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Mariame Kaba: Everything Worthwhile Is Done With Other People – Adi magazine
'Eve L. Ewing: Let’s talk more about organizing and activism because I think that that is a really important distinction. I do not identify as an activist. I am very frequently identified as an activist, which I find very puzzling. What do you see as the difference between those things?

Mariame Kaba: I think that people who are activists are folks who are taking action on particular issues that really move them in some specific way, but activism only demands that you personally take on the issue. That means signing petitions. Being on a board of a particular organization that’s doing good in the world.

That way, activist is super broad, and that’s why people call people activists. Your individual action, for example, of writing, can be a form of activism in the sense that it wants to educate people and get them to take action in their own way. You are in that way potentially being activist in your orientation, at least, if not in identity.

Organizers, however, can’t exist solo. Because who the hell are you organizing? You can’t just decide to wake up one morning and be like, “I’m just going to do this shit.” If you’re organizing, other people are counting on you, but more importantly, your actions are accountable to somebody else.

Organizing is both science and art. It is thinking through a vision, a strategy, and then figuring out who your targets are, always being concerned about power, always being concerned about how you’re going to actually build power in order to be able to push your issues, in order to be able to get the target to actually move in the way that you want to.

I have been an organizer for a big part of my life in the sense that I’ve been involved with other people in campaigns to move various things. But sometimes I’m just an activist.

But [in that case] I have no accountability to anybody, and that’s kind of dangerous. Because there are a lot of people doing a lot of shit that nobody can call them on.

Eve L. Ewing: Who is failed when that happens?

Mariame Kaba: I think that the people who are most directly impacted by the things people are doing are failed. Because they should have a say, and be part of the shaping of that thing that is about them. That’s critically important. But I also think that you yourself are failed if what you’re trying to do is do a hard large-scale thing and you don’t have any people.

Eve L. Ewing: Or you’re just trying to do it by yourself.

Mariame Kaba: It’s like, why?! You’re going to burn out. It’s not humanly possible for you to just be your Lone Ranger self out there in the world. Ella Baker’s question, “Who are your people?” when she would meet you is so important. Who are you accountable to in this world? Because that will tell me a lot about who you are.

And how much hubris must we have to think that us individual persons are going to have all the answers for generations worth of harm built by multi-millions of people? It’s like, I’m on a 500-year clock right now. I’m right here knowing that we’ve got a hell of a long time before we’re going to see the end. Right now, all we’re doing is building the conditions that will allow the thing to happen.

Eve L. Ewing: Furthermore, people who came before me have left me things that mean a lot to me that they will never live to see the fruition of. And so therefore it’s unreasonable for me to expect, “I’m going to fix this.” I think one of the biggest things we can do for ourselves is to recognize how, even as oppressed people, we have internalized the narrative of individualism.

Mariame Kaba: Capitalism is what helps us figure out the individualism part. It’s so married together. The itemization of everything into its own little sliver is capitalist. The other thing I learned from my friends, Mia Mingus and Leah Lakshmi and others who are disabled people in the world, is this notion of crip time. Folks who are disabled have to operate in the world in such a different register. That’s what Mia says all the time: the notion that we supposedly are not interdependent on each other can only exist in an ableist world. Because if you have any sort of disability, you desperately need a relationship with other people—you can’t be on your own or you will die. You have to recognize the interdependence, or build interdependence. You don’t have a choice. Crip time means, “We’re just going to get to it when we can.”

Disability justice gives us that real insight. I am not visibly disabled, but I’m chronically ill. Having lupus was a moment for me. The things I felt were super important were actually not that important—a re-frame of my whole entire existence—and I was like, oh, okay. “I can’t do this” meant something.

Eve L. Ewing: I want to circle back to visibility, and who is uplifted and not uplifted in movements. I sense you increasingly choosing visibility in different ways. I saw a picture of you in the New York Times and I was like, “Oh, my goodness.”

Mariame Kaba: I know.

Eve L. Ewing: So, I would love to hear your thoughts around why you generally choose to not be photographed, and some of your other choices around naming yourself, not centering yourself. And then ways in which that is changing, and why?

Mariame Kaba: That’s a really good question because it’s one of my struggle areas internally as a human being.

I grew up with mentors who taught me that the organizer is never up front. I would write things anonymously. I wrote a hell of a curricula, which I see still circulate today, with no attached name to it.

When I was in my 30s, I was doing a big curriculum project with a friend. She’s a white woman. We were finishing this project and I was like, “Oh, I don’t need to put my name on it.” I’m a believer in information access, free information access. I also don’t think my ideas are these original ideas. They belong to a lineage. So I always felt not proprietary.

