Angela Y. Davis- Feminism and Abolition: Theories and Practices for the 21st Century.

Angela Y. Davis

Feminism and Abolition: Theories and Practices for the 21st Century.

The University of Chicago May 2013

Thank you so much for the amazing welcome.  First of all let me also say thank you to the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture and to the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.  And I’d like especially to say thanks to Tracy Matthews for being such a wonderful host during my days in Chicago.  And, of course, I’ve known her since she was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, so it’s wonderful to spend time together again.  And, of course, to Professor Cathy Cohen whom I’ve known for some time, and have been involved in a number of struggles.   And she’s the person who initially wrote me about the possibility of this visit to the University of Chicago.

And let me say, this is the first time in may years that I have spent an extended period of time in Chicago, that is to say, three or four days.  Four days – four whole days.  And, if yesterday and today felt like the Chicago I’ve always known, Tuesday and Wednesday were the most beautiful days in the city I’ve ever experienced! [laughter] … And I started to think “I can live in Chicago!”… until the wind and the cold returned yesterday.  But I still like Chicago.

And it is wonderful to be here no matter what the season might be.  This amazing city has such a history of struggle.  It’s the city of the Hay Market Murders, the city of Radical labor unions, the city of resistance to the police assassinations of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.  It’s the city of Puerto Rican activism against colonialism.  It’s the city of Immigrant rights activists.  And of course it is the city of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Now, a few years ago Chicago was the city that developed a revived national movement to support Assata Shakur and I remember Lisa Brack and Derrick Cooper, Tracy Matthews, Beth Richie, Cathy Cohen and others, called for a renewed campaign defending the rights and the life of Assata Shakur.  Yesterday, May 2nd 2013, 40 years after Assata was shot by New Jersey state police, and falsely accused of the murder of state trooper Warner Foster, she became the first woman ever to be placed on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list.

Why – we should ask – was it necessary to put a Woman’s face on terrorism? Especially in the aftermath of the tragic bombing of the Boston Marathon.  Why was it necessary to put a Black face on terrorism?  Especially after initial news about the Boston bombing that the perpetrator was a Black man, or if not a Black man, at least a dark skinned man in a hoodie – the ghost of Trayvon Martin

Assata is not a threat in the way she has been represented by the FBI to be someone who is just waiting to commit an act like the Boston Marathon bombing.  Assata is certainly not a terrorist.  But if she is no position to commit acts of violence against the U.S. government, the fact that the FBI decided to announce with great fanfare that she is now the only woman on the most wanted terrorist list, should cause us to wonder what the underlying agenda might be.

And I should say that I especially empathize with Assata, because it was 43 years ago that I was placed on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list, and, so you may have seen the new documentary on my trial, and as that documentary reveals, president Richard Nixon congratulated openly and ceremoniously, congratulated the FBI for catching me and in the process labeled me a terrorist as well.  So I know the dangerous consequences that can follow from this ideological labeling process.

That this is happening 40 years after Assata’s original arrest, should give us cause to reflect.  First of all, it reminds us that there is much work left over from the 20th century. Especially for those of us who identify as advocates for peace.  For racial, gender , sexual justice, for a world that is no longer mutilated by the ravages of Capitalism.

We are four decades removed from the era of the sixties which is an era universally remembered for radical and revolutionary activism. Being at historical distance however does not extricate us from the responsibility of defending and indeed liberating those who were and still are willing to give their lives so that we might build a world that is free of racism and imperialist war and sexism and homophobia and capitalist exploitation.

(I’m kind of rushing through because I only have 45 minutes, and because of what happened yesterday i really felt compelled to alter the introduction to my talk and say a few words about Assata.)

And, so I’d like to point out that individual memories, are not nearly as long as the memories of institutions, and especially repressive institutions. The FBI is still haunted by the ghost of J Edgar Hoover. And the CIA and ICE are institutions that have active and vivid memories of the mass organized struggles to end racism , to end war, to overthrow Capitalism. And of course we should say something about Homeland Security, that got produced, you remember, during the Bush administration. And I guess you can say that Homeland Security took off the memories of both the FBI and CIA.

