“PIC abolition” is a historical framework of Black queer feminist antiracism that emerges as a praxis and critical discourse in the United States between the mid 1990s and early 2000s. It is a protracted mass approach and processual orientation to building a grassroots movement to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), formed within the political-discursive spectrum of what Joy James (2021) terms a “plurality of abolitionisms.” Critical Resistance, emerging first as an international movement in the late-nineties and later as a grassroots organization defines PIC abolition as “a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment.” Combining the mobilization of autonomous and proceduralist fronts, PIC abolition as a praxis works both toward eliminating the white supremacist carceral state’s capacity to criminalize and imprison, while in turn proactively creating community-based solutions to solving social problems. As longtime abolitionist and anti-violence community organizer Rachel Herzing describes it, PIC abolition’s grammar of motives is “not only ‘I want to eliminate imprisonment’ or ‘I want to eliminate the cops’ but an affirmative…practice. Affirmatively, this is the world I want to live in; therefore, I need to take these steps to create the conditions that make that world possible” (2016: 73).” PIC abolition is thus a struggle for very real material freedoms for historically oppressed peoples such as total freedom of movement, communal and individual self-determination, and respect of bodily integrity, as well as taking communist measures toward liberating access to food, water, health/medical care, shelter/housing, and so on.
Traceable to the synthesis of actions and ideas of imprisoned radicals and revolutionaries breaching the boundaries of punitive-carceral sites and the generalized assertion of (queer) Black women’s antiracist feminist activism and leadership in American Prison Movements between the late-1990s and early-2000s, PIC abolition emerges as a discourse and praxis out of historical necessity to interpret the terrain of an emergent movement across a multiplicity of sites and scenes, encompassed by a mass idiom. PIC abolition proposes a strategy of linking and combining together the numerous grassroots or otherwise autonomous movements against anti-Black/racial-colonial state violence and terror, while comprehending their interwovenness across and beyond sites of confinement through a radical Black feminist analytic of the “Prison Industrial Complex.” To paraphrase Ruth Wilson Gilmore, PIC abolition combines the already-existing while inviting the emergent.
A genealogy of early PIC abolitionist consciousness challenges contemporary American Prison Movements to reterritorialize their political-cultural imagination and augment their sense of “WHERE” struggles over carceral power should and can take place. One can trace the (proto-revolutionary) milieu of PIC abolitionist consciousness across three decades of struggle to understand 1) its particular multitendency political-intellectual foundations; 2) its rootedness in the Black radical tradition; and 3) as a particular Black feminist intervention in the spatial common sense of American Prison Movements which remain either fixed on struggles over of the form of the juridical-legal regime unto itself or fragmented in their conception of systemic carceral landscapes. I believe it is the ideas of Black women PIC abolitionists in particular—and a paradigmatic Black feminist antiracist consciousness in general—which in the 1990s creates the definitive leveler that breaks from outmoded schemas and limited cartographies of earlier epochs of the American Prison Movement. It is in the ways radical-to-revolutionary Black feminisms think multi-sited and mass in scales, seeing the macro in the micro, which is most urgent to take into consideration.
Although the term has been invoked since the 1970s and later by Los Angeles-based scholar activist Mike Davis in a 1995 article entitled “Hell Factories in the Field: a prison-industrial complex,” it was not until the late-1990s that the “Prison Industrial Complex” is qualitatively generalized by Critical Resistance and an emergent constellation of grassroots organizations as a shared keyword and unifying concept that grounded in the Black radical tradition in general, the concrete practical experience of Black women abolitionist intellectuals in particular, and traditions of Black feminist more broadly. At once queer, Black feminist/Womanist, and multi-tendency spanning anarchic to old-guard Marxist, Critical Resistance in their formative years experiment with a dynamically multi-sited and spatially novel orientation to abolition praxis which augments the very way movements against systemic state and interpersonal violence conceptualize and interpret the landscape in which they inhabit and the milieu in which they inherit, maneuver within, and continuously reinvent. The unique contradiction driving Critical Resistance’s formation is in particular this tension and ultimate entrenchment of an antagonism between the clear and objective reformist logic of the PIC’s apparatus of social reproduction. Also, at stake in the 1990s was the absence of any political counter-discourse capable of substantively asserting the abolition of gendered racial criminalization, carceral-police violence, and white supremacist domestic warfare as principle concern in the platform of white-dominated Leftist movements throughout the so-called global North.
As the existing literature makes clear: to document abolition praxis in the Black radical tradition is to map a trajectory that is constantly in formation and should be considered deeply historical. Defined by a collective movement and not a canon of individual thinkers, “PIC abolition” is not a program, formula, ideology, or agenda per se but as a horizon, a desire, an always dynamic process of envisioning and materializing revolutionary transformation. Definitions can and do change, as well as the content of changing political forms. Critical Resistance among countless others on local and broader regional scales sought to challenge existing approaches to prison praxis by dramatically revising the spatial-temporal common sense of penal abolition. Tracing the formative role of Critical Resistance as a medium for raising PIC abolitionist consciousness during the late 1990s, I suggest the “Prison Industrial Complex” is an analytical framework informed fundamentally by antiauthoritarian, Black feminist antiracist principles to describe a more workable human geography for an abolitionist movement to stage its emergent criticism and experimental praxis.
A world systems conception of terrain, the PIC-concept enables Critical Resistance in its formative years as a movement (and later as an organization) to engage not only in inside/outside prisoner solidarity activism but to draw connections between struggles at reified sites of U.S. prison captivity and counter-carceral struggles throughout various spheres of civil society and other punitive-institutional sites. In this historical context, the reified site of the “prison/jail” becomes understood in this late-1990s conjuncture as one nodal point linked up to a whole vast regime of militarized racial dominance formed across innumerable scales of carceral enclosure. PIC abolition is thus a “broad strategy” as the 2002 CR Abolition Organizing Toolkit explains. “An abolitionist vision means that we must build models today that can represent how we want to live in the future…It means living this vision in our daily lives. Abolition is both a practical organizing tool and a long-term goal.”
