Creating Other Worlds: Abolition As A Portal To The Possible

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Many of us are familiar with the idea of abolition from history lessons that link it with the fight to end chattel slavery in the United States. However, given this association with the past, many of us fail to consider its importance in modern contexts, in our current movements for justice and in our everyday practice. We praise characters such as Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth, while failing to recognize that their work as abolitionists meant wholly challenging the world around them and the assumptions about its inevitability or “rightness.” This means that as we collectively grapple with big questions, carry out grassroots social justice experiments, attempt to reframe abusive legislative policies, and ponder future sustainability we’re often missing a big piece of the puzzle about what it will take to create true safety and peace for all, here and now. 

Because we have been intentionally lulled into a false sense of security about the current world order, the idea of abolishing the systems we’ve come to rely upon can create fear, incredulity and an overwhelming sense of impossibility. Who would I turn to if I can’t call the police? How will I provide for my family if I don’t take this job? How will I provide for my family if all the immigrants are taking our jobs? Why should I disturb my own comfort in order to ensure someone else’s? How will we get food and material goods if there is no oil-based global exchange of resources? How can we ensure our safety if we don’t have armies at the borders? I want everyone to be free, but Not In My Backyard! These systems are too big, too wealthy, too powerful to crumble! I’m just one person, I can’t make a difference! 

These doubts, sown directly into our minds by those who profit from our turmoil and tumult, cause many to turn away from the idea of abolition, to forsake the dream of freedom and self-determination, to overlook abolition’s roots in collective love and compassion, in hopes that somehow these systems which continually lead us into war, famine, destitution and poverty, illness and division, might someday actually provide what they tell us they provide (safety and security) and which they always fail to do. We don’t live in a world of unending war, massive global economic inequality, police brutality and mass incarceration, food and housing instability, environmental racism and degradation, and continued slavery because we haven’t figured out the right tweaks to this nightmarish neo-liberal capitalist dystopia; we are living this way because those are the things that keep this current system thriving. 

Capitalism requires us to mistrust one another, ignore the realization that we are all we need, deny that resources are abundant and that all creatures carry the same value, and reject that life could be about so much more than our productive capabilities because if we didn’t, this system would fail. If we didn’t have these doubts, there would be no way we could continue to support the desire to live under such crushing, violent, and greed based systems. 

And this is the piece of the puzzle that so many of us are missing, that makes so many of our fights seem unrealizable or unrealized because when you are focused upon total system change, true abolition, the stakes become much different. You are no longer fighting for a single issue or just against a system, you are also fighting for a new one, a new way of life, a new vision of the world. And that takes imagination, faith, trust, a willingness to try and fail and try again, a real commitment to seeing it through even if that extends past your own lifetime, in essence to become a revolutionary. 

And yet, even with what seems like the herculean task of system change, we witness in our own communities and in those across the globe, over and again, dedicated people carrying out small acts of resistance, pointing out the injustices, signaling their willingness to be a part of change, standing up against state sanctioned violence, enacting practices of collective care and resilience in their daily lives. They do so many times in isolation, sometimes in coalition, often at their own peril, always with a dream of freedom and peace in mind. 

This kind of revolutionary love is behind the work we feature in this edition of Riverwise. From youth lead organizations like the Young Voices Action Collective and Sanctuary Farms working to disrupt notions of isolation and create a thriving politic of mutual aid, to those like Muslims For Just Futures fighting to raise awareness about the links between Western imperialism, police brutality, militarization and the current genocides taking place in Palestine and Sudan (among others), there is a feeling in the air that there is no going back to hiding our politics in the capitalist sands as their violent beaches erode. 

We learn of local organizations like The Wisdom Institute & Detroit Respite working to instill collective healing, mentorship, and protection as fundamental to the values of trust building within community, and of those like Emergent Justice, Change Up, and The Detroit Jericho Project working to shift narratives and practices around incarceration in order to uplift true pathways to safety and security. And as always, our amazing visionary poets, artists, and musicians grab straight at our hearts as they reveal our deepest desires for recognition and transformation while providing us with the tools we need for restoration and resilience. 

As we witness genocide play out, live through catastrophic climate events, face the rising tide of fascism globally, it will be more important than ever that we lean into the lessons of abolition and lean into love. The work of our friends across the globe to push back and create change gives us strength, reminds us that we aren’t the problematic ones for continuing to demand change, fuels our resolve to carry the lessons of those who’ve come before us, and act now, in this moment, in whatever ways we can. This is the power and the practice of abolition, what makes it so scary to the powers that be, because it requires nothing more than the rejection of defeat, the embracing of what could be possible, the desire for everyone to live free, and the dedication to keep going until we get there. 

Ceasefire now! Ceasefire forever! Freedom now! Freedom forever!