She said, “It’s interesting to me. As someone who a lot of younger people look up to, younger women of color in particular, and your own interest in history, it’s so interesting to see you erasing yourself from history.”

Eve L. Ewing: She hit you with the “interesting”!

Mariame Kaba: Like daggers. She’s a very good friend of mine. But the fact that a white woman said that to me just messed with me. And did it from a place of real care, you know?

Eve L. Ewing: Yeah. “I just think it’s funny how…”

Mariame Kaba: “I just think it’s funny how you’re willing to erase yourself from history when you’re always recapturing histories of all these black women in your multiple projects, and you’re always talking about how you had to find them in the archives, right? And you’re literally erasing yourself at the moment. Also, it’s interesting that the younger people are seeing you do that.”

I was like, “Oh, wow.”

I took a breath, I thought about it really, really hard, and I was like, “You know what, actually? In part, she’s right.” In part, I still believe in just not centering myself. [But] she’s right in this sense: how are people going to be able to trace the lineage of ideas if I’m writing a whole bunch of things that no one knows I wrote, right?

That began the shift in my life around putting my name on my stuff. They email me from New Zealand and they’re like, “Thank you for putting out this thing. We’re using it.” I also know that the ideas are traveling, and that makes me feel good about that work, and I never got that before. So, that was a gut-check moment for me around being like, “At least put your name on your shit.”"

...

"Eve L. Ewing: When you say litigation focused, you mean specifically around litigating Jon Burge [the Chicago police commander notorious for torturing people into giving false confessions]?

Mariame Kaba: Yeah. Prosecution, jail, and all these cops going to jail. Then, Joey Mogul [a Chicago-based attorney at the People’s Law Office, known for representing victims of police torture] came to me in late 2010 or early 2011 and said, “I hear you. We had these conversations for years, and everybody’s left empty now that Burge [was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice]. The survivors who remain haven’t gotten anything, and the statute of limitations [for torture victims] has run out, and we have no court recourse. It’s got to be political, and also I have evolved on abolition myself.”

It wasn’t a mea culpa; it was just a recognition that we need something else, and what can we do? That’s when art was the offering. We said, let’s ask people for [ideas for] secular memorials, and that reparations ordinance was one of the secular memorials.

All the things people talk about are in the abstract, but it’s not. It is about listening to feelings from our imaginations, right? Art can be uniquely situated for that. That’s why cultural work is an organic part of organizing, even when organizers don’t know it.

Eve L. Ewing: Artists are always there.

Mariame Kaba: They’re there. They’re there as the people to help us think through it. Why does this have to be? It doesn’t have to be like this. You can think of something totally fucking different. Why are you all stuck in the presentist moment? You can dream a future. We need that so desperately in the world.

Eve L. Ewing: Who are your heroes?

Mariame Kaba: God, I have so many touchstones. I believe in touchstones, people who you go back to in particular moments where you need something.

I turn to Baldwin a lot. I read him when I’m feeling a sense of despair over the world that I’m in. I find a sentence that he wrote and it’s like, “Ooh, yes.”

I think about so many of the black communist and socialist women of the first part of the century. If they could go through what they went through, if Marvel Cooke could go through the Red Scare and through being fired by… [more]
mariamekaba  eveewing  prisonabolition  prisons  sociology  knowledge  relationships  organizing  stuggle  activism  restorativejustice  transformativejustive  angeladavis  history  education  community  accountability  ellabaker  capitalism  individualism  mutualaid  miamingus  leahlakshmi  disabilities  diability  visibility  anonymity  information  access  accessibility  erasure  self-erasure  reparations  jails  incarceration  touchstones  heroes  jamesbaldwin  marvelcooke  redscare  idabwells  ruthwilsongilmore  bethrichie  camaralaye  waltwhitman  poetry  colonialism  criminaljustive  police  policeviolence 
october 2019 by robertogreco
Justice in America Episode 20: Mariame Kaba and Prison Abolition - The Appeal
"On the last episode of Season 2, Josie and Clint discuss prison abolition with Mariame Kaba, one of the leading organizers in the fight against America’s criminal legal system and a contributing editor for The Appeal. Mariame discusses her own journey into this work, provides perspective on the leaders in this space, and helps us reimagine what the future of this system could look like. Mariame’s way of thinking about this system, and the vision of possibilities she provides, is an excellent send-off to our second season."