The importance is not that the scenes of abolitionist work distillate but in the fact that a movement with material teeth—in terms of generalizing an international community of resistance to the global U.S. Prison Industrial Complex—was emphatically articulated by Black (proto)feminist thinkers inside and outside of prison, across a range of social positions oriented toward anticarceral feminism, anti-imperialism, queer and trans liberation, and class war. Those theorizing this trajectory from the position of imprisonment are often what Joy James calls “captive maternals” (2016, see also James 2020). The PIC’s discursive-political frame describes not only an abstract landscape of oppression, but invokes the concrete and militarized structure of post-1970s racial capitalism through which paradigms for movement-building can counter-pose. PIC abolitionist consciousness is the result of a synthesis between imprisoned and formerly-imprisoned Black radicals and queer anti-racist feminists more generally, whose work maps various cartographies of survival, resistance, impasse, movement, and collective struggle within densely layered carceral landscapes. Significant here is the role of what sociologist Patricia Hill Collins (1990) calls “black feminist consciousness” in the resurgence of anti-prison activism in the United States on the one hand, and on the other hand a gathering storm of dissidence poised towards the abolition of a much broader carceral landscape than prior generations initially had formulated. And as I note, the role of imprisoned radical intellectuals and organizers is at base the foundational element for PIC abolition’s (proto-revolutionary) projectuality.
Recognizing the historical alterity in Critical Resistance’s “narrative-cartographic imagination” and noticing its intellectual discontinuity from prior embodiments of anticarceral opposition is important not only because this shifts the spatial-temporal sensibility of abolition praxis but also serves as a diagnostic tool and theoretical solution to a set of contradictions which during this centennial historic conjuncture appear to overdetermine movements organizing behind, across, and beyond prison walls. Black feminist perspectives on the contradictory nature of political struggle and organizing a mass movement thus remains an important component to consider. As longtime member of CR leadership Kai Barrow notes, abolition consciousness as encompassed by both artistic and scientific processes: “It requires organization and vision beyond the limitations and concessions offered by the State. It requires us to take the risk of challenging societal normatives in both our values and our actions. Like my ancestors, who took on this fight to end the violence of slavery, I am a Prison Industrial Complex abolitionist.” An examination Critical Resistance in this formative conjuncture of movement demonstrates the breadth and scope of liberatory coordinates that Black women in particular and Black, Third World, and Indigenous feminists in general began establishing by way of the “Prison Industrial Complex” and “PIC abolition” as the guiding dialectic to orient collective struggles against carceral-police and systemic interpersonal violence.
Looking at the contributions of Black women abolitionist intellectuals in the production of a movement geography and novel conception of abolition’s emergent cartography, one can thoroughly trace the continuity and discontinuity between this emergent radical-to-revolutionary milieu and the spatial-temporal common sense of related formations in American Prison Movements. An effort of historicization—as the basis for further theorization—is needed to define and defend PIC abolition in its holistic lineages and inheritances, and thus its accompanying historical responsibilities in the present. The importance in such a project is not only to affirm the historicity of the PIC as a concept that is connected to a movement and specific individuals and communities, although this is important for documentary purposes. In fact, the project of recognition is of little concern for those who are cited at all. It is an effort to rather understand the interpretative context of meaning in a social movement’s archive and thus terms must be understood as situated categories of analysis. The “Prison Industrial Complex” is a concept, but its prefigurative power consolidates through its honest description of the physicality of violence, as it is felt across all spheres of civil society and its underside, its animus based in a white supremacist penality and the organized ritualization of gratuitous antiBlack violence.
By theorizing key movement texts in the Black feminist milieu of PIC abolition that are produced under the name of Critical Resistance as first a “movement” (then second as “organization”), it becomes apparent that the sites and scenes of struggle in the imaginary of this emergent movement to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex are uniquely plotted and actively spatialized by members; internal contradictions are seriously taken into account to mitigate patterns disruptive to movement trajectory; while paradigmatic ideas seem to be revised and evolve quite rapidly over the first ten years of CR’s archive.It is important to consider how the cartographies of struggle envisioned by Critical Resistance during the latter 1990s is in fact generalized as a good sense social geography. That the concept of both the PIC and PIC abolition is translatable across space and circumstance is equally important to recognize. PIC abolition conceptualizes solidarity materializing most effectively by building complex oppositional power through a global sense of political “kinship” at the experiential “point of captivity” (Rodriguez) and that this kinship or “infrastructure of feeling” (Gilmore) is comprised behind, across, and beyond the walls of carceral punitive sites. The social-historical construction of the “Prison Industrial Complex”, and the extensive territory it occupies, can be understood as a landscape of underarticulated carceral structures, enclosures, and relations; however, it is not only a vacuum of totalizing domination but a concrete spatial-temporal schema for perceiving cartographies of survival, resistance, impasse, and other struggles over social power that take flight entering into this new centennial conjuncture. Clyde Woods and Katherine McKittrick consider the Prison Industrial Complex one component of the landscape that overdetermines the spatial politics of “Black geography.” (2007)
Woods and McKittrick provide a useful framework for examining this consolidation of oppositional forces that is the movement the abolish the Prison Industrial Complex in its imaginative reconstruction of literal and figurative terrain. According to this perspective, PIC and PIC abolition can indeed be classified as analytics of “Black geography.” McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle (2006) offers great analytical specificity on the political implications of Black feminism as a modality of rearticulating hegemonic modes of inhabiting and resisting gravely normalized carceral landscapes. (Also see McKittrick’s 2011 “On Plantations, Prisons, and a Black Sense of Place”.) For McKittrick, “black imaginations and mappings are evidence of the struggle over social space,” (9) and thus lead the scholar interested in charting the horizons of Black geographies must ask certain pointed questions of their methodology and assumptions about power moving into their research and study. McKittrick asks of what kinds of possibilities emerge “when black studies encounters human geography?” I am similarly interested in conceptualizing the elementary social aspects of PIC abolition through the prism of an “encounter” with Black Studies.
What is determinate of “Black politics” thus becomes the central question here, and unlocks a number of new means for grasping, in theory, the imprisoned Black radical tradition in its overlap with these new multi-sited structures of organization, intentional political community, and movement-building at the turn of the century. Following Joy James (2000), I differentiate this epistemology further by noting a distinction theoretically and in practice between “radical” and “revolutionary” black feminists and feminisms—and thus abolitionisms. James’ critique of Black feminism as a monolithic constellation expresses a desire for separation from racial capitalism and liberal democratic civil society, creating a radical point of reference for interpreting the movement to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex. James’ collected body of writings and edited volumes of incarcerated writers also provides a through line of criticism and self-criticism established over time by revolutionary Black/New-Afrikan feminist, Womanist, protofeminist articulations.