But Leonard Peltier is still behind bars. And Mondo we Langa and Ed Poindexterhave been in prison for some 40 years. Sundiata Acoli – Assata’s comrade, is in prison. Herman Bell and Veronza Bowers and Romaine Fitzgerald, and my co-defendant Rochelle Mcgee, has been in prison for about 50 years. A half century. 2 of the Angola Three, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, are still in prison, in solitary confinement. And of course, Mumia Abu Jamal, although he was released from death row and that was a People’s Victory – that was a People’s Victory, he is still behind bars.

And even as the U.S. Govt – and this is ironic – singles out Assata as a terrorist, and issues an open invitation to anyone to capture her and bring her back to the U.S., and there is so mercenaries, trained by Black Water and other Private security firms who probably will want to take up that bid for 2 million dollars. But even as that happens, the U.S. govt holds in prison in this country 5 Cubans who attempted to prevent terrorist attacks on Cuba. They were investigating terrorism and in turn were charged with terrorism. I’m referring to The Cuban Five Free the Cuban Five!

Now, the attack on Assata incorporates the logic of the very terrorism with which they have falsely charged her. What might they expect to accomplish, other than causing new generations of activists who recoil in fear. The FBI is attempting to persuade people – it seems to me – who are the grandchildren of Assata’s generation, my generation as well, to turn away from struggles to end police violence, to dismantle the prison industrial complex, struggles to end violence against women, struggles to end the occupation of Palestine, struggles to defend the rights of immigrants here and abroad.

And I think you here in Chicago should be especially suspicious of the representation of Assata as a Cop Killer. Her hands were in the air when she was shot in the back, which temporarily paralyzed the arm she would have had to have use to pick up a gun. I mean, you should be suspicious, because, according to the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, 63 people have been killed by the Chicago police department in the last four years. And another 253 have been shot. A 172 Black people and 27 Latin@s.

You should be VERY suspicious because as more youth are rendered disposable, as more youth become a part of surplus population that can only be managed through imprisonment, the schools that could begin to solve the problems of desposability, are being shut down. According to Karen Lewis, who is one of the most amazing leaders of our time – I think – some 61 schools in this city face closure.

And I think this is a good way to stage our discussion of Feminism and Abolition, which I consider to be essential theories and practices for the 21st century. Assata Shakur represented within feminist struggles and theories an example of the way Black Women’s representations and their involvement in revolutionary struggles mitigated against prevailing ideological assumptions about women.

In fact, during the latter 20th century, there were numerous debates about how to defy the category “Woman”. There were numerous struggles over who got included and who was excluded from that category. And these struggles, I think, are key to understanding why there was some measure of resistance from women of color, and also poor and working class white women to identify with the emergent feminist movement. Many of us considered that movement at that time to be too white and especially too middle class, too bourgeoisie.

And in some senses the struggle for women’s rights was ideologically defined as the struggle for white middle class women’s rights, pushing out working class and poor women, pushing out black women, latinas and other women of color from the discursive field covered by the category “woman”. The many contestations over this category helped to produce what we came to call Radical Women of Color Feminist theories and practices.

At the very time these questions were being raised – these questions about the universality of the category “Woman”, similar concerns about the category “Human” were being debated, especially in relation to the underlying individualism of human rights discourses. How could this category be re-thought? Not only to embrace Africans, Indigenous people – Other non Europeans, but how it might apply to groups and communities as well – not only to individuals. And then of course the slogan “Women’s rights are Human Rights” began to emerge in the aftermath of an amazing conference that took place in 1985 in Nairobi, Kenya.