[full transcript on page]

"I grew up in New York City and came of age in 1980s. So, um, when I was coming of age in the city, it was kind of the early eighties were a fraught moment for many different kinds of reasons. The tail end of deinstitutionalization. So the first time where we actually started seeing homeless people outside on the streets. Michael Stewart was killed by the police in 1983 which was a very big moment for me. I was 12 years old and that really impacted me. My, um, older siblings were very animated by that fact. Um, crack cocaine is coming into being, this is the time of ACT UP. Um, this is when Reagan comes to power. It was a very tumultuous period and moment of time. So coming of age in that time led me to start organizing for racial justice as a teenager. And I also came of age during the time when there was the Bensonhurst case where a young black man was pursued and then killed by a mob of white young people who were close to my age because he supposedly talked to a white girl in a way that people were not happy about. The Howard Beach incident comes up in 1986. There was a lot happening during my teenagers in the city and I did not have an analysis of the criminal punishment system at that time. I just saw a lot of my friends, I grew up on the Lower East Side, so a lot of my friends ending up in juvie and then in prison and I didn’t, and the cops were always in our neighborhood harassing people and I did not really put all these things together, but I had a frame that was a racial justice frame at a very young age, mainly because of my parents. My mom and my dad. Um, my father, who’d been a socialist in the anti-colonial struggles in Guinea. Like I had a politics at home, but all I understood was like they were coming after black people in multiple different kinds of ways. It wasn’t until I was older and I had come back from college, um, I went to school in Montreal, Canada, came back to the city right after, I was 20 years old when I graduated from college, came back to the city and got a job working in Harlem at the, um, Countee Cullen Library and then ended up teaching in Harlem. And it was there that I found out that all of my students were also getting enmeshed in the criminal punishment system. But I still didn’t have a really, like I didn’t have a politic about it. It wasn’t until a very tragic story that occurred with one of my students who ended up killing another one of my students that I became very clearly aware of the criminal punishment system cause they were going to try to, um, basically try him as an adult. The person who did the killing, he was only 16. And it was that incident that kind of propelled me into trying to learn about what the system was, what it was about. And it concurrently, it was also the time when I started to search for restorative justice because it occurred to me, in watching the family of my student who had been killed react to the situation, that they did not want punishment for the person who killed their daughter. They were, uh, they wanted some accountability and they were also talking about the fact that he did not want him charged as an adult."



"people who are practitioners of restorative justice see restorative justice as a philosophy and ideology, a framework that is much broader than the criminal punishment system. It is about values around how we treat each other in the world. And it’s about an acknowledgement that because we’re human beings, we hurt each other. We cause harm. And what restorative justice proposes is to ask a series of questions. Mostly the three that are kind of advanced by Howard Zehr, who is the person who about 40 years ago popularized the concept of restorative justice in the United States. He talks about since we want to address the violation in the relationships that were broken as a result of violence and harm, that you want to ask a question about who was hurt, that that is important to ask, that you want to ask then what are the obligations? What are the needs that emerge from that hurt? And then you want to ask the question of whose job is it to actually address the harm? And so because of that, those questions of what happened, which in the current adversarial system are incidental really, you know, it’s who did this thing, what rules were broken? How are we going to actually punish the people who broke the rules? And then whose role is it to do that? It’s the state’s. In restorative justice it’s: what happened? Talk about what happened, share what happened, discuss in a, you know, kind of relational sense what happened. And then it’s what are your needs? Would do you need as a result of this? Because harms engender needs that must be met, right? So it asks you to really think that through. And then it says, you know, how do we repair this harm and who needs to be at the table for that to happen. It invites community in. It invites other people who were also harmed because we recognize that the ripples of harm are beyond the two individuals that were involved, it’s also the broader community and the society at large. So that’s what restorative justice, at its base, is really the unit of concern is the broken relationship and the harm. Those are the focus of what we need to be addressing. And through that, that obviously involves the criminal punishment system. In many ways RJ has become co-opted by that system. So people were initially proponents of restorative justice have moved their critique away from using RJ and talking about instead transformative justice. That’s where you see these breakdowns occurring because the system has taken on RJ now as quote unquote “a model for restitution.”"



"Restorative justice and transformative justice, people say they’re interchangeable sometimes, they are not. Because transformative justice people say that you cannot actually use the current punishing institutions that exist. Whereas RJ now is being run in prisons, is being run in schools. Institutions that are themselves violently punishing institutions are now taking that on and running that there. And what people who are advocates of transformative justice say is RJ, because of its focus on the individual, the intervention is on individuals, not the system. And what transformative justice, you know, people, advocates and people who have kind of begun to be practitioners in that have said is we have to also transform the conditions that make this thing possible. And restoring is restoring to what? For many people, the situation that occurred prior to the harm had lots of harm in it. So what are we restoring people to? We have to transform those conditions and in order to do that we have to organize, to shift the structures and the systems and that will also be very important beyond the interpersonal relationships that need to be mended."