Key elements that I find within the discourse of early PIC abolition that qualify it as a “(proto-)revolutionary” elements of a broader liberationist trajectory include its essential Black feminist rearticulation of the American Prison Movement’s essential narrative framing of the prison as “ground zero,” which through the writings of revolutionary Black women in particular carve open up a horizon for abolition that does not enfolded itself back into the reified site/scene of the prison. Instead, PIC abolition in a Black feminist register takes and makes place in the contradictory spaces that we already inhabit. A white abolitionist conception of carceral space cannot fully comprehend the scale and scope of transformation needed without proximity to Black abolitionism. Black women’s geographic practices in particular lead traditional conceptions of prison abolition (often plagued by unmarked white universals) to new movement cartographies that may be mass-scaled and multiply-sited yet focus on the everyday mundane and quotidian level of resisting/surviving state violence.
PIC abolition—as popularized in the late 1990s—does not foreclose other modalities of abolitionism yet does still tolerate a relationship to incremental measures for acute short-term goals. However strategic, contingent, or ambivalent the relation may be, I am interested in theorizing valences of PIC abolition in excess of the proceduralist modality, while accounting for any counter-revolutionary aspects of its archive and foundational thought.
The capacity of PIC abolition as a prefigurative framework for mass movement-building is in its encompassing production of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2017) calls “abolition geographies.” PIC abolition as a methodology of naming both locates the coordinates of racist state terror and dominion which crystalize across multiple social scales as the Prison Industrial Complex, while simultaneously creating cartographic resources out of an experiential analysis of navigating interstitial and/or forged lifeways, the projecting of what Dylan Rodriguez (2020) calls “abolitionist futurity” onto a map of the dismal present.
It is important to understand first, before further outlining how the PIC has been popularized as a black feminist geography first necessitates understanding how this landscape of theorized carceral power in its social and racial position a “Black geography.” As Katherine McKittrick writes, Black thinkers: “insist on an alternative vantage point and therefore a different sense of how geography is, and might be, lived out. While the self-evident workings of transparent space have normalized uneven geographies… new or different geographic demands are always taking place. These demands not only document how displacement is differently lived out by black subjects on the ground, they also reify how the production of space, and the project of geographic exclusion, while unjust, can inspire a different kind of spatial politics.” (24)
Kai Barrow’s 2005 analysis in Swan Song, an internal document of CR that proposes a self-criticism of the organization in the first five years of the twenty-first century, is insightful in its explication of Black radical political-cultural spatializing process, which encompass and implicate a vast number of people across social and racial positionality with stakes in abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex:
Within capitalism, racism, patriarchy and heteronormativity, our desire for freedom is in constant opposition to condensed, restrictive, and rigid space. This has been particularly true in the communities where CR operates and where I have lived and worked. Subways, housing projects, courtrooms, the lack of public space and the control of what remains as “public space,” and the lack of money, work, housing, and healthcare, has created a people who are experiencing physical, spiritual, and mental harm.
As a member of these communities, I experience this harm. Internalized oppression drives us to inflict self-harm: abusive relationships, substance abuse, deadly eating habits… while simultaneously fighting the harm of the State: homelessness, hunger, toxic environments, the bombardment of images that cast us as inferior, and police violence. Yet within this oppressive space, we still fight to be free. This contradiction creates a “raw opposition” that is explosive. It can change the terms of a space.
As organizers, our challenge is to identify the nature of our raw opposition and build/create within the space between oppression and freedom. We are charged with entering the space of raw opposition with clarity, precision, and analysis, passion, energy, and generosity. In Black tradition, this is known as the “Cool.” Think Miles Davis.
We are challenged to develop shared strategy and principles. Power-sharing, confronting privilege, and building trust are central to this work. We are challenged to willingly participate in ongoing critique of our methodologies and outcomes—making adaptations where necessary and continuing to build upon our strengths.
We are also challenged to “reproduce” a future generation of organizers across racial, gender, sexual-orientation, class, physical/mental abilities, geographic location, age, cultural, and political boundaries. We are challenged to replace ourselves—share leadership in a responsible way, making space for “new” voices while integrating the knowledge and experience of the past. Yet, replication is complex because political, economic, and social contexts constantly shift and we want more than to simply mint newer versions of ourselves. We are challenged to draw upon collective abundance.
Acting from a place of abundance allows us to challenge scarcity. Collective abundance produces flexibility, creative problem-solving, and courage. I am reflecting here on the ways that the Black tradition models a practice of abundance. Without access to and control of resources, we have managed to pay rent, feed our families, send our children to college, and create hip hop.
We are challenged to utilize our agency in the service of our shared goals and charged with a demand for constant creativity, risk-taking, and self-determination. Agency is as empowering as it is messy. It helps us challenge the “cops in our head” or the complex ways we internalize power structures in our daily lives.
Additionally, we are challenged to foster a healthy culture of accountability and repair. Understanding that contradictions are integral to any process of change, we are challenged to construct a dialectical analysis. We are challenged to be fluid in our work, transparent about our mistakes, seek non-punitive methods of repair for the harms we both cause and survive, and willingly struggle to transform. This is not the work of a selective “we.” It is work that must be done by everyone.
To willingly and actively take on the challenges above, places one in this working group. This is work that demands a deep commitment to foment transformative revolutionary change within our individual selves and among our families, friends, communities, organizations, coalitions, and allies.
Thinking with McKittrick, alongside Barrow, illumines dimensions of the claim that early CR texts generated new sites of struggle to be inhabited and engaged. I argue that the “Prison Industrial Complex” in a PIC abolitionist framework is in fact operating as a “demonic grounds,” or workable terrain of abolitionist and thus true human praxis and an imaginative scene where transformation is both welcome and articulated as revolutionary opposition to. In her words a Black feminist geography recognizes how “new forms of life”, situated in “interhuman grounds (beneath all of our feet), can perhaps put forward a new worldview…” (135) The Black feminist geographic coordinates of Barrow’s Swan Song is an example of the insurgent grounds that PIC abolition maps; or at least abolitionism in its Black feminist anti-Prison Industrial Complex orientation towards social revolution. I think about the particular juxtaposition between the statements “our desire for freedom is in constant opposition to condensed, restrictive, and rigid space” and “our challenge is to identify the nature of our raw opposition and build/create within the space between oppression and freedom” to be particularly informative.