(I guess there are people in the house who attended that conference, am I right? Okay, I see some hands back there, great. It was an amazing conference, I could spend the rest of my time here, you know, talking about what happened at that conference, but I have to move on, rather quickly. )

And, at that conference, for the very first time, there was a very large delegation of U.S. women of color.  And I think it was the first time that U.S. women of color became active in an international arena.  But many of us thought that what we needed to do was to expand the category Woman so that it could embrace Black women, Latina women, and so forth, Native American women, etc.   We thought that by doing that we would have effectively address the problem of the exclusivity of the category.   And what I think we didn’t realize then, is that we’ll have to re-write the Whole category, rather than simply assimilate more women in to an unchanged category of what counts as “women”.

Now a few years earlier 1979, a white woman by the name of Sandy Stone was working at the Feminist recording company “Olivia Records”. Some of you may remember Olivia Records.  This woman was broadly attacked by some self-defined Lesbian Feminists for not really being a woman, and for bringing masculine energy into women’s spaces.  As it turns out, Sandy Stone was a Trans Woman, who later wrote some of the germinal texts in the development of transgender studies.  This woman was not considered a woman, because she was assigned the gender designation of Male at birth.  But this did not prevent her from later asserting a very different gender identity.

So let me fast forward to the present. When scholars and activists are engaging with questions of prison abolition and gender non-conformity, and these scholars have produced some of the most interesting theories, some of the most interesting ideas and approaches to activism.

But before I go into this let me say parenthetically that I had the opportunity this morning to attend a part of a very exciting colloquium on the Assylum and the Prison, that was organized by Prof. Bernard Harcourt of the Political Science department, and we can all applaud. And I hear two very brilliant presentations by Michael Rembis and Liat Ben Moshe, and I wish that all of you would have been able to hear them. Because it’s often assumed that such issues as psychiatric incarceration and the imprisonment of people who are intellectually and developmentally disabled are marginal questions. However, precisely the opposite turns out to be the case. As both of the presenters emphasized, there is a great deal to be learned about the potential of de-carceration and abolition in relation to prisons, about the potential possibilities of abolishing the prison industrial complex, by looking very closely at the de-institutionalization of assylums and psychiatric institutions.

So having said that, what I want to do is address another issue and struggle that is unfortunately too often considered to be marginal to the larger prison abolition struggle.

So, as I was saying, in relation to those contestations over the category of woman, let’s fast forward to the present.  And let’s visit the San Fransisco Bay area where I live, and an organization that is called Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project.  Now, TGI Justice Project is an organization lead by Women of Color by Trans Women of Color.  The executive director is a woman whose name is Miss Majors.  And, yeah, I’ll tell Miss Majors that she got a lot of applause in Chicago, and that’s especially important because she was raised on the south side of Chicago, not very far from here.  She describes herself as a Black, formerly incarcerated, Male to Female Transgender Elder, born and raised on the south side of Chicago, and a veteran activist.  She participated in the Stone Wall Rebellion in 1969.  But she said she was not really politicized until the wake of the Attica Prison Rebellion.  And I was just talking to her the other day and I recently learned that the person she says she was politicized by is Big Black – one of the Attica defenders, many of you will remember Frank Smith, Big Black.   And, she said that he was not only totally accepting of her gender presentation, but he corrected her on so many issues regarding the relationship between racism and imperialism, and capitalism and so forth.

Now, TGI Justice Project is a grass roots organization that advocates for, defends, and includes, primarily Trans Women, and Trans Women of Color.   These are Women, who have to Fight to be included within the category “woman” in a way that is not dissimilar to the earlier struggles of Black women and Women of Color who were assigned the gender Female at birth.  Moreover, they have worked out what I see as a deeply feminist approach that we would do well to understand and emulate.

Miss Majors, the executive director, she says she prefers to be called Miss Majors not Mrs. Majors, because as a trans woman she is not yet liberated.  Their work is deeply feminist because they work at the intersection of race, class, sexuality and gender, and because they move from addressing the individual predicaments of the members of their community, who constitute the individuals who are MOST harassed by the law enforcement, MOST arrested and incarcerated, and of course they end up primarily in Male prisons.  Especially if they have not undergone Gender reassignment surgery, and many of them don’t want to undergo that surgery.  And sometimes even if they have undergone the surgery they end up being placed in men’s prisons.  And after they are imprisoned they often receive more violent treatment by the guards and anyone else, and on top of that, they are marked by the institution as targets of male violence.  And this is so much the case, that cops so easily joke about their sexual fate in male prison.  In the male prisons where they are usually sent.  Male prisons are represented as violent places.  But we see, especially by looking at the predicament of trans women, that this violence is often encouraged by the institutions themselves.