"I reject the premise of restorative and transformative justice being alternatives to incarceration. I don’t reject the premise that we should prefigure the world in which we want to live and therefore use multiple different kinds of ways to figure out how to address harm. So here’s what I mean, because people are now saying things like the current criminal punishment system is broken, which it is not. It is actually operating exactly as designed. And that’s what abolition has helped us to understand is that the system is actually relentlessly successful at targeting the people it wants and basically getting the outcomes that wants from that. So if you understand that to be the case, then you are in a position of very much understanding that every time we use the term “alternative to incarceration” what comes to your mind?"



"You’re centering the punishing system. When I say alternative to prison, all you hear is prison. And what that does is that it conditions your imagination to think about the prison as the center. And what we’re saying as transformative and restorative justice practitioners is that the prison is actually an outcome of a broader system of violence and harm that has its roots in slavery and before colonization. And here we are in this position where all you then think about is replacing what we currently use prisons for, for the new thing. So what I mean by that is when you think of an alternative in this moment and you’re thinking about prison, you just think of transposing all of the things we currently consider crimes into that new world."



"It has to fit that sphere. But here’s what I, I would like to say lots of crimes are not harmful to anybody."



"And it’s also that we’re in this position where not all crimes are harms and not all harms are actually crimes. And what we are concerned with as people who practice restorative and transformative justice is harm across the board no matter what. So I always tell people when they say like, ‘oh, we’re having an alternative to incarceration or alternative to prison.’ I’m like, okay, what are you decriminalizing first? Do we have a whole list of things? So possession of drugs is a criminal offense right now. I don’t want an alternative to that. I want you to leave people the hell alone."



"Transformative justice calls on us to shatter binaries of all different types. Most of the people who currently are locked up, for example, in our prisons and jails, are people who are victims of crime first. They’ve been harmed and have harmed other people. The “perpetrator,” quote unquote… [more]
mariamekaba  clintsmith  josieduffyrice  prisonindustrialcomplex  prisions  violence  restorativejustice  justice  prisonabolition  punishment  2019  angeladavis  howardzehr  incarceration  community  humans  transformativejustice  harm  racism  responsibility  repair  people  carceralstate  binaries  accountability  police  lawenforcement  jails  coercion  gender  criminalization  humanism  decency  humanity  transformation  survival  bodies  abolition  abolitionists  nilschristie  ruthiegilmore  fayeknopp  presence  absence  systemsthinking  systems  complexity  capitalism  climatechange  climate  globalwarming  livingwage  education  organization  organizing  activism  change  changemaking  exploitation  dehumanization  optimism 
march 2019 by robertogreco
Prison Labor and Taxpayer Dollars » Sociological Images
"When prisoners are in state and federal prisons, the U.S. taxpayer is subsidizing low wages and corporate profits, since they are paying for prisoners’ room, board, and health care.  When prisoners are in private prisons, prison labor is a way to make more money off of the human beings caught in the corrections industry.  In other words, prison labor is an efficient way for corporations to continue to increase their profits without sharing those gains with their employees.

For an extensive list of the companies contracting prison labor, click here.  You might also find interesting the video clips, embedded in this news story, of promotional videos by prison corporations that attempt to sell the idea of prison labor to companies:"
slavery  incarceration  jails  prisons  2013  labor  capitalism  economics 
april 2013 by robertogreco
Mass Incarceration and Criminal Justice in America : The New Yorker
In a society where Constitution worship is still a requisite…Stuntz startlingly suggests…Bill of Rights is a terrible document w/ which to start justice system—much inferior to…French Declaration of the Rights of Man, which Jefferson…may have helped shape while…Madison was writing ours.

…trouble w/…Bill of Rights…is that it emphasizes process & procedure rather than principles…Declaration of Rights of Man says, Be just!…Bill of Rights says, Be fair! Instead of announcing general principles—no one should be accused of something that wasn’t a crime when he did it; cruel punishments are always wrong; the goal of justice is, above all, that justice be done—it talks procedurally. You can’t search someone without a reason…can’t accuse him w/out allowing him to see evidence…& so on… has led to the current mess, where accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors & no protection at all against outrageous & obvious violations of simple justice."
constitution  justice  process  procedure  policy  2012  criminaljusticesystem  us  jails  race  reform  legal  prisons  law  politics  crime  prison  williamjstuntz  adamgopnik 
february 2012 by robertogreco

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