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How Prison Abolitionists Acquired a Former Baby Store in Oakland's Temescal District | KQED Arts
“On the corner of 44th Street and Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, amid the upstart cafes and yoga studios of the Temescal district, a longtime baby shop is becoming a center for prison abolition.

Where months ago the building’s blue facade advertised toys and car seats, now murals and slogans promote a world without incarceration. An image of a white dove ascends from brown hands, and a woman blows the word “Libertad” from a conch shell. Window banners mark local campaigns against police conferences and gang injunctions, and lettering above the 7,000-square-foot corner storefront’s entrance announces the new occupants’ intentions: “Building People Power.”

This will be the new national offices of Critical Resistance. The prison abolitionist group, cofounded 20 years ago by the activist and scholar Angela Davis, recently acquired the $3.3 million real estate through a young supporter who’s vowed to “radically redistribute” her inherited wealth, and is building offices and gathering space to share with allied groups. It’s an improbable fate for commercial property in an area synonymous with the city’s influx of young professionals.

And the unlikely deal required even more surprisingly interlocked interests: The Cabellos, who ran Baby World for decades, sold the building to Critical Resistance after rejecting offers from developers and corporate retailers (including one they blame for helping drive them out of business). They wanted to mitigate gentrification in North Oakland, and were endeared to the nonprofit’s politics by their harrowing experience of the United States-backed coup in their native Chile.

“I’d just seen Black Panther,” recalled Dania Cabello, the business owners’ 36-year-old daughter, of helping solicit Critical Resistance, where her brother once interned, to buy the family property. “So I was like, ‘How do we bring a real-life Wakanda Institute to Oakland?”

Abolition, Not Reform

The acquisition means stability for Critical Resistance, which faces steep rent increases in its downtown Oakland offices, and a more conspicuous public presence at a time when its once-fringe ideas are going mainstream. “Look at the headlines—you have people proudly calling themselves abolitionists, the popularization of ‘abolish ICE,’” said communications director Mohamed Shehk. “It shows chipping away at state violence is an achievable reality.”

Critical Resistance has several full-time employees and chapters in Los Angeles, New York City, Portland and Oakland. Part of its strategy is to dismantle the infrastructure of the prison-industrial complex, and then try to redirect public resources away from policing, surveillance and incarceration. Locally, for example, it participated in a successful coalition-based campaign against Urban Shield, a law-enforcement exposition criticized for promoting police militarization with emergency preparedness funds.

Building on the momentum of the recent San Francisco youth jail closure, Critical Resistance is working with Supervisor Matt Haney to shutter the county jail on Bryant Street. There’s broad political support for closing the seismically unsafe facility; Critical Resistance wants to go further and see that it isn’t replaced. “The idea is to reduce the incarcerated population, implement bail reform and divert people into services that make a new jail unnecessary,” Shehk said.

“Oakland Power Projects,” an ongoing campaign, shows another side of Critical Resistance’s work: community-based alternatives to policing. For one project, organizers canvassed Oaklanders and then developed literature about addressing health emergencies without calling the cops. Tahirah Rasheed, an Oakland native recently hired as building project manager, said the Temescal center will make these resources more accessible. “It will be a hub for racial justice and social justice organizing—especially pushing back against gentrification,” she said.

At a time when criminal-justice reform has widespread support, even from conservatives such as the Koch Brothers, Critical Resistance is leery of its ideas being co-opted or diluted, and often assails progressive-seeming ideas that entrench incarceration. In 2016, for example, the organization opposed a California proposition to repeal capital punishment and resentence death row prisoners to life without parole, arguing it enshrined “the other death sentence.”

Lately, the group has similarly challenged liberal outrage at privately-run prisons: Ruth Wilson Gilmore, the theorist and Critical Resistance cofounder, recently stressed her critique of the reformist referendum on private prisons in a New York Times Magazine profile, saying they play only a small, parasitic role in mass incarceration. “We don’t believe the system is broken, so we don’t want it fixed,” Critical Resistance organizer Rehana Lerandeau explained to KQED. “We want it abolished.”

Philanthropy as Redistribution

Rachel Gelman grew up in what she called a wealthy, owning-class family in Washington, D.C., struggling to reconcile her sharpening social-justice convictions with her privilege. Her family’s fortune, she said, derives largely from investments that benefit shareholders and executives at the expense of workers. “So, I was confused about my role in the movement,” she said.

