Below is a direct copy and pasted reproduction of an essay i came across on the Anarchist Black Cross Network website, using the archival website “wayback machine.” The original link is part of a broad array of literature that is still to this day digitally accessible at the following link:

Liz Appel incisively breaks down the lingering reformism in the abolitionist movement at the turn of the 21st century with a sharp commentary that ranges from a review of popular literature, to analysis of the power dynamics at play between state and social movements, and the contradictory nature of proceduralist approaches to abolition. The idea that prison abolition can happen without the total abolition of state and capital is a liberal mythology argues Appel. Below is her critical essay reproduced in its entirety.

Race, Culture and Incarceration by Liz Appel


This paper seeks to place specific texts, authors, scholars, and activists under a political microscope, differentiating among reformist, abolitionist and revolutionary ideologies. Obviously the act of classification is problematic and can often be counterproductive; however, in critiquing the politics of different people and their respective works, arranging texts within broader ideological categories facilitates a greater discussion about the foundation, representation, interpretation, and embodiment of the politics themselves. This is not to say that the politics of each text is clear cut, or that irreconcilable tensions do not exist. All of these aspects are important to tease out in establishing a better understanding of how politics operate and are often contradictory in discourse and action.

The dominant mainstream player on the “left” is the reformist, whose nonthreatening politics strive to create the most all-encompassing, broad based movement. As reformist politics strive to create the most all-encompassing, broad-based movement, this is the mainstream, nonthreatening dominant player on the left. Those with more radical beliefs are often detached from their ideological base(s) when struggling with or acting in coalition with a group that works underneath and with respect for the State. Prison “activism” has taken center stage in current liberal politics, and the danger of coopting messages of radical transformation and abolition are not to be discounted. The bulk of this paper will critique reformist texts/activist strategies/intellectuals for their lack of race-based analyses of incarceration and their unquestioning allegiance to the State, thus perpetuating the very institutions whose external symptoms they attempt to bandage.

I will also argue that abolitionist politics, although more “progressive” than reformist ideology in its critiques of the State, still falls short of the mark in not prioritizing a need for a fundamental transformation of society. Whereas abolitionists might want to tear down State structures, other manifestations of the State will continue to appear in place of the old. Therefore, working towards the end of prisons without placing it within the context of capitalism, white supremacy, and racism, one’s efforts are counterproductive. All too often, so-called abolitionists create a self-fulfilling prophesy in their efforts to destroy specific sites of the State rather than the State itself.

Considering these definitions of reformist and abolitionist politics, revolutionary politics necessarily requires not only a critique of the State, but the entire obliteration of the source. If this source remains in tact, structured inequality and systematic marginalization of certain sectors of society will also hold form. For many who seek end an end to injustice and oppression, this language is extremist and alienating. For others, (I would argue that this specifically applies to people in contained and isolated environments, like the college campus), this kind of language is novel, and removed from any context or oppressed population. It is often overly-intellectualized, theorized, and made solely into a disconnected empty discourse. Revolutionary movements in the United States have been repressed by State violence and erased through State ideology. Thus, for most people, the idea of revolution is just that. Abstract and often removed, revolution has been skewed. In my opinion, many students, activists, and scholars alike are quick to spout revolution but often digress to reformist tendencies.

In thinking about the different conceptualizations of freedom, perhaps we can begin to see these various ideologies play out. The idea of freedom is not a static concept, but rather something that has been constructed to hold various meanings. To reformists, those currently incarcerated are living in a state of unfreedom, and everyone not detained by the State is “free”. To many abolitionists, people incarcerated throughout history have existed in shackles. The interrogation of the State’s fundamental role in this phenomenon is still limited. However, to those embracing revolutionary politics, I would argue that they believe that, to a certain extent, everyone exists in a state of unfreedom in a society founded upon racism and inequality, (although some are certainly more unfree than others). For example, there are marginalized groups that exist on the outside of prison walls who are subjected to similar forms of surveillance and racist policing regimes as those who are warehoused within. Therefore, a revolutionary critique of the prison system would argue that external carcerals exist, thereby blurring the barriers constructed by the State. Because the prison population continually in flux, the racialized body is always at risk of incarceration and therefore is policed in both prisons as well as external carcerals. Thus under this model, in order to achieve true freedom, one must necessarily surrender the “rights” of a “free” individual and put oneself at war with the State.