Many of you are familiar with the Minneapolis case of CeCe McDonald, who was charged with murder after an encounter with a group that yelled out – okay – racist, homophobic, and transphobic slurs all at the same time. And she is now in a men’s prison in Minnesota, serving a 3 and a half year sentence.  But on top of this violence, trans women are often denied their hormonal treatments, even if they have valid prescriptions.

The point that I’m trying to make is that we learn a great deal about the reach of the prison system, about the nature of the prison industrial complex, about the reach of abolition by examining the particular struggles of trans prisoners, and especially trans women. But perhaps most important of all, and this is so central to the development of feminist abolitionist theories and practices: we have to learn how to think and act and struggle against that which is ideologically constituted as ‘normal.’ As normal!

Prisons are constituted as Normal.  It takes a lot of work to persuade people to think beyond the bars, and to be bale to imagine a world without prisons and to struggle for the abolition of imprisonment as the dominant mode of punishment.

And we can ask ourselves in that context, why are Trans Women, and especially Black Trans Women who cannot easily pass, why are they considered so far outside the norm? They are considered outside the norm by almost everyone in the society.

And of course we’ve learned a great deal about gender over the last decades. I suppose just about everyone who’s in the field of Feminist studies have read Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble” (pdf). But you should also read Beth Richie’s most recent book, amazing book, which is called “Arrested Justice:Black Women, Violence and the Prison Nation”. And specifically look at her account of the case of the New Jersey Four. Where 4 Young Black Lesbians just walking around having fun in Greenwich Village, ended up in prison because they defended themselves from male violence, and then they saw themselves represented in the media as a Lesbian Wolf Pack. And so we see that here race, gender, sexual non-conformity can lead to racist beastialization!  Which is an attack, as one of my students, Eric Stanley, points out in his dissertation, is an attack not only against the humans but against the animals as well. Now that’s important to acknowledge.

TGI Justice Project is an abolitionist organization. It calls for a dialectic of service provisions and abolitionist advocacy.  And so what we in TGIJP is a kind of feminism that urges us to be flexible. Not to become too attached to our objects, whether they are objects of study – and I say that for the academics in the house, or whether they are objects of our organizing – and I say that for the activists in the house – and sometimes you embody both scholar and activists.

TGIJP shows us that these objects can become something entirely different as a result of our work. It shows us that, the process of trying to assimilate into an existing category in many ways runs counter to the whole effort to produce something radical or revolutionary.  And it shows us that we should not try to assimilate trans women into a category that remains the same, but the category itself has to change so it does not simply reflect normative ideas of who counts as women and who doesn’t.

But by extension, there’s another lesson, by extension the lesson is – don’t even become too attached to the concept of gender.  Because, as a matter of fact, the more closely we examine it, the more we discover that it is embedded in a range of social, political, cultural and ideological formations.  It is not one thing.  There is not one definition, and certainly gender cannot now be adequately described as a binary structure with Male being one pole and Female at the other.

And so bringing Trans Women, Trans Men, Intersex, many other forms of gender non-conformity into the concepts of gender, it radically undermines the normative assumptions of the very concept of gender.

