Abolition is for Everybody

Discussion Guide, Season 1, Episode 1, Abolition 101 with Patrisse Cullors

“What will keep our communities truly safe? And that’s a question we must ask as a team, we must ask it as a team because then we are all accountable for making that change happen. Whenever we point our fingers at elected officials, or we point our fingers at organizers, you know, “you aren’t making this change happen? Or why don’t you make this happen?” We rob ourselves the ability to imagine something different. So for listeners who are out here, if you’re trying to figure out abolition, then these are the questions you must ask yourself, whether you’re an abolitionist or not, because everybody wants to be safe. Everybody deserves safety. And so we have to think creatively about what safety looks like…” – Patrisse Cullors

In episode one of Abolition is for Everybody co-hosts Ra, Lee, and Taina interview guest expert Patrisse Cullors  – author, artist, and one of the three co-founders of the original BLM movement and organization.  The episode explores how the environments of our upbringing influenced our abolitionist journey. We also discussed reform versus abolition, abolition as an ideology to turn away from our society’s current ideology of punishment, and navigating the struggles of being an abolitionist and practicing abolition today but being constrained by living a society that continues to confuse punishment with accountability. 

We encourage you to reflect on these things as well. To build the world we all deserve to live in, it’s important we reflect on how things currently are, the type of world we want to live in, and the interim steps of how to get there. Let’s think of reflection as a practice toward liberating our radical imaginations. The questions below can help guide a personal or group reflection.  

Reflect

  • Has your upbringing made you feel safe around the police?
  • What resources did you have available growing up that helped make you safe?
  • What community/state resources would have helped you when you were young?
  • What tools do you have available to practice turning away from punishment as accountability or care?

Some reflections from Patrisse

  • How do we turn away from this idea of punishment as a way towards accountability?
  • How do we untangle/untether ourselves from the police state if they’re the only option?
  • In an abolitionist world, what will hold people accountable? What will keep our communities truly safe?

Discuss:

In this episode our hosts and Patrisse discuss navigating the challenges of being an abolitionist, building a new world, and practicing abolition in a society that currently practices punishment as accountability. If you didn’t get a chance to listen, here is one excerpt:  

 “Abolition becomes a really important opportunity to practice abolitionist praxis, you know, the intersection of the theory, and the actual practice of abolition.  We can have all these amazing, brilliant theories about what abolition is and how we should be practicing it, and then we live in the real world. And then the real world is like, oh, but you know, there’s only police. We’ve only set up a system where the police have to be called for everything. Yes, it’s complicated.” – Patrisse Cullors

From this episode, Abolition 101 with Patrisse Cullors, we’ve chosen one of the questions from Patrisse to respond to as an example of one of the many ways this guide can be used.

“How do you untangle, untether ourselves from the police state if they’re the only option?” 

The question of untangling ourselves from the police state is critical to practicing abolition while living in a society where the majority still adheres to the false notion of punishment as accountability. Living in ‘the inbetween’ of building a new world while being constrained by living in the old world is challenging but as Patrisse reminds us, we do not have to and should not be doing it alone. It’s important that we start where we can.

Meaning, it’s important to participate in organizations doing larger, system changing work and practice abolition in our own lives and communities.

For example, as Patrisse mentions, we don’t currently have a system in place that could respond to many of the situations 911 is called for. So while we participate in organizing efforts and the movement to create systems and tools that can replace 911, it’s also important we try to navigate emergencies in a way where the police don’t need to be called. 

Consider these preventions or daily practices. How would they fit into your life? Can you do work to establish these systems before you need them?

  • Form a care-net of people who look out for each other
  • If a loved one has a mental health crisis, find a resource that could prevent calling 911 and save that number
  • What are other practical ways that you could avoid calling the police in your life?

Remember

We encourage you to respond to what feels right, to exercise your radical imagination and critical thinking as if it were a muscle. No matter how you answer and reflect on these questions, the important part is that you’re doing the work, you are on your journey. 

“We don’t have abolitionist institutions. We haven’t scaled abolition to the place we need it to be. So, in the in between time, when we live in the police and prison state, and we’re fighting for abolition is this whole gap that exists and it’s a hard gap to hold, because that means there’s so much that people need that we don’t have yet. But that’s what we’re fighting for…” – Patrisse Cullors

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