To borrow from McKittrick’s succinct phrasing, the “built environment” and “material landscape” are sites that are “intensely experiential and uneven, and deeply dependent on psychic, imaginary work.” (2) Sites of subjection are thus also scenes of subjection. Sites of resistance and also scenes of resistance. Building on the work of Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2007), McKittrick suggests that geographies of domination are “the displacement of difference” in which “particular kinds of bodies, one by one, are materially (if not always visibly) configured by racism into a hierarchy of human and inhuman persons that in sum for the category of ‘human being.” McKittrick notes Gilmore’s invocation of human and spatial differentiation as connected to the process of making place: “The displacement of difference does not describe human hierarchies but rather demonstrates the ways in which these hierarchies are critical categories of social and spatial struggle. Systemic practices of domination are necessarily caught up in a different way of knowing and writing the social world, which foregrounds the ‘geographical imperatives’, that lie ‘at the heart of every struggle for social justice. McKittrick argues in Demonic Grounds that the theoretical frameworks of [Angela] Davis and [Ruth Wilson] Gilmore show not only “the concealed spatial management of race/gender/class,” but also the ways “new geographic formulations are produced according to ‘normative views of how people fit into and make places in the world.’” (131) Put otherwise, new conceptions of human geography—and their movement expression as cartographies of struggle—emerge from resistance to dominant and residual forms of modern geopolitical dominance.
As racialized-gendered policing, criminalization, and incarceration define the current terrain responses from historically oppressed peoples, I believe Critical Resistance as a catalyst movement articulates in its earliest years a sense on futurity that presumes coordinates of systemic vulnerability to premature death and thus is able to name the spatial terms of engagement to combat the punitive and pedagogical reach of the white supremacist carceral state. If as McKittrick says “political contestations are also structured by psychic and physical geographies” (24), than I argue that the discursive framing term “PIC” as mobilized by Critical Resistance—with its fantastic and cognitive reterritorializing capacity—enables a vision of socially organizing methodologies that necessarily rearticulates extant geographic signifiers normatively presumed as objective limits and pre-conceived impossibilities.
To offer an examination of the foundations of PIC abolitionist thought is to invoke an historically specific political-intellectual milieu, movement trajectory, and cartography that overlaps yet also departs, in ways that are important to clarify for both scholars and activists alike, from the spatial-temporal common-sense of classical American Prison Movements. In 2000, Angela Davis explains for the audience of Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict, and World Order how there is absolutely no homogenous international prison abolitionist tradition, nor a history of cohesive movement that sufficiently challenged antiBlack/racial-colonial imprisonment and criminalization on a global scale. Nevertheless, there is a multiplicity and flowering of articulations of Black/anti-colonial penal abolitionism that are indeed worth mentioning as antecedents to contemporary abolitionist thought, and a trajectory of committed revolutionaries actively extending such articulation into the present. To directly quote Davis’ cursory archaeology of abolition’s epistemic conditions of possibility:
There are multiple histories of prison abolition. The Scandinavian scholar/activist Thomas Mathieson first published his germinal text, The Politics of Abolition, in 1974, when activist movements were calling for the disestablishment of prisons — in the aftermath of the Attica Rebellion and prison uprisings throughout Europe. He was concerned with transforming prison reform movements into more radical movements to abolish prisons as the major institutions of punishment. There was a pattern of decarceration in the Netherlands until the mid-1980s, which seemed to establish the Dutch system as a model prison system, and the later rise in prison construction and the expansion of the incarcerated population has served to stimulate abolitionist ideas. Criminologist Willem de Haan published a book in 1990 entitled The Politics of Redress: Crime, Punishment, and Penal Abolition. One of the most interesting texts, from the point of view of U.S. activist history is Fay Honey Knopp’s volume Instead of Prison: A Handbook for Prison Abolitionists, which was published in 1976, with funding from the American Friends. This handbook points out the contradictory relationship between imprisonment and an “enlightened, free society.” Prison abolition, like the abolition of slavery, is a long-range goal and the handbook argues that an abolitionist approach requires an analysis of “crime” that links it with social structures, as opposed to individual pathology, as well as “anticrime” strategies that focus on the provision of social resources. Of course, there are many versions of prison abolitionism—including those that propose to abolish punishment altogether and replace it with reconciliatory responses to criminal acts. In my opinion, the most powerful relevance of abolitionist theory and practice today resides in the fact that without a radical position vis-a-vis the rapidly expanding prison system, prison architecture, prison surveillance, and prison system corporatization, prison culture, with all its racist and totalitarian implications, will continue not only to claim ever increasing numbers of people of color, but also to shape social relations more generally in our society. Prison needs to be abolished as the dominant mode of addressing social problems that are better solved by other institutions and other means. The call for prison abolition urges us to imagine and strive for a very different social landscape. (Rodriguez and Davis 2000)
The international movement for PIC abolition—that is, the protracted revolutionary movement to abolish the global U.S. Prison Industrial Complex—emerges separate from the Eurocentric genealogies of penal abolitionism highlighted by Davis above. Mobilized as a dynamic multi-tendency constellation of radical and revolutionary collectives, grassroots solidarity networks, and other autonomous communities of struggle dispersed across an international landscape of domination and resistance, the movement to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex emerges between the middle 1990s and early 2000s as an experimental rejoinder to: the U.S. white-supremacist state’s acceleration of proto-genocidal anti-Black/racial domestic warfare, the compliance of Left/liberal penal reformism in the production of an hegemony of law-and-order, the wholesale incorporation of liberal-to-progressive feminisms and fascist elements of Woman’s, LGBT/Queer, Environmental and Disability Justice movements into the discursive structures of statecraft and policing, and the enigmatic ascendency of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls “industrialized punishment” (1997).