It is essential to deconstruct the State’s methods of transmitting information to its populace, as well as the information itself, in attempting to understand why revolutionary rhetoric is interpreted as extremist, even in most “activists” circles. One sector to investigate is the public education system, whose primary function is to legitimize the State and thus, not hold it the government accountable for any wrongdoings. Therefore, State utilization of public education becomes a powerful tool of domination. The State continues to reproduce itself through the ideological interpellation of its “populous” starting, for many, as early as two or three years of age. What a silent, seemingly nonconfrontational weapon, to reproduce generations of people who are trained to think and act only as individuals with “free” choice and the “right” to self-determination, that well-being is based on material consumption, to never question the authenticity of the State, and that the status quo is in fact, fixed.

When focusing on the criminal justice system, specifically, the State has been almost flawless in its utilization of the media and other “popular” sources, in its ability to mass produce ideas about “crime” and criminality. The State in its perpetuation of white supremacy and racism, must necessarily promote large-scale fear of the racialized body as criminal: “The principal contradiction between oppressor and oppressed can be reduced to the fact that the only way the oppressor can maintain his position is by fostering, nurturing, building contempt for the oppressed” (Georgia Jackson Freedom Archives). In the educational space, speech is often only for the sake of speech itself, thus reproducing empty words. The educational atmosphere is systematically detached from society so that speech and ideology need not inform and incite action. Thus even the select minority who are equipped with the tools to think critically often do not use them to fight, as the oppressive atmosphere of isolation creates apathetic and lethargic attitudes. One is trained place such high value on comfort and safety so that it any action is stifled by mental paralysis. Interrogating the State and theoretically calling for a destruction of that State in the educational space is safe because there is no responsibility to follow through with action.

Race and the State are two central players that seem to disappear in reformist politics. In marginalizing race from ideology, the reformist is necessarily reinforcing the white supremacist hegemonic structures of the State. Being uncritical of racially coded words perpetuate the racist assumptions upon which this country was “founded”. Making race central to one’s argument, therefore, must be a conscious and deliberate act of defiance. Reformers many times choose not to include race or point to it as fundamental to their argument. This is often because there is a privilege to make this choice. Because white reformists are not racialized, they have the freedom to think about race when it is convenient. Also, many reformists, although aware of injustices, still buy into the State’s propaganda that racism is only individual, not structured into social institutions.

As mentioned previously, also absent from a reformer’s arguments is a critique or questioning of the State itself. That is, reformers choose to work under the guise of the State. Whereas they may fight some of its obvious excesses and flaws, the State itself is always legitimized and remains fundamentally uninterrogated. This points back to larger questions of freedom and from what framework people choose to operate.

In One Dies, Get Another, Matthew Mancini exposes the convict-lease system for its blatant horrors. Whereas the importance of this project is not to be disregarded, the framework from which Mancini writes is highly problematic. Mancini’s arguments become fatalistic. That is, in his attempts to over-emphasize the horrendous atrocities of the convict-lease system, he decontextualizes this practice from slavery, a system of genocide, racism, etc. By creating an image of the convict lease system as an aberrational phenomenon, it becomes difficult to link it to other State creations. Mancini attempts to completely isolate the convict-lease system as a separate incident detached from its historical context, in which lynchings (at their height in the late 1800’s/early 1900s), other forms of racial violence, and race-based discrimination in the forms of housing, education, suffrage, and jobs were all prevalent. In fact, due to Mancini’s lack of acknowledging the convict-lease system as a manifestation of State sanctioned violence, very few options to abolish this system appear.

It is interesting to note how a book closely detailing the convict-lease system could so blatantly exclude race from its discourse. Obviously texts that focus on political economy can also make race central to their argument. Mancini, however, does not make this important link and therefore negates the role of racism and white supremacy in the very construction of the convict lease system itself. Mancini’s (neo)liberal politics are evidenced by his inundating readers with arguments distinguishing the convict lease system from slavery or any other State construction: “A more conclusive difference arises when one considers the slaves’ status as radically dishonored beings, a standing linked to their condition as outsiders. Before emancipation slaves might not have been a part of “society”, but Reconstruction endowed the freedmen with the status of citizenship” (Mancini 21). This argument is completely arbitrary and in my mind, false. Citizenship does not translate to being considered normative, and certainly whites have “radically dishonored” blacks and other people of color since they “achieved” citizenship.

