I have been thrilled to see it continue and grow over the years.

--Priscilla Hung, GIFT

 

We are looking forward to the unique opportunity to meet with others across the country that share our commitment to racial-, economic-, and gender justice, and are trying to figure out how to do this work on the ground. The challenge of our collective work, and of the conference, will be to continue to evolve our thinking and practice on true liberatory alternatives to incarceration. Another challenge is how to bring these alternatives to scale in order to provide viable alternatives to families and communities. We need to build enough power to effectively defend our movement and families and communities engaged in transformative justice from state backlash and/or backlash from those within our families and communities whose abusive power is being challenged.

We hope to leave the conference with more practical ideas for how to build our work and partner with others by fostering relationships that begin to form the basis for building this collective power. More broadly, we hope that the next ten years of leadership from Critical Resistance and its partners will provide the ground for mass movement toward liberatory approaches to violence and harm that dismantle the prison-industrial complex and state violence more broadly.

--Sara Kershnar, generationFIVE

 

As advocates, organizers, and attorneys fighting to end the US government's over-use of the prison-industrial complex to detain and deport non-citizens, CR10 offers an opportunity to spread our message and learn from others. Following harsh 1996 and 1997 amendments to immigration policies, the government's jailing of non-citizens defending their right to remain in the US has skyrocketed. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security has become a formidable force in driving the expansion of the PIC. Immigrant prosecutions will make up more than half of all federal prosecutions this year; immigration detention has become the fastest growing segment of the prison-industrial complex; lucrative ICE contracts fund new jail construction around the country; and law enforcement is increasingly obtaining federal funding to help identify non-citizens in its custody.

In the immigrant rights movement we struggle with our colleagues over how to best create a change when the system is designed to destroy communities and tear apart families - especially for non-citizens who have arrests or convictions. At the same time, all immigrants are becoming criminalized in the popular media. We believe CR10 provides a space to strategize and build alliances with criminal justice system- and prison abolitionists. We believe that we have much to learn from our colleagues in the CR10 community who have been grappling with these issues for decades.    Advocacy for immigration detainees overlaps significantly with advocacy for all incarcerated persons. Many of the same concerns exist - separation from families, inhumane conditions, distance from loved ones, and confusion regarding the legal system. We are fighting a system where basic rights are not considered applicable because the process of deportation is considered "civil" and not "criminal" - even though the consequences are so severe and life altering.

From CR10, we hope to gain new alliances, energy, and momentum to carry us forward. We hope to learn new strategies and to challenge ourselves.

-- Andrea Black, Detention Watch

-- Amy Gottlieb, American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program

-- Raha Jorjani, Immigration Law Clinic, UC Davis

-- Sunita Patel, Immigrant Rights Attorney

-- Janis Rosheuvel, Families for Freedom

 

St. Peter's Housing Committee has been marching, strategizing, and fighting for immigrant rights for dozens of years. We have seen our Latino community criminalized by racist immigration laws, deported, locked up, and locked out of the political process. We have seen our Latino community mobilize in the millions to demand legalization and equal rights. And we have also seen some of the contradictions and challenges that the immigrant rights movement faces.

How much stronger would our movement be if we could tackle the wedge issues head on? What if Black and Brown communities affected by incarceration and criminalization were busy fighting the state instead of each other? How many millions could be in the streets, then?

We see an urgent need to build stronger ties with the Black community, which has played a leadership role in challenging the criminal justice system and its racist logic of incarceration. We are participating in CR10 with hopes that it can be a step towards stronger alliances between oppressed communities, and toward a movement that can win a fundamental transformation of our society.

--Maria Poblet, St. Peter's Housing Committee

 

The Southern California Library is participating in CR10 for several reasons. A few are:

  • As an organization that collects, preserves, and makes accessible the histories of communities in struggle for justice, both documenting and participating in CR10 is central to our work. It is our belief that both the initial CR gathering and the upcoming CR10 will prove to be historic events as critical to our practices and ideologies of resistance as the Combahee River Collective, Attica, etc.
  • More importantly, we believe that we will not be able to tell the stories of this historic moment, in which the dominant strategy to deal with current contradictions is increased incarceration and punishment, without being able to speak about the daily work and resistance against the prison-industrial complex that will be represented by the many who will attend CR10.
  • Where we work and live - and those that we love are most impacted by the consequences of the PIC - mainly in the form of increased and premature death. We are forced to experience and carry too much pain. We are participating in CR10 because we need to practice and experience solidarity with others who are fighting to live (while laughing along the way).

--Yusef Omowale, Southern California Library

 

The 1998 CR conference took our overall movement to the next level by providing systemic analysis of what we face, visionary solutions to guide us, and strategic frameworks in which to place our work. CR10 is an opportunity to draw lessons from the past ten years of work, update our vision and strategy, and take a big collective step forward.

Catalyst Project will be at CR10 because we believe in the transformative and visionary leadership that CR brings to our larger movement. In 1998, CR encouraged us all to develop a radical framework of abolition to guide day-to-day struggle. In the space that abolition creates, visions of safety, community self-governance, and justice have evolved. CR has been a home for vision-based organizing, and CR10 is an opportunity for the broader movement to check back in, get grounded, build as a team, and move our collective vision forward in the next ten years.

CR helps us imagine and believe. In a period when we desperately need leadership to overcome the challenges of ecological crisis and imperialism, we need CR10 to push us all to the best leaders we can be - leaders taking part in building a dignified future for all.