Gelman, 29, is program director at Jewish Youth for Community Action, an activist and leadership training program in Piedmont. She moved to Oakland six years ago and discovered Resource Generation, a nonprofit that encourages wealthy young people to back leftist and progressive causes. Members of her family are philanthropists, and she considers their giving well-meaning and inspiring. But old-world charity, she said, can be “top down” or prescriptive, and it almost always entrenches status. Gelman doesn’t want her name on a theater.

Resource Generation, by contrast, recasts philanthropy as redistribution, stressing donations as a way to diffuse instead of bolster one’s own power. Now Gelman thinks of giving as a way to help upend the forces of capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy that underlie her inheritance. “I believe ending this economic system that creates such drastic wealth inequality is necessary for all peoples’ humanity and dignity, including my own and that of my family,” she said.

Gelman was supporting Critical Resistance when the organization approached her about the Temescal building. She knew Critical Resistance was struggling with rising rents, and saw an opportunity to offer the group stability while removing property from the speculative market with her $3.3 million purchase. The company she formed to hold the building, which Critical Resistance is considering placing in a land trust, is named for an Arundhati Roy quotation: Another World Possible.

Critical Resistance shifted Gelman’s view of incarceration. She had gone from from being disgusted at its profiteers to embracing the idea that “any system that cages people is fundamentally inhumane,” she said. The multimillion-dollar donation to an organization that in 2017 had $373,000 in revenue reflects her optimism about the prospect of abolition, and she agreed to be interviewed in order to send a message to people with backgrounds similar to hers: “Invest in a world that benefits everybody.”

‘Bittersweet’
Aldo and Cristina Cabello listed 4400 Telegraph Ave. for sale in 2017, as business at Baby World declined. Dania, their daughter, pointed to online competition and also to displacement: The family-run business, founded more than 30 years prior, found the intergenerational continuity of its customer base severed. So it was “heartbreaking,” she said, to field offers from “condo developers and mega-corporations—the antithesis of the community we want to serve.”

Selling to Critical Resistance, though, appealed to the Cabellos’ abiding quest for justice. They came to Oakland as political refugees from Chile in 1973 after Augusto Pinochet, with United States government support, seized power in a military coup. A hit squad known as the Caravan of Death had executed Aldo’s brother Winston, and they feared for their lives. “My father was actually taken in on a couple occasions and released alive,” Dania said. “That was rare.”

Living in North Oakland with Dania’s two elder sisters, the Cabellos started selling refurbished electronics and baby accessories at the Coliseum Flea Market. “My memory is bleaching used toys in the backyard,” Dania said. The hustle led to small storefronts and, in the 1990s, the property on Telegraph Avenue. All the while, Aldo and other exiled family members researched the role of Armando Fernandez Larios, an officer in the Caravan of Death, in Winston’s slaying.

The effort culminated in a 1999 civil lawsuit against Larios, who was then living in Florida as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors regarding other assassinations. Four years later, a jury found him liable for torture, crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killing, and awarded the Cabellos $4 million in damages. (Dania called the figure “symbolic,” saying they don’t expect to ever receive the money.) According to the Center for Justice and Accountability, it was the first time a Pinochet operative was tried in the United States for human rights violations.

The United States’ hand in Pinochet’s coup, particularly training Larios through the School of the Americas, instilled in the Cabellos a sensitivity to abuses of power that easily dovetails with prison abolitionism. Dania’s brother interned with Critical Resistance, and her activism ties enabled the acquisition. She hopes it inspires more wealthy people to support collective ownership, and beamed that Critical Resistance commissioned muralist-activists Leslie “Dime” Lopez and Dominic “Treat U Nice” Villeda to “spread messages of strength and freedom” from the building.

Still, it’s “bittersweet… [more]
prisonabolition  criticalresistance  angeladavis  daniacabello  chile  oakland  philanthropy  temescal  mohamedshehk  urbanshield  kochbrothers  ruthwilsongilmore  rehanalaerandeau  2019  resdistribution  rachelgelman  inequality  resourcegeneration  aldocabello  cristinacabello  pinochet  justice  restorativejustice  prisons  incarceration  armandofernándezlarios  police  policing  sanfrancisco  bayarea  us  activism  capitalpunishment  integrity  canon  prison-industrialcomplex  arundhatiroy  reform  samlefebvre 
3 days ago by robertogreco
Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind - The New York Times
"“I get where you’re coming from,” she said. “But how about this: Instead of asking whether anyone should be locked up or go free, why don’t we think about why we solve problems by repeating the kind of behavior that brought us the problem in the first place?” She was asking them to consider why, as a society, we would choose to model cruelty and vengeance.