It follows essentially from the efforts of large-scale mass movement-building by the grassroots, counter-state antiracist and antiviolence formation Critical Resistance from 1997 onward, which would eventually become an organization multitendency in its elementary principles and projectuality however formatively and paradigmatically operating within a black feminist radical theoretical framework and cartography of anticarceral struggle. This nascent multitendency anticarceral insurgency, or more properly vast network of simultaneously emerging insurgencies (plural), would be led and to a materially, emotionally, and intellectually facilitated by proletarian-to-middleclass (queer) Black, Indigenous, and non-Black Women of Color’s theory and community-based anticarceral organizing projects.
While I am concentrating here specifically on a genealogy of PIC abolitionist consciousness mainly in the archives of Critical Resistance, an intellectual history of radical opposition to the prison industrial complex would be incomplete without conceptualizing the formation and political impact of such prison activist groups and solidarity networks as the Prison Activist Resource Center (PARC), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, Anarchist Prisoner Legal Aid Network (APLAN), a variety of Black/New Afrikan prisoner collectives (e.g. The National Jericho Movement), the North American Anarchist Black Cross, and the organizations and coalition behind “Transforming Justice” among others. To understand this decentralized constellation of REVOLUTIONARY ABOLITIONIST ACTIVITY in its fullest historical context, it might be helpful to synthesize our findings through the rubric outlined in Rustbelt Abolition Radio’s (2020) “Tasting Abolition,” which offers a description of three “flavors” (or modalities) of abolitionism: 1) autonomist, 2) insurrectional, and 3) procedural. What emerges during this period among interacting forms of struggle is the paradigmatic instantiation of what in common activist terms is regarded as the “proceduralist” modality of abolitionist praxis, but incorporates elements of an “autonomist” approach to abolitionist organizing community organizing at various times.
Longtime core member and field organizer Rachel Herzing in oral testimony remarks on this important reorienting need:
Back in the early 2000s, Critical Resistance started using a framework that a lot of people are using now, and almost never credit CR by the way (which I hope just means it has permeated the common sense and not that people simply don’t credit CR [laughter]). We started saying that the distinction between abolitionists and reformers (or people who either have abolition as their end goal or reform as their end goal) is that reformers tend to see the system as broken— something that can be fixed with some tweaks or some changes. Whereas abolitionists think that the system works really well. They think that the PIC is completely efficient in containing, controlling, killing, and disappearing the people that it is meant to. Even if it might sweep up additional people in its trail, it is very, very effective at doing the work it’s meant to do. So rather than improving a killing machine, an abolitionist goal would be to try and figure out how to take incremental steps—a screw here, a cog there—and make it so the system cannot continue—so it ceases to exist—rather than improving its efficiency. Whereas reformers, with criminal justice reform being their end goal, believe there is something worth improving there. So the groups have different end games.
Among other discontinuities at the end of the twentieth century, one key epistemic break from prior conditions of possibility that must be addressed before all else is the historical phase wherein national grassroots organizations like Critical Resistance begins to generalize a criticism of the in/outside narrative-cartographic dichotomy of American Prison Movements as a delimiting spatial framework for memorializing and envisaging the present-tense site(s) and scene(s) of insurgency and political struggle in the domestic geographies of opposition to the U.S. regime of imprisonment. Making this argument requires an examination of various historic “trajectories” (Omi and Winant 1986) of counter-hegemonic movement-building against the Prison Industrial Complex that do not necessarily operate according strict distinctions between “inside and “outside” but more so from a prior notion that carceral-police violence overdetermines all American social formation.
The concept and narrative framing of “American Prison Movements,” as historicized by Dan Berger and Toussaint Losier (see 2018, esp. 143-183), gives scholars an objective set of social relations (and thus a geography) to study which parallels an archival-memorial production that skews perspectives on strategy and tactics through a restrictive conceptualization of the sites and scenes of insurrection against incarceration and criminalization, and an inattention to certain temporalities and (dis)continuities of intellectual tradition. It is both a necessary framework to articulate the history of movements against incarceration from within, however it also is important to trace the ways this framework is departed from by the scales, trajectory, and horizon of the movement to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex. To upend visions of justice that remain anchored in penal sites is a core task of pedagogy; as well as the decentering of the “reified” site/scene of the prison, jail, and detention camp as the primary (or only) arena of struggle for counter-carceral movement-building. The intention behind my own historicization and theoretical situating of PIC abolition follows the very Black feminist abolitionist movement it documents, in its sincere efforts to de-anchor this closed notion of the “prison/jail” as a discrete and siloed domain of strategy and struggle envisaged for PIC abolitionists, while in turn combining the numerous “fragmented” struggles against the PIC that are emerging or already-exist.
Early iterations of a traditional “mass-based” approach to penal/prison abolitionist organizing in the United States are traceable to a period as close back-in-time as the thunderous rolling prison strikes of the early 1970s and in the wake of massacre repression at Attica Prison in update New York, the Black Panther Party’s transport programs for families visiting imprisoned loved ones and related fights by jailhouse lawyers and formerly incarcerated legal workers throughout this era to build a National Prisoner’s Union specifically in the United States and Canada. As Liz Samuels explains in the essay Improvising on Reality: The Historical Origins of Prison Abolition (2010): “In the mid-1970s, there were numerous calls and efforts to develop national organizations and a coordinated strategy to fight for prisoners’ rights, prison reform, and prison abolition. By the decade’s end, these calls faced limited support . . . owed, in part, to a combination of limitations within the prison movement and expanded policing and retributive legislation.” Important here is Samuel’s acknowledgement that by the mid-1970s abolitionists not only had already identified the limitations of penal reformism but began laying the ideological and organizing foundations of the movement to abolish the PIC in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. More recently, a springboard history of abolition feminisms from the 1970s and 1980s is impressed onto the pages of All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence (2019), this book reveals how some of the earliest articulations of penal abolition in a Black liberationist context came from the defense campaigns for criminalized survivors of gender-based terror and interpersonal violence who defend themselves against their abusers both intimate and embodied in the state.