And I want to share with you this really wonderful quote from Dean Spade whom I understand spoke yesterday:

From my understanding”, he writes, “ a central endeavor of Feminist, Queer and Trans activists has been to dismantle the cultural ideologies, social practices and legal norms that say certain body parts determine gender identity and gendered social characteristics and roles. We have fought against the idea that the presence of uteruses or ovaries or penises or testicles should be understood to determine such things as people’s intelligence, proper parental roles, proper physical appearance, proper gender identity, proper labor roles, proper sexual partners and activities and capacity to make decisions. We have opposed medical and scientific assertions that affirm the purported health of traditional gender roles and activities that anthologized the bodies that defy these norms. We continue to work to dispel myths that body parts somehow make us who we are, and make us less than, or better than – depending on which we may have. “

Now, Trans scholar activists are doing, as I said, some of the most interesting work on prison abolition. And I just want to mention three recent books by scholar-activists who engage with trans abolitionist politics. And, one of them is a wonderful anthology edited by Eric Stanley and Nat Smith, and is called “Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the PrisonIndustrial Complex”. And Andrea Ritchie, Kay Whitlock and Joey Mogul recently published an anthology called “Queer (In) Justice: the Criminalization of LGBT people in the US. And Dean Spade whom I just recently quoted, he’s so amazingly prolific, I can’t imagine how he writes all of these books and articles, and he’s always on the front line in demonstrations all over the world. But anyway, it’s called “Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Law”.

Now, I would argue that all three of these texts are feminist, and feminist not so much because they address a feminist object – although Racism, the prison industrial complex, criminalization, captivity, violence and the law are all objects that feminism should analyze, criticize and also resist through struggle – but I see these texts as being feminist primarily because of their methodologies. And feminist methodologies can assist us all in major ways as researchers, academics, and as activists and organizers.

When we discover what appears to be one relatively small and marginal aspect of the category – or what is struggling to enter the category – so that it can basically bust up the category – this process can illuminate so much more than simply looking at the normative dimensions of the category. And, you know, academics are trained to fear the unexpected, and also activists always want to have a very clear idea of our trajectories and our goals. And in both instances we want CONTROL.  We want control, so that often times our scholarly and activist projects are formulated just so that they re-confirm what we already know. And that is not interesting.  That is Boring.  That is boring.  And so how to allow for surprises, and how do we make these surprises productive?

Let me just make a tangential remark here. Because in many ways this is about how to build on the surprise element.  When I was in high school I really loved to square dance. (laughs) I did, I loved it! And later on, toward the Black Liberation Movement, somebody told me that Black people don’t square dance! “why are you square-dancing, Black people don’t square dance!” And most recently of course I came across the Carolina Chocolate Drops who were absolutely incredible. But I also run across the story that I want to share with you about a Square Dance caller here in Chicago. And, I think her name is Sondra Briant, I read this somewhere online… The Square Dance Caller said she received a telephone call from someone who wanted her to call for their square dance club. And so she says ‘Okay, let me look at my calendar”, but then the person quickly interjected, ‘before you look at your calendar, you should know that we are a Gay square dance club’. And so she quickly retorted, ‘well, before I look at my calendar, you should know that I am a Black square dance caller’. So at that moment Square Dancing became both Black and Gay, which probably changed something about Square Dancing as well.

You may think I was digressing, but not really, because I want to emphasize the importance of approaching both our theoretic explorations and our movement activism in ways that enlarge and expand and complicate and deepen our theories and practices of freedom.

Feminism involves so much more than gender equality. And it involves so much more than gender. Feminism must involve a consciousness of capitalism (I mean, the feminism that I relate to. And there are multiple Feminisms, right). It has to involve a consciousness of capitalism and racism and colonialism and post colonialities and ability and more genders than we can even imagine, and more sexualities than we ever thought we could name.  Feminism has helped us not only to recognize a range of connections among discourses and institutions and identities and ideologies that we often tend to consider separately.  But it has also helped us to develop epistemological and organizing strategies that take us beyond the categories “Women” and “Gender”.

And, Feminist methodologies impel us to explore Connections that are not always apparent. And they drives us to inhabit contradictions and discover what is productive in those contradictions.  Feminism insists on methods of thought and action that urge us to think things together that appear to be separate, and to de-segregate things that appear to naturally belong together.