As she spoke, she felt the kids icing her out, as if she were a new teacher who had come to proffer some bogus argument and tell them it was for their own good. But Gilmore pressed on, determined. She told them that in Spain, where it’s really quite rare for one person to kill another, the average time you might serve for murdering someone is seven years.

“What? Seven years!” The kids were in such disbelief about a seven-year sentence for murder that they relaxed a little bit. They could be outraged about that, instead of about Gilmore’s ideas.

Gilmore told them that in the unusual event that someone in Spain thinks he is going to solve a problem by killing another person, the response is that the person loses seven years of his life to think about what he has done, and to figure out how to live when released. “What this policy tells me,” she said, “is that where life is precious, life is precious.” Which is to say, she went on, in Spain people have decided that life has enough value that they are not going to behave in a punitive and violent and life-annihilating way toward people who hurt people. “And what this demonstrates is that for people trying to solve their everyday problems, behaving in a violent and life-annihilating way is not a solution.”

The children showed Gilmore no emotion except guarded doubt, expressed in side eye. She kept talking. She believed her own arguments and had given them many years of thought as an activist and a scholar, but the kids were a tough sell. They told Gilmore that they would think about what she said and dismissed her. As she left the room, she felt totally defeated.

At the end of the day, the kids made a presentation to the broader conference, announcing, to Gilmore’s surprise, that in their workshop they had come to the conclusion that there were three environmental hazards that affected their lives most pressingly as children growing up in the Central Valley. Those hazards were pesticides, the police and prisons.

“Sitting there listening to the kids stopped my heart,” Gilmore told me. “Why? Abolition is deliberately everything-ist; it’s about the entirety of human-environmental relations. So, when I gave the kids an example from a different place, I worried they might conclude that some people elsewhere were just better or kinder than people in the South San Joaquin Valley — in other words, they’d decide what happened elsewhere was irrelevant to their lives. But judging from their presentation, the kids lifted up the larger point of what I’d tried to share: Where life is precious, life is precious. They asked themselves, ‘Why do we feel every day that life here is not precious?’ In trying to answer, they identified what makes them vulnerable.”"



"The National Employment Law Project estimates that about 70 million people have a record of arrest or conviction, which often makes employment difficult. Many end up in the informal economy, which has been absorbing a huge share of labor over the last 20 years. “Gardener, home health care, sweatshops, you name it,” Gilmore told me. “These people have a place in the economy, but they have no control over that place.” She continued: “The key point here, about half of the work force, is to think not only about the enormity of the problem, but the enormity of the possibilities! That so many people could benefit from being organized into solid formations, could make certain kinds of demands, on the people who pay their wages, on the communities where they live. On the schools their children go to. This is part of what abolitionist thinking should lead us to.”

“Abolition,” as a word, is an intentional echo of the movement to abolish slavery. “This work will take generations, and I’m not going to be alive to see the changes,” the activist Mariame Kaba told me. “Similarly I know that our ancestors, who were slaves, could not have imagined my life.” And as Kaba and Davis and Richie and Gilmore all told me, unsolicited and in almost identical phrasing, it is not serendipity that the movement of prison abolition is being led by black women. Davis and Richie each used the term “abolition feminism.” “Historically, black feminists have had visions to change the structure of society in ways that would benefit not just black women but everyone,” Davis said. She also talked about Du Bois and the lessons drawn from his conception of what was needed: not merely a lack of slavery but a new society, utterly transformed. “I think the fact that so many people now do call themselves prison abolitionists,” Michelle Alexander told me, “is a testament to the fact that an enormous amount of work has been done, in academic circles and in grass-root circles. Still, if you just say ‘prison abolition’ on CNN, you’re going to have a lot of people shaking their heads. But Ruthie has always been very clear that prison abolition is not just about closing prisons. It’s a theory of change.”

When Gilmore encounters an audience that is hostile to prison abolition, an audience that supposes she’s naïvely suggesting that those in prison are there for smoking weed, and wants to tell her who’s really locked up, what terrible things they’ve done, she tells them she’s had a loved one murdered and isn’t there to talk about people who smoke weed. But as she acknowledged to me, “Part of the whole story that can’t be denied is that people are tired of harm, they are tired of grief and they are tired of anxiety.” She described to me conversations she’d had with people who are glad their abusive husband or father has been removed from their home, and would not want it any other way. Of her own encounter with murder, she’s more philosophical, even if the loss still seems raw.

