Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Last night, I fell in love with the way Angela Davis, pronounces every. damn. word. with a slight uplift at the end of her sentencesss-ssah. Some people are magnetic, even over z
oom. It's the small eccentricities –– like the gap in her smile, the parting of her hair when she tilts her head, the precision of her speaking –– that give off the unshakeable warmth of someone who knows herself.
T'was unreal: participating in an intimate virtual space of 8,000 along with two of the women who inspired my ongoing liberation. 50 Years of Imagining Radical Feminist Futures was the most lit, hopeful, and refreshing conversation I've heard in a while. Something about sitting in bed with the badass student organizers of the UC Davis Women's Resources and Research Center, Angela Davis (activist scholar and author of Are Prisons Obsolete?), and adrienne maree brown (amb, pleasure activist and author of the newly released book, We Will Not Cancel Us) on my lap seemed personal.
The intergenerational brilliance was hella invigorating. I mean, how many chances do we have to speak with these national treasures? And I love how they hyped each-other-and-their-crews-of-publishing-femme-scholars up (see below, Angela Davis holding amb's Pleasure Activism).
almost like texting a friend, adrienne maree brown replied mid-panel to a question in the chat, explaining why she uses all lower case, because:
she enjoys how the design appears visually
amb challenges automatically capitalizing the self as part of how capitalism stratifies and commodifies us, and
a word must prove itself worthy of capital...
Liberation is a big concept and also liberation is a daily practice. My practice began in large part because of these women.
Over the last 6 months, showing up for BLM LA and connecting with mutual aid organizers has been humbling. The experience has also blessed me with a new community of friends who I trust to hold me accountable, knowing we'd throw down for each other. More than ever, I am convinced that the Movement is the work of multiple lifetimes, so we better make it sustainable. In the meantime, why not leap a few generations forward if we can see that far ahead? That's why we need to talk about Abolition.
Back in March 2020, I was working alongside Reform LA Jails to pass Measure R Jail Reform + Sheriff Accountability in LA County (YEE WE WON 73% AYY). Abolition was still a new concept for me in the current-day-sense. I'd read about abolitionists in the context of slavery, but struggled to envision how to move towards a future free of prisons when we live with such constant violence. Via Instagram comments, I asked Patrisse Cullors (one of the Founders of Black Lives Matter, LA and International), where I should start in my process of un-learning.
She replied: "start with Angela Davis' Are Prisons Obsolete."
Davis teaches us that we have not always policed one another, nor do we have to. Punishment did not always include locking people away. There have been times and cultures where behavior-change and healing justice was the goal of accountability. But that is not the American Justice System. The current Police State is rooted in the need to make up for free labor from slavery, fed by the excess of the military-industrial complex, and reinforced by a Private Prison System that sucks entire communities into its maw. Especially disturbing for me was the chapter on how the Prison System creates Systemic Sexual and Physical Violence, not just within its walls, but as a pre-requisite for entry. Regular humiliation is just part of the admissions processing.
We don't have to live this way. This dehumanization is not necessary. But as Angela Davis argued last night, retributive justice has become so deeply engrained in our culture that we replicate their violent systems in our own lives. The State is working through us in Cancel Culture. Suddenly we are policing one another and deciding who is worthy of being treated like they have any humanity left. Dr. Davis touched the very real nerve: "why is it that when something bad is done to us do we have this intuition to hurt someone else?"
Furreal, why? It doesn't take away the pain.
amb asks, "what about cancel culture is satisfying?"
what if instead, we become scholars of belonging? what if we hold space for one another in a way where we can show up as our fullest selves? in order to create futures without prisons, we have to start living with one another in a way that makes prisons obsolete.
amb says it straight-up and honest:
"how do we work together to create something more compelling than hate and more compelling than greed?"
we need to imagine creating better forms of accountability that satiate our need for justice without treating people as disposable. it starts with how we live in community with one another every day.
Maurice Moe Mitchell of the Working Family Party says about Movement-building, "we need a low bar for entry and high standards once you’re in the door.” Policing the Movement will not save us. Being pretentious about "woke-ness" misses the point and is a lost opportunity to win people over to our side.
You know when Angela Davis tells us to chill out on the inter-group sniping, we should probably listen:
"I don't worry so much about co-optation of words. When even our enemies are taking up our language, it means that we are winning. And we just have to come up with more radical words."
What would it look like to live with the unwavering love and intention of adrienne maree brown and Angela Davis?
Not that these two women are perfect, nor should they be put on pedestals to fall off of. More, that they are human. Just like us, they wake up every day knowing they will make mistakes. And still they wake up...
pronouncing every. damn. word.