Now, the assumption has been that because transgender and gender non-conforming populations are relatively small, within a prison system, that in the U.S.constitutes almost 2.5 million people, and more than 8 million people in jails and prisons worldwide, And therefore, why should they deserve very much attention?  But, feminist approaches to the understanding of prisons, and indeed the prison industrial complex, have always insisted that, for example, if we look at imprisoned women, who are also a very small percentage throughout the world, we learn, not only about women in prisons, but we learn much more about the system as a whole – than we would learn if we look exclusively at men. Thus, also, a Feminist approach would insist both on what we can learn from, and what we can transform, with respect to Trans and Gender non conforming prisoners, but also it insists on what this knowledge and activism tell us about the nature of punishment at large – the very apparatus of prison.

It is true that we cannot begin to think about the abolition of prisons outside of an anti-racist context. It is also true that abolition embraces – that anti prison abolition – must also embrace the abolition of gender policing. And that very process reveals the epistemic violence – and the feminist studies students in here know what I’m talking about – the violence that is inherent in the gender binary in the larger society.

So bringing Feminist within an Abolitionist frame, and vice versa, bringing Abolition within a Feminist frame, means that we take seriously the old feminist adage that “the personal is political” . The personal is political – everybody remembers that, right? “the personal is political”. And we can follow the lead of Beth Richie in thinking about the dangerous ways in which the institutional violence of the prison compliments and extends the intimate violence of the family, of the relationship. The individual violence of battery and sexual assault. We also question whether incarcerated individual perpetrators does anything more that reproduce the very violence that the perpetrators have allegedly committed. There is Criminalization. But the problem persists.

And it seems to me that people who are working on the front line of the struggle against violence against women, they should also be on the front line of abolitionist struggles. And people opposed to Police crimes, should be opposed to domestic – what is constructed as – domestic violence. There is Public Violence and there is Privatized Violence.

There is a Feminist philosophical dimension of abolitionist – both abolitionist theories and practices. The personal is political. There is a deep relationality that links struggles against institutions and struggles to re-invent our personal lives, and re-craft ourselves. We know, for example, that we replicate the structures of retributive justice oftentimes in our own emotional responses. Someone attacks us – verbally or otherwise – our response is what? A counter-attack. The retributive impulses of the state are inscribed in our very emotional responses. The political reproduces itself through the personal. This is a feminist insight. A Marxist-inflected feminist insight, that perhaps reveals some influence of Foucault. This is a feminist insight regarding the reproduction of the relations that enables something like the prison industrial complex.

Now, we recognize, or we should recognize, the prison population could not have grown to almost 2.5 million people in this country, without our implicit assent.

And we don’t even acknowledge the fact that psychiatric institutions are often an important part of the prison industrial complex, not do we acknowledge the intersection of the Pharmaceutical industrial complex and the prison industrial complex.

But the point that I make is that – if we had mounted a more powerful resistance in the 1980’s and in the 1990’s during the Reagan-Bush era and during the Clinton era, we would not be confronting such a behemoth today.

We have had to unlearn a great deal over the course of the last few decades. We have had to try to unlearn racism. And not only white people. People of color have had to unlearn the assumption that Racism is individual – that is primarily a question of individual attitudes that can be dealt with through sensitivity training.

You remember, Don Imus called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” about five years ago. Five years later he’s rehabilitated! But of course this doesn’t compensate for the fact that Troy Davis is dead – his life claimed by the most Racist of all of our institutions, capital punishment. No amount of psychological therapy or group training can effectively address racism in this country, unless we also begin to dismantle the structures of racism.

And prisons, prisons are racism incarnate, as Michelle Alexander points out, they constitute the new Jim Crow. But also much more, as the lynch pins of the prison industrial complex, they represent the increasing profitability of punishment. They represent the increasingly global strategy of dealing with populations of people of color and immigrant populations from the countries of the Global South as Surplus populations, as disposable populations.

Put them all in a vast garbage bin, at some sophisticated electronic technology to control them and let them languish there. And in the meantime, create the ideological illusion that the surrounding society is safer and more free because the dangerous Black people and Latin@s, the Native Americans and the dangerous Asians and the dangerous White people and of course the dangerous Muslims, are locked up!