“I had this heart-to-heart with my aunt, the mother of my murdered cousin, John. On the surface, we were talking about something else, but we were really talking about him. I said, ‘Forgive and forget.’ And she replied, ‘Forgive, but never forget.’ She was right: The conditions under which the atrocity occurred must change, so that they can’t occur again.”

For Gilmore, to “never forget” means you don’t solve a problem with state violence or with personal violence. Instead, you change the conditions under which violence prevailed. Among liberals, a kind of quasi-Christian idea about empathy circulates, the idea that we have to find a way to care about the people who’ve done bad. To Gilmore this is unconvincing. When she encountered the kids in Fresno who hassled her about prison abolition, she did not ask them to empathize with the people who might hurt them, or had. She instead asked them why, as individuals, and as a society, we believe that the way to solve a problem is by “killing it.” She was asking if punishment is logical, and if it works. She let the kids find their own way to answer."
prison  incarceration  prisons  2019  mariamekaba  ruthwilsongilmore  geography  policy  justice  prisonabolition  abolitionists  restorativejustice  socialjustice  transformativejustice  activism  punishment  vengeance  angeladavis  mikedavis  cedricobinson  barbarasmith  prisonindustrialcomplex  neilsmith  carceralgeography  bethrichie  society  rachelkushner 
april 2019 by robertogreco
A RESPONSE TO ABOLITIONIST PLANNING: THERE IS NO ROOM FOR ‘PLANNERS’ IN THE MOVEMENT FOR ABOLITION | Progressive City | International
"Abolition is a movement that seeks to end prisons, police, and border walls. Why? They are institutions of war built on colonial and capitalist legacies of indigenous, Black, brown, Asian and poor violence. They only produce violence and need to be abolished. The fight for abolition is aside from, and not something that can be fully incorporated into, ‘professional planning’ because planning has been a central conduit of this violence. This is a crucial point not stated in the Abolitionist Planning article; the authors solely focus on our contemporary context of Trump and the role of professional planning in fighting against it. However, the problem is more expansive than the era of Donald Trump. The problem is professional planning as an institution of harm complicit in the making of penal systems, directly or indirectly. In my response to Abolitionist Planning, I want to foreclose the use of abolition as rhetoric for bolstering the institution of planning while also suggesting what limited possibilities ‘professional planning’, an act of disciplining space, can contribute to this movement.

DITCH THE WHITE COLLAR

Abolition is a verb. Another word for abolition is freedom. Freedom is to end violence or unfreedom. If someone is not free we are all not free. Therefore, there is no final plan when it comes to abolition. We know many unfreedoms occur through planning: segregation, fracking, disenfranchisement and slum housing, to name a few. These unfreedoms we take as common-sense inequalities, yet, they are interdependent to the planning of prisons, implementation of police and surveillance through virtual and physical border walls. Cities with budgets, big and small, plan their jails, police and surveillance techniques as connected to how neighborhoods are planned (see Jack Norton's work).

What does this mean for ‘planners’? Here, I am not referring to insurgent planners – those who continuously put freedom into motion to turn the tide of the violence of land extraction and enslavement without a paycheck or job title – but to the ‘planners’ who get degrees and/or compensation from institutions of colonial harm. It means that planners must see how, from the neighborhood block to the jail cell, inequity is unfreedom. It means that ‘planners’ must evade their job titles, offices and practices of resource-hoarding. The Abolitionist Planning piece suggests that planners have a role if they become more inclusive in their practice and eliminate racial liberalism. However, inclusivity continues to put the power in the ‘planners’ hand. What we end up doing is suggesting that professional planning work is participatory, meaning we invite people without the paycheck or title of planners to plan with us. If liberal, we ask participants to tell us what to do only to use a part of it, and if conservative, we have them fill out a survey. Neither of these approaches of incorporation help; rather, they exacerbate the frustrations of those whose lives depend on the outcomes of such professional planning. Thus, participation disciplines and maintains forms of harm and stifles resistance.

To this point, let me turn to the limited capacity ‘planners’ have. The seemingly social justice orientation of social justice ‘planners’ has many tenets. Nonetheless, social justice planners often have full time jobs working at a not-for-profit organization, being the community relations personnel for a business improvement district, or worse, contributing to municipal economic development departments, which in most cases are servicing developers. Most of these jobs do one thing: they contribute to moderate or reformist solutions. Yet, reformist solutions keep institutions of oppression intact, they do not transform them. For example, let us think about Skid Row, Los Angeles, a social service hub that serves homeless and poor downtown Angelinos. The implementation of a Homeless Reduction Strategy or Safer Cities Initiative in 2006 led to mass incarceration of these residents where within the first two years Los Angeles Police Department conducted 19,000 arrests, 24,000 citation issuances as well as the incarceration of 2,000 residents, and the dismantling of 2,800 self-made housing (see Gary Blasi and Forrest Stuart).