The temporality and dominant narrative framing of American Prison Movements, as written by Berger and Losier suggest a downtick or “low ebb” in revolutionary activity across reified prison walls moving into the 1990s. My research shows otherwise in that the 1990s witness a thoroughgoing bloom of anti-carceral dissidence and insurrection, and a proliferation of collective confrontations with the prison regime: a simultaneous stream of prisoner self-activity and a constantly shifting assemblage of dedicated accomplices facilitating operations on multiple strategic social and institutional sites. What differs my analysis from the existing historiography of this period, I argue, is a recognition of competing misrepresentations. On the one hand, there is the intensified invisibility of prisoner resistance in both in public memory and personal retrospective analysis, and on the other hand a fragmentation of existing efforts to combat the ubiquitous machinery of racial-carceral power. One sees the limitations of perceiving the Prison Industrial Complex without naming it as such. Erica Meiners describes the phenomena of fragmentation as “focusing on one issue at a time, in isolation of its connections to broader systems of domination… We are forced to engage with a specific manifestation of the PIC in the immediate present, and often do not have the time to interrogate the conditions, contexts, or histories that produce individual crises we seek to respond to.” (2019)
Turning to the back catalogs of Prison News Service, the movement mosaic of The Real Prison Dragon Project, the diagnostic narrative of Elihu Rosenblatt’s anthology Criminal Injustice: Confronting the Prison Crisis (1995), the trajectory of the Black/New Afrikan prison movement as constructed in Chinosole’s edited volume Schooling the Generations in the Politics of Prison (1995), Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s “A Draft Proposal for a North American Anarchist Black Cross” (1994), and the web archive of Prison Activist Resource Center, sufficient evidence is provided to undo such conclusions. From here I find vital implications for scholars and activists who narrate contemporary American Prison Movements through patchwork timelines that bracket fifty years of shifting networks, strategies, and tactics with a provincial story of the 1970s and a resurgence of imprisoned peoples self-activity and organization in the present-tense. I would say this paradigmatic narrative of retrenchment can be undone by simply tracing the renewed commitments to radical and revolutionary organizing across prison walls that materialize on several different fronts in the 1990s, most dramatically by PP/POW defense committees, as well as in the Midwest with its long history of convergences led primarily by the movement to end control unit prisons.
Some elements of this amorphous network would eventually take on new form when disparate pockets of movement collectively sort over the span of roughly ten years into a singular—though not to be confused with homogenous, uniform, or nonconflictual—narrative-cartographic landscape and spatial-temporal schema of the “Prison Industrial Complex” and its protagonistic contrapuntality PIC abolition. I term this late twentieth century conjuncture a “discontinuity” and “scene departure” from the dominant narration of American Prison Movements to understand its implications for (proto-)revolutionary movement-building beyond the realm of state detention, encompassing struggles against policing, criminalization, and systemic violence in its interpersonal modes.
In recent years, a conjectural shift in paradigm and strategy has become apparent for grassroots articulations of the movement to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex. The present-tense political imagination of PIC abolition is characterized first by an emphasis on participatory defense campaigns for survivors of systemic state and interpersonal violence, and secondly by a reactivation of the non-imprisoned activist’s vital and necessary support (through solidarity, direct action, and mutual aid) for the “self-activity” and organization of incarcerated persons. My sketches here are an attempt to better understand the historical, epistemic, and political-intellectual contexts of emergence that preceded these current day political forms.
While there are numerous aspects of PIC abolition as a project, theoretical framework, and practical methodology that are contradictory and indeed even internally conflictual and antagonistic, I am interested in aspects of theoretical and ideological continuity within this specific iteration of the Black radical tradition because it reveals much about the way scholars and activists impress a reading of white humanist antagonisms onto a complex fabric of Black politics. My level interest in discontinuity presents itself mainly in the study of PIC abolition as an emergent vision and strategy that urges a rupture and analytical break from the discursive structure of American prison movements which posits the carceral state as a centralized apparatus, which in turn serves to bolster a spatial-common sense in anticarceral movements that is fragmented, ahistorical, and pre-figuratively delimiting in its incapacity to holistically analyze both the conditions of imprisoned or noncaptive abolitionist agency as it relates to social geography as it actually exists. I am therefore interested in generating a deeper historical understanding of the analytical constructs which in turn requires a theoretical engagement with geography, landscape, and terrain. By focusing on the formation and political impact of Critical Resistance’s narrative-cartographic imaginings and re-articulation of abolition’s inherited spatial common sense, I see this discursive project in its flowering bloom lends impetus to a broader shift in abolitionist praxis toward a methodology of iconoclastic demystification and discursive-material re-spatialization of existing cartographic frameworks. The “Prison Industrial Complex” in this milieu emerges as an analytical framework forged out of historical necessity (and informed fundamentally by antiauthoritarian, Black feminist antiracist principles) to employ descriptively, a more workable human geography for counter-carceral insurgency to stage its criticism and experimental praxis.
In a 2001 essay, entitled “Race, Gender, and the Prison Industrial Complex: In California and Beyond,” Angela Davis and Cassandra Shaylor describe how a “myopic focus on private prisons in activist campaigns” serves to legitimize public (that is “state”) prisons by default. Davis and Shaylor argue for a descriptive framework that instead encompasses all sites and scenes of criminalization and incarceration as interarticulated and composing a “far-reaching Prison Industrial Complex”—a more holistic and thoroughly anti-systemic understanding of the global punishment industry. This particular shift in the geographic analytics, intended to guide collective action for a growing grassroots movement in the years to come, takes place primarily in the pedagogical initiative of generalizing the “PIC” as a specific and easily communicable geographic political concept—a description of the existing societal-punitive infrastructure and militarized landscape of antiBlack and white supremacist carceral dominion.
Rather than a discrete institutional formation or modal unit in the study of political economy, the Prison Industrial Complex, as conceptualized by Davis and other members of Critical Resistance is a rigorously theorized and popularly implemented analytical “scale” that accounts for
economic and political structures and ideologies, rather than focusing myopically on individual criminal conduct and efforts to “curb crime” …. The notion of a prison industrial complex… insists that the racialization of prison populations—and this is not only true of the United States, but of Europe, South America, and Australia as well—is not only an incidental feature. Thus, critiques of the prison industrial complex undertaken by abolitionist activists and scholars are very much linked to critiques of the global persistence of racism. Antiracist and other social justice movements are incomplete with attention to the politics of imprisonment.
What qualifies Critical Resistance as our interlocutor and archive, for the time being, is how in its formative years the organization prioritizes a trajectory of struggle that explicitly coheres in the historical material and geographic context of the “Prison Industrial Complex.” The CR Abolition Organizing Toolkit defines the PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX as
the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social, and political problems.