In focusing on the many differences in racist phenomenon throughout history, it becomes increasingly difficult to make linkages among them and understand each particular project as a manifestation of the State itself. Race has always been endemic to incarceration, but these historical connections are necessary to expose the fallacy of the State.

Mancini demonstrates that although this system was abhorrent, it could have only been stopped through the “action” of wealthy white males, who are not called to action by any moral appeal, but rather by the interest of their own pockets: “It was not until the system lost its profitability to the lessees that it was finally abandoned” (Mancini 226). Mancini absolves these political actors of any accountability to the conditions of those living under the convict-lease system. Thus in Mancini’s model, exploitation, racism and deep seated State oppression can continue to exist — Black and other racialized bodies may not be controlled and policed under the convict-lease system but other forms of domination will certainly rear their heads: “Southern prison reform was essentially a reallocation of forced labor from the private to the public sector — from leasing to chain gangs to prison farms” (Mancini 221).

Mancini gives scant attention to forms of popular resistance. At best he often mentions the work of white “humanitarians”, especially Julia Tutwiler, a teacher in Alabama who made appeals on behalf of the prisoners for reforms. Yet even she never questioned the role of the system itself. His mention of the worker-prisoner solidarity, in addressing the coal miners’ action of liberating the prisoners, is important in that workers supported the prisoners rather than viewed them as enemies responsible for driving down wages and in competition with their jobs. However, this seems to be an isolated incident and is not tied to anything larger. Most problematic in Mancini’s (lack of) discussion of resistance is his total exclusion of the prisoners themselves. Of course, in a system of domination and oppression, there was little room for choice. However, giving the convicts no agency in objecting to their situation is not only disempowering but disregarding and silencing voices of resistance.

If these texts are to serve not only as important historical documentation but also as a call to action, then what is to be said for the message of One Dies, Get Another. Under this rhetoric, Black people and other marginalized groups are supposed to wait for rich white men to restructure the systems of power which dominate them or hope that white women will be called to advocate for their well-being by a sense of morality and sensitivity. Or, in the rarest of incidents, if they were really lucky, fellow laborers may come to liberate(save) them.

Similarly, many of the articles in Part I of States of Confinement subscribe to a reformist notion of change. In Robert Meeropol’s essay, “Testimony”, the focus is again drawn away from the State. Lines are instead drawn, distinguishing innocent from guilty. Much of the prevalent discourse in anti-death penalty organizing rests upon these divisions. This thereby reinforces the criminalization of marginalized sectors of the population. The dominant argument against the death penalty in the country today points to its imperfection when put into practice: “Obviously, there is no room to correct the execution of an innocent person, and because no human system is mistake free, mistakes are inevitable. That means that innocent people will be killed, and most people don’t want this to happen” (Meeropol 5). That is, for many, giving the State the ability and responsibility to take life from its “people” is often not a controversial issue. The fact that many have been “wrongly” murdered by the State is what calls people to action.

Many fighting the death penalty do not object to those who have been “correctly” convicted by the State, believing that they are, in fact, deserving of such heinous punishment. However, the idea that “innocent” members of society are being put to death becomes the galvanizing tool. This argument falls under the very notion of individualism that the State wants its “members” to perpetuate. Rather than understanding the death penalty in structural terms and linking it to historical examples of State sanctioned executions, Meeropol seems to parallel Mancini in isolating one aspect of the criminal justice system from its larger context, thereby reinforcing notions of criminality, “guilt”, and racism.