Edward Jones and other plaintiffs won a class action lawsuit against these examples of the criminalization of the homeless. The settlement resulted in a reform: policing homelessness did not occur through homeless sleeping hours. In addition, police received diversity training. This did not limit policing. Similar rates of incarceration occurred. Here, state reforms that support gentrification continue policing the homeless. Instead we must aim to produce what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls non-reformist reforms, reforms that transform institutions to produce life-fulfilling alternatives rather than harm. Out of the Jones settlement, a non-reformist reform occurred: the city was mandated to build 1,300 single room occupancy units to house the nearly 1,500 to 2,500 homeless people in Skid Row.

This reoriented public discourse, revealing that policing the homeless was not about housing them. Furthermore, it led to abolitionist vision to “House Keys Not Handcuffs”. If the job leaves little room for What Abolitionists Do, ‘planners’ must ditch the white collar. Here, we can actively engage and contribute to movements outside of our job title as ‘planners’. In a history and theory of planning class I taught, I asked my students: ‘what are you willing to do on your Saturdays if your planning job is not contributing to change?’ We must realize and encourage an off-the-books approach or informal participation in radical movements that are not attached to promoting careers.

THE HELL WITH TRAINING

Students become ‘planners’ through planning education. These departments often have students do studio work for a non-profit or a for-profit organization. I will not belabor the point about divesting from profit-making/resource-hoarding organizations; however, non-profits are an important location of concern. They are often where planners send their planning kids to work, but they are a form of professionalization. As INCITE!’s The Revolution will not be Funded has described, not-for-profit organizations have been created out of the 1960s revolutionary movements with government and foundation funding to control such movements and quell dissent. Nonetheless, we send our ‘planning’ students to non-profit jobs which make reformist changes. Our students then think that they are contributing to the solution. In some cases, they are. In the case of abolition, many are not. Is it the students’ fault? No. It is often that students are pushing up against curriculum in the white planning profession. The larger problem is the field of professional planning which is complacent in the reproduction of institutional violence.

Adding to this point, we can divert from training students and ourselves from perpetuating institutional harm by changing the curriculum and strategy of professional planning. For starters, stop centering the legacy of dead white planners who have been a tool of colonization. The work of the late Clyde Woods on regional and local planning in Mississippi and New Orleans should be assigned in the first week of our theory and history courses rather than listed as suggested readings or not even on the syllabus. As well, collective syllabi like Prison Abolition Syllabus should be adopted. Most importantly, let us teach our students how to subvert the limitations of professional planning. adrienne maree brown’s groundbreaking book Emergent Strategy may be a technique of pedagogy. Upset at the limited possibilities for change as an executive director of a non-profit, Brown synthesized a framework of planning that emanates out of the work of Black queer scientific fiction writer, Octavia Butler. In her work, Brown suggests that the way change occurs is through our active reworking of barriers: grant deadlines and protocols, limited policies and strictures of organizing. She asks us to experiment within and outside of institutions and organizations to change them. Let’s read and teach Octavia Butler as well as adrienne maree brown (in that order) so that we can de-professionalize to organize. This will give students strategies of circumnavigating thick institutions that perpetuate harm. I believe more training in this way may lead to students’ ability to produce abolitionist, non-reformist reforms through organizing within organizations that would otherwise maintain institutions of harm. This is already happening. Students writing the Abolitionist Planning guide and the Hindsight planning conference that took place in New York which spotlighted women of color in planning, are steps in that direction. However, most of these approaches continue to hone in on incorporation – inviting the language of abolition, blackness, brownness, or indigenous knowledge. They don’t contribute to them. However, in order to be a part of liberating movements, we must build those movements, not incorporate them to build the profession of planning.

Abolition is not, nor ever will be, about ‘planners’. It never has been. Instead, it is about practitioners of freedom dreams that occur outside of planning education and profession. Contributing to these movements and redistributing resources to them is a step in what ‘planners’ can do."
abolition  deshonaydozier  via:javierarbona  2018  planning  edwardjones  policing  homeless  homelessness  ruthwilsongilmore  reform  jacknorton  borders  capitalism  colonialism  donaltrump  professionalization  unfreedoms  freedom  liberation  planners  race  racism  liberalism  socialjustice  skidrow  losangeles  garyblasi  forreststuart 
august 2018 by robertogreco

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