Through its reach and impact, the PIC helps and maintains the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and similar privileges. There are many ways this power is collected and maintained through the PIC, including creating mass media images that keep alive stereotypes of people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, etc. as criminal, delinquent or deviant. This power is also maintained by earning huge profits for private companies that deal with prisons and police forces; helping others earn political gains for “tough on crime” politicians; increasing the influence of prison guard and police unions; and eliminating social and political dissent by people of color, poor people, immigrants, and others who make demands of self-determination and reorganization of power in the US.
All these things are parts of the PIC….
The geopolitical instrumentality of the “PIC” as analytic puts into scale, scope, and philosophical focus not only the normalized ubiquity of anti-Black and white supremacist paramilitary carceral-police technologies, but the disciplinary rules and practices and practices of the policing apparatus. It also is an analytic that names a diagnosis of the protocols and cultural structures that U.S. democratic nation-building makes compulsory in its assertion of (white) national (racial) dominion over targeted populations who themselves are often consciously resisting, finding and creating pockets opposition to systemic violence. And its discursive instrumentality as a practice rooted in the Black political-intellectual position of “radical prison praxis” that seems to diagnosis relations of power that exist beyond narrow confines of white economistic and/or singularly “race-centric” conceptions of causality in scholarship on anti-Black criminalization and incarceration.
As a political-economic concept, the “prison-industrial complex” imitates (and discursively intimates) the sociologically specific concept of the “military industrial complex,” while clarifying the MIC’s domestic articulations and carceral social form. Co-founding member of Critical Resistance Linda Evans and her partner Eve Goldberg in the formative years of this movement write extensively on the PIC’s political-economic dimensions, as well as radical geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore. Gilmore is a co-founding member whose theoretical groundwork on prison expansion between the 1970s and 1990s as a “geographic response to political-economic crises, organized by the state, which itself is in crisis” is a core feature of CR’s approach to conceptualizing “surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social, and political problems.” Gilmore’s consequential theorization of prison regime expansion should be clarified as originating not only from her work with Critical Resistance nor the early-2000s radical Prison Moratorium Project, but from her intimate participatory research and committed solidarity with the proto-abolitionist formation Mothers Reclaiming Our Children in the late 1990s, a group of women of similar class belonging who came to realize that the individual struggles of their own personal incarcerated loved ones disappeared, punished, and killed by the state all are connected within the same geography of carceral-police (and intracommunal) violence.
The Prison Industrial Complex is also theorized by founding members of Critical Resistance as an inextricably gendered regime of violence. As Julia C. Oparah (2005) notes, in her Black feminist classic Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex: “Scholarship on the political economy of prisons has been critical important in revealing the role of the state in labeling, policing, and punishing poor and racialized communities. However, this work has all too often pursued a gender-blind approach…[T]he locations of women of color at the intersection of overlapping and mutually constitutive systems of oppression provide a unique and important viewpoint.” She notes that while Davis’ work insists on mapping the complicated relation between “the expansion of gendered and racialized punishment and the transformations signaled by the globalization of capital.” Combining the study of “women in prison” with imprisoned women’s ideas and “theoretical insights of transnational [Black] feminist scholarship on the gendered impacts of globalization,” Oparah argues the Prison Industrial Complex is a globalized formation that manages social reproduction for gendered racial capitalism.
Within this radical-to-revolutionary Black feminist milieu, the Prison Industrial Complex emerges in the critical vocabulary and frameworks of Critical Resistance best described as a symbiotic and mutually constituting set of institutional and historical relationships that dynamically link “private” business and U.S. government/state (or “public”) apparatuses together in mass-based projects of criminalization, policing, and human imprisonment. This concentrated formation of militarized racial dominance is in its turn contextualized by variable forms of anti-Black/racial-colonial domestic warfare, declared and undeclared international wars, and the structures of global empire. (cited from author’s personal notes).
In this theoretical and geopolitical context, abolitionist counter-carceral insurgency must not only be multi-sited but mass-scale in its strategies and tactics, but radically decentralized, non-competitive, and anti-hierarchical in its desired social structures, organizational models, and paradigmatic lifeways. As Angela Davis makes clear in Are Prisons Obsolete?: “[R]ather than try to imagine one single alternative to the existing system of incarceration, we might envision an array of alternatives that will require radical transformations of many aspects of our society. Alternatives that fail to address racisms, male dominance, homophobia, class bias, and other structures of domination will not, in the final analysis, lead to decarceration and will not advance the goal of abolition.” (108)
PIC abolition’s approach to seeing carceral space differently results from a poetics of landscape that is also informed by the ideas of imprisoned radical intellectuals in tandem with this broader proto-revolutionary respatializing orientation and combined-fronts approach of PIC abolitionist consciousness. That is, PIC abolition’s situated context of emergence is the Black radical tradition (Wilson 2020), albeit certain distinct contradictions and antagonisms. As Joy James (2020) writes:
It is difficult to define the “Imprisoned Black Radical Tradition” (IBRT) if it is enveloped by the “Black Radical Tradition” (BRT). The latter is often tethered to academic texts. Also, differences in ideologies and strategies can be ill-defined if both phenomena—IBRT and BRT— are referenced in the singular, not in the plural (e.g., “Black feminism” as opposed to “Black feminisms”). It is easier for a hegemonic (Black) left—if such an entity exists—to shape definitional norms if IBRT is presented as a unitary formation. Using the standard nonplural, I see IBRT as fluid, multi-layered, and aligned with BRT. The two have always co-existed and overlapped. They produced extraordinary leadership against the atrocities of chattel slavery, convict prison leasing, Jim Crow, COINTELPRO, mass incarceration, medical neglect and experimentation. Despite the constant wars we face— including President Nixon’s attempt to crush dissent by fabricating a “war on drugs” through unions we are able to build the capacity of our traditions.
The imprisoned Black radical tradition remains central then in the trajectory of this genealogy, yet this rootedness is often overlooked or neglected by scholars and activists alike. However ineffective this effort plays out in a long-term trajectory has had less to do with limitations in the foundations of its theoretical framework and more to do with, as Barrow (2005) insists, various iterations of the organizational leadership’s irreflexivity to “individualism, liberalism, and lack of planning.” The rootedness of PIC abolition in the knowledge production and an intimate communion with incarcerated radical intellectuals and activists is important to take note.