Snitch, a film recently screened in class, subscribes to the “liberal” language of reform in its critique of the criminal justice system’s use of informers in “catching criminals”. This Frontline special on PBS in many ways sensationalizes this phenomenon, again analyzing it as an entirely separate entity from the criminal justice system or State itself. Although important information highlighting the flaws of the government is presented, no linkages are made nor are any alternatives presented. Instead, the producers intend to leave viewers outraged at the snitches themselves, rather than the system created to turn marginalized people against one another. This is similar to the divisive tactic Meeropol uses in distinguishing the innocent from the guilty. In Snitch, assumptions about crime and the racialized body as criminal are reinforced, and thus the State remains perfectly in tact.

In terms of race, the young white male who is currently serving time for a drug-related incident is victimized. His parents are shocked by the horrors of the criminal justice system and are appauled that their son could be so harshly punished for his “mistake”. They wonder about the “moral fiber of this country”, but make no connections to the systematic warehousing of entire communities of color. After thoroughly exhausting this story, Snitch shifts its focus to an entire black community in the South, one that is plagued by poverty and “naturally”, crime. In displaying the entire town, the notion of criminality as endemic to the black body is perpetuated. Here, the viewers are supposed to distinguish the “good”, hard-working individual blacks from those dubbed “bad” criminals and potential informants. This divisive tactic not only fortifies the use of criminal as a racially coded word, but also exists as a distraction, forcing the viewer to blame individuals for the policies of a racist colonial State. Regardless, it becomes evident that in the minds of the film’s producers, the fear of chaos and anarchy still prevail over the fear of an “imperfect” state, and therefore no radical transformation of society is proposed as an alternative.

Many of the Critical Resistance East workshops I attended put forth reformist propaganda. Craig Gilmore and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, both members of California Prison Moratorium Project, led a workshop entitled “Prisons in Rural America: Overview for Social Change Activists”. Whereas the group opposes the building of new prisons and could therefore be classified as abolitionists, the strategies and tactics suggested by the group suggest a markedly less radical attack. Since the late 1970s, the flight of industrial capital and the collapse of farm and manufacturing economies has left poor rural communities across the United States devastated. Politicians come into these despairing communities, pitching the idea of building a prison as an economic stimulus that will boost development and provide jobs for local people. (Ruthie Gilmore CR East Conference) Enter anti-prison “activists” who often forge alliances with “strange bedfellows” to stop prisons from taking hold in a community. I would place this workshop into the reformist category because discussing local economies is strategic but in no way critiques the State, general assumptions about criminality, or that prisons are sites of torture, brutality and racism.

Many rural communities in the U.S. are predominantly white, and therefore, engaging in struggle with members of these areas often amounts to compromising more radical, anti-racist politics. Consequently, does it become more important to build broader coalitions and work towards a goal that has much more immediacy (a prison being built)? Or, is it more important to recognize that struggling with people with differing and often opposing ideologies to one’s own is counterproductive and reinforces larger systemic hierarchies and domination?

As mentioned in class just this past week, when one is drawn away from his or her particular communal base, does he or she become distanced from that specific ideology? This issue of coalitions is obviously very important when conceptualizing large scale social movements, but how many people ultimately compromise their revolutionary ideology and critiques of the State when joining with the ranks of those who are less confrontational and whose political understanding of society is fundamentally different ? Are these people, in working towards building a larger movement necessarily complicit in reinforcing the co-optation of their insurrectionist beliefs?

On this note, I wanted to address former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn’s workshop entitled “Release Campaign 2001: Working to Free Political Prisoners”. Much of the work of this group as well as other local New York groups in coalition has been fighting around issues of political prisoners’ rights and freedom. It struck me as ironic in that the organizing efforts have used legal and legislative channels to gain popular support for political prisoners, many who were incarcerated by the State for their revolutionary ideology and political actions taken against the government. Therefore, it is interesting that many on the outside, including former political prisoners, engage the State to liberate the “freedom fighters”. I wonder if a general consensus of opinions exists among political prisoners considering that many envision a world without the State or at least understand the need to destroy it. Esparanza Martel, a veteran activist of over thirty years working to free Puerto Rican political prisoners from Lolita Lebron (freed in 1979) to more recent Independentistas (11 freed in 1999), addressed this tension specifically: “Political prisoner work means ‘you’ have to put your politics in your pocket and engage the State” (Martel CR East Conference). Does bartering/pleading with the State for concessions and ultimately clemency disregard or oppose the efforts and fundamental beliefs of those revolutionaries on the inside? Obviously, the case of Assata Shakur’s liberation in November 1979 was an isolated incident, but wasn’t this means of achieving freedom (or exile) much more in line with the politics she espoused ?