--Catalyst Project

 

"experiment (n) obs. to experience

1) An act or operation undertaken in order to discover some unknown principle of effect, or to test, establish, or illustrate some suggested or known truth; practical test; proof."

- Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, G and C Merriam Company, 1933.

Build my faith. Dozens gather their thoughts, synchronize their days, and reorient their bodies for two years to build a world that thousands will live in for three days.

 

Asking:

What will they eat and how we will grow it? What space will they need to be their most free selves? Who will they be and how will we get them here? Where is here? What should they see to keep their hearts set on freedom? What will they wear? How will they know each other? What will guide them? Will they feel at home? What sounds and rituals will keep them awake? What about the youth? What about the elders? What about the invisibly present? How do we sustain ourselves while we build? What will we need and how will we get it? What present is worthy of our future? How do we decide? How do we know? What can we never know? How can we relate to each other to produce the short-lived world that the thousands need and deserve to live in? What does three days do about forever? Are we gonna fuck it up?

-- Alexis Pauline Gumbs, brokenbeautiful press

 

A New Way of Life Reentry Project is participating in CR10 because it represents a rare and critical opportunity to bring our work - helping women break out of cycles of entrapment in the criminal justice system and further the rights of former prisoners - to a broader movement context. Although we see our day-to-day struggles as part of a broad movement to make deep and lasting changes, we don't often get to feel the power and energy that comes from being assembled in one place with so many of our allies.

We will be traveling with a combination of long-term staff, new organizers, former prisoners who are residents of our program, and women who have been interning with Critical Resistance - Los Angeles. For folks who are new to the movement and have never participated in something like a CR conference, we hope CR10 will accomplish nothing less than to inspire them to join the movement to end the PIC for the long haul. As a whole, we hope to come back to LA with new ideas, strategies, and relationships, and with a renewed collective vision of what it will take to move our movement to the next level in the decade to come.

-- Melissa Burch, A New Way of Life Reentry Project

 

I worked very hard on the CR 1998 conference doing workshops about women political prisoners and participating in several discussions. I felt that the event provided a never before seen space to talk about prison abolition. It sent a ripple across the pond of complacency in the US. The politics of imprisonment were exposed to many new ears and eyes. The proof of that is that there are thousands of prison activists around the country working to support prisoners and their families and exposing the dirty tricks and bullshit laws of the PIC.

I expect to see continuing growth and many thousands of new prison abolitionists that will be the next ripple after CR10 that will continue to crack open the prison walls. I wonder how many ripples it takes to create a wave?!

--Rita "Bo" Brown, Prison Activist Resource Center

 

Since I was incarcerated for crimes of poverty as a child and young adult living without a home not so many years ago, I have been personally involved, impacted and destroyed by the criminalization of poverty in Amerikkka.

In 1996, when my mother and I, still dealing with the deep and ongoing destruction of the criminal injustice system and its cousins -  the welfare system, Child Protective Services, and more - launched POOR Magazine, a literary magazine addressing poverty, race, disability, and resistance (and organizing project of the same name). We based most of our organizing work on resisting the PIC and its grip on me, my family, and the core members of our organization.

In 1998, POOR participated in the first Critical Resistance at UC Berkeley and we had just released our "Work" issue, which dealt with unrecognized labor and the position of underground economic strategists who were criminalized just for trying to survive as poor people in the US. I am very happy that CR10 will enable another important dialogue on this issue.

--Tiny Gray Garcia, POOR Magazine

 

I am a 22 year old, transgender, two~spirit Apache-Yaqui with mixed blood of conquest - a descendant of strong indigenous peoples of North America. I've had a lot of shit stacked up against me since birth; therefore I have a lot to fight for. I've been to jail a number of times, and as a trans person I experienced many unsavory sides of the guards and police who dealt with me. Having that experience gave me insight on ways the system keeps us at bay through degradation, intimidation, privilege, violence, and fear. I want to reclaim my life and help create a world that is safe and sound for every child, not just those who are privileged and therefore presumed to someday become contributing members of this society with complacency.

I don't know what to expect from the actual event of CR10; what I hope is to gain a stronger sense of what others in this field of resistance are doing in their communities. I want to know what works, what doesn't, and what ideas people have. I want to hear success stories of community accountability.

The biggest challenge, I think for me, is bringing so many people together, all with so many ideas, and expecting to walk away with a feeling of accomplishment. Sometimes there is no follow-up with these things and it gets forgotten.

--Rosco Kickingstone, Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets

 

I can think of no more important work than CR10 right now. For me, it offers an opportunity to bring together years of work against gender violence, institutionalized racism, rigid notions about sexuality and class oppression at one major event. That is, the CR work has the potential to bring about the most radical social changes; and at the same time, it is some of the hardest work. The work for prison abolition is at once a policy issue, a community accountability issue, a family issue, and an issue that must be understood to be deeply personal. It is about health, neighborhood, the environment, US position in global markets, youth empowerment, spirituality, the upcoming election, interpersonal relationships, identity politics, and many more things.

The biggest challenge is to keep it real. To not make the issues so abstract that real lives get lost in rhetoric. To keep people at the center, and to make sure that those most affected have the most power in the work.

I know from previous CR conferences that great things happen when the people gather. Lives change because relationships are formed, strategies are adopted, critique is offered, and allies get energized to continue to do the work. I hope, too, that there is some opportunity to consider the successes of the work, to honor the people who have given their lives over to this struggle, and to inspiring those who are coming now to lend their hearts and souls to the struggle.

--Beth Richie, INCITE! Women of Color against Violence