And in the meantime, corporations profit and poor communities suffer! Public education suffers! Public education suffers because it is not profitable according to corporate measures. Public health care suffers. If punishment can be profitable, then certainly health care should be profitable too. This is absolutely outrageous! It is outrageous!

It is also outrageous that Israel uses – the State of Israel uses the carcereal technologies developed in relation to U.S. prisons, not only to control the more than 8 thousand Palestinian political prisoners in Israel, but also to control the Palestinian population.

These carcereal technologies – for example, the Separation Wall, which reminds us of the Border Wall, the US-Mexico border wall – the separation wall and other carcereal technologies are the material constructs of Israeli Apartheid.

G4Syou know the organization… the corporation G4S which profits from the incarceration and the torturing of Palestinian prisoners – it has a subsidiary called G4S Secure Solutionsformerly known as Wackenhut. And just recently a subsidiary of that corporation – GEO Group which is a private prison company, attempted to claim naming rights at Florida Atlantic University by donating something like 6 million dollars, right? And, the students rose up. The said that, our football stadium will not bare the name of a private prison corporation! And the students won. The students won, the name came down from the marquee.

And so we can say – from California or Texas or Illinois to Israel and Occupied Palestine, and then back to Florida. But we should not have allowed this to happen. We should not have allowed this to happen over the last three decades. And we cannot allow it to continue today.

And let me say that I really love the new generations of young students and workers. Two generations removed from my own – they say sometimes revolution skips a generation. But that skipped generation has also worked hard! Those of you who are in your 40’s. And if you hadn’t done the work that you did, then it would not be possible for the younger generation to emerge. And what I like most about the younger generation is that they are truly informed by Feminism. Even if they don’t know it, or even if they don’t admit it! They are informed by anti racist struggles. They are not infected with the emotionally damaging homophobia which has been with us for so long. And they are taking the lead in challenging transphobia along with racism and Islamophobia. So I like working with young people because they allow me to imagine what it is like not to be so totally over-burdened with decades of oppressive ideology.

Now, I just have a couple more things to say. I know I’m over my time and I apologies. But… I just have one more page of notes. (laughter)

And so let me just say that Marriage Equality is more and more acceptable precisely because of young people. But, many of these young people also remind us that we have to challenge the assimilationist logic of the struggle for marriage equality! We cannot assume that once outsiders are allowed to move into the circle of bourgeoisie – the bourgeoisie hetero-patriarchal institution of Marriage, that the struggle has been won.

Now, the story of the inter relations between Feminism and Abolitionism has no appropriate end. And with this conversation we have just begun to explore a few of its dimensions. But if I haven’t come to the end of the story, I certainly come to the end of my time. So I want to let Assata Shakur have the last word tonight.

At this moment”, she wrote a few years ago, “I am not so concerned about myself. Everybody has to die sometime, and all I want is to go with dignity. I am more concerned about the growing poverty, the growing despair that is rife in Amerika. I am more concerned about our younger generations, who represent our future… ”I am more concerned about the rise of the prison-industrial complex that is turning our people into slaves again. I am more concerned about the repression, the police brutality, violence, the rising wave of racism that makes up the political landscape of the U.S. today. Our young people deserve a future, and I consider it the mandate of my ancestors to be part of the struggle to insure that they have one.”

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3 responses

  1. […] Davis, “Feminism and Abolition: Theories and Practices for the 21st Century” Beyond Capitalism […]

  2. […] “Feminism involves so much more than gender equality and it involves so much more than gender. Feminism must involve consciousness of capitalism (I mean the feminism that I relate to, and there are multiple feminisms, right). So it has to involve a consciousness of capitalism and racism and colonialism and post-colonialities, and ability and more genders than we can even imagine and more sexualities than we ever thought we could name.” — Angela Davis, “Feminism and Abolition: Theories and Practices for the 21st Century” […]

  3. […] in prisons; an epidemic for men. Historically, prison abolition has been a feminist cause and it is growing a strong following among feminists again in modern times. Other feminists have not wholly endorsed prison abolition, but work for decriminalization of […]

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