Posing the question of abolition’s historical relationship to the Imprisoned Black Radical Tradition, writings from the first Critical Resistance conference in 1998 one sees the emergent visions of abolition to not only prioritize imprisoned people but families and loved ones positioned in the prison class. 1998 is a year marking a substantial proliferation of convergences from marches to conferences, and merging not only of non-imprisoned activists. These organizing efforts can be traced back to an urgency galvanized post-“Crime Bill” denaturalization of antiBlack genocide and warfare, an urgency itself given its spark from a decentralized and broad-based apparatus of intellectual, legal, and culture workers whose pedagogical influence can- not be taken for granted. Convergences on the outside that year included Jericho 98 March for political prisoners, the first Black Radical Congress, Critical Resistance’s first national conference in Oakland, the CR ‘98 pre-conference in Colorado.
For our purposes, it is well worth acknowledging that the first gathering of Critical Resistance, then only conceptualized as a movement rather than an organization, a supplemental pamphlet, entitled “Political Prisoners Write Critical Resistance”. In fact, the opening plenary began with a packed auditorium chanting “Hands Off Assata!”
From the pamphlet, ideas offered by Black Panther Party/Black Liberation Army political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim are particularly striking in his capaciousness of use of the PIC-concept. For Muntaqim, the PIC structures an approach to abolitionist consciousness raising in a way that elucidates a fundamental contradiction of fragmentation and cites the far-reaching struggles initially envisaged to be woven together into a workable movement terrain.
The [Critical Resistance] conference should be endorsed by all progressive and revolutionary minded people, and conferees should be called upon to forge an agenda based on the following issues:
1. Recognition of the existence of political prisoners in US prisons, and demand their amnesty/release.
2. Call for a moratorium on prison construction, and demand that persons working in the areas of criminal justice (judges, attorneys, corrections personnel, politicians, etc.) are prohibited from investing in prisons or in corporations, investing in prisons.
3. Call for the end of death penalty laws and a moratorium on executions.
4. Call for the end of isolation-sensory deprivation prison/units, and the prohibition of the use of instruments of torture and the beating of prisoners.
5. Call for the re-establishment of higher education and training programs in all state and Federal prisons. These five issues are the minimum concerns that need to be addressed immediately, in so doing this conference will serve to develop a foundation for a serious struggle to end human rights violation and prison slavery in America.
In the above passage, Muntaqim lists the variety of fragmented struggles that were becoming noticeable as not only an industrial complex but in fact the historical extension of a regime of organized ritual gratuitous violence that present day literary and cultural theorist Saidiya Hartman conceptualizes as the “afterlife of slavery.” Echoing James and Muntaqim is Russel Maroon Shoatz, who in the conference pamphlet further argues any abolitionist movement must “recognize our need to more effectively link our efforts with those of the grass-roots poor and oppressed peoples efforts to combat the racist, imperialist criminal “just-us” system(s) and their growing “Prison Industrial Complex(es).” Shoatz goes on to write:
the center of gravity; the center of power rests with organizing the “immediate families” of the hundreds of thousands of oppressed prisoners being held captive. Those who have already taken action to force their immediate concerns to the forefront of the political debate, especially the families struggling against the various mandatory minimum sentencing laws, struggling against their relatives’ receiving the death penalty and being executed, against the unjust cocaine sentencing laws, against the cut-backs in the hard-won, family-oriented prison programs of the last generation, against the efforts of the right-wingers to lock their children away with no provisions for their rehabilitation, against the growing crisis presented by the ever-increasing imprisonment of women, and the immediate ripple effect amongst their offspring and relatives, and the myriad issues and concerns that forever plague loved ones who attempt to remain close to those behind bars.
Shoats statement parallels Muntaqim’s conception and expands upon the materiality of the very people who a movement to abolish the prison industrial complex must be composed of. Paired with Muntaqim’s analysis and the writings and art of several other imprisoned radical intellectuals, Shoatz’s ideas reveal two contradictions in the formation of the movement to abolish the PIC that are worth mentioning. That is, if we are to consider PIC abolition, and the formation of CR in the context of the imprisoned Black radical tradition as well as a break from traditional geographic paradigms in American Prison Movements. First there is an emphasis on the urgency of “organizing the ‘immediate families’ of the hundreds of thousands of oppressed prisoners being held captive,” which speaks to Shoatz and likely every contributor’s perspective in “Political Prisoners Write Critical Resistance.” This means, second, the Prison Industrial Complex is the descriptor of a concrete social context experienced as a system in everyday life. Third the geographic coordinates both thinkers together lay out communicate a complex theorization of “scale” which sets the scene for theory and organizing methods historically specific to a cartography of struggle articulated in the Black radical tradition.
The Black feminist framework modeled in the formative years of Critical Resistance establishes in its formative moments a departure from narrow and outmoded paradigms of American Prison Movements. A genealogy of PIC abolition through the frame of CR’s impetus and initial abolitionist geographies make visible the multiplicity of methods of resistance to the Prison Industrial Complex that operate outside the tradition framework of prisoner solidarity activism only legible in static binary terms. The approach seeks to draw connections between struggles over social power and to situate counter-carceral struggles throughout various spheres of civil society and carceral sites beyond the prison. Over time, in this political-discursive context, the reified site of the “prison/jail” is generalized as one nodal point connecting a whole vast regime of militarized racialized-gendered dominance, formed across what are in all likelihood innumerable scales of carceral enclosure. Building on such premises, I believe that as “PIC abolition” comes into fruition as a mass concept in the late-1990s/early-2000s, groups like Critical Resistance begin conceptualizing the inside/outside binary as a delimiting spatial framework for envisaging the site(s) and scene(s) of counter-carceral movements. Though it is very well “ground zero,” this is only because the power relations of the prison regime if paradigmatic of American social formation. What trajectories and possibilities for grassroots movement-building might be enacted when abolitionists decenter their understanding of the inside/outside binary, and thus the reified category of the U.S. prison/jail, as the sole fulcrum of struggle in movements to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex? What novel orientations to space and time and approaches to praxis are produced in these moment of geographical and historic discontinuity from prior traditions of the American Prison Movement in one instance, and the broader terrain of mass struggle in another?