Most of the classroom discussions and dynamics also fall under this reformist category. Whereas critiques of the State are often initially given space in conversation, self-imposing dominant voices usually take over the “dialogue”, resulting in only a critique of the State’s most extreme excesses. I think that our class is a microcosm of anti-prison work and other forms of current “activism”. The criminalized sectors of society (people of color/poor people/etc) become objects of study and are therefore vulnerable to “othering” and exotification. Through this reification, we (speaking particularly of white students) further create and reinforce boundaries between ourselves and those policed and incarcerated. Many members of the class fall into the rhetoric of “pop” activism, where proclaiming one’s disgust the criminal justice system becomes fashionable. Perhaps this opinion can be construed as elitist or overly harsh, but the cooptation and reappropriation of leftist propaganda for oneself is an increasing phenomenon, and it only serves the State in its ability to neutralize.

Often times, however, the focus of discussion moves away from race and/or incarceration completely, replacing these central players with discourse around white people, their role in the movement, etc. As a white student speaking about/for other white students, I feel that “we” are trained to be self-interested and expect all dialogue to reflect “our” needs and concerns, thus reinforcing white supremacist hierarchies. In fact, in many cases, the State itself becomes no longer necessary because we (the majority of white students) come to embody and play out the State’s hegemonic forces through our everyday interactions. Hence, self-policing of revolutionary or even abolitionist discourse continues to prevail in the classroom.

How much does focusing on reformist strategies detract from a larger critique of the State, or beyond that a revolutionary struggle in which one seeks to abolish the State itself? Thus, when promoting education/religious/health/etc programs under the prison system, is that “activism” prolonging the system that creates repulsive conditions in the first place? Can one work on smaller struggles while keeping in mind the larger picture? In my opinion, reformists often aid the State in its white supremacist, racist policies and practices. By working within the lines drawn by the government, the State will always have the final say. Reacting to State violence and pleading for changes within that framework allows the State more time to preempt these self-entitled “activists”. What may take twenty years for reformers to achieve can be overturned by the State within minutes. This is exemplified in the struggle to end indeterminate sentencing, a cause championed by many prison reform activists in the 1970s. After years of dedicated work, the State replaced indeterminate sentences with an arguably more draconian measure of mandatory minimums, ensuring a continued expansion of the prison state.

Marc Mauer, certainly not a revolutionary, straddles the collapsible fence between the abolitionist and reformist camps in his work Race to Incarcerate. Although Mauer chooses to attack the issue of incarceration a bit more directly, he often fails to question the State as well. As a general critique, he has trouble making any definitive statements, indicative of his politics and attempts to appease a broader base audience: Much of his book rests upon the assumption that the State itself is necessary, and at best critiqued for its imperfect policies/programs/etc. Chapter 6, “The Limits of the Criminal Justice System” specifically demonstrates this tendency, where he focuses on the distinguishing among victimless and violent crimes, rather than addressing how the State is absolved, as the biggest perpetator of crime.

Mauer certainly attests to flaws within the criminal justice system but does not see them as endemic, and thereby believes that reformist measures are possible. According to Mauer and many other (white) liberals, increasing the number of Blacks and other people of color within government institutions is a powerful vehicle for change: “Within the criminal justice system, black rose through the ranks to become police chiefs, judges, and prison officials — not in proportion to their share of the population, to be sure, but certainly to a greater degree than in the days of all-white justice” (Mauer 122). Many radical and revolutionary theorists would certainly disagree with this statement. Just because a portion of the State’s representatives “looks” like those it racializes and subsequently criminalizes, does not mean that brutality and policing decrease. If anything, State representatives of color often have to overcompensate by acting tougher on people of color in order to demonstrate their allegiance to the government. If the law is steeped in white supremacy and racism, the color of the enforcer’s skin should not matter. It is further interesting to note that the book is entitled Race to Incarcerate, when race-based analysis is missing from most of the text.

Mauer is self-contradictory in his arguments against prisons but for more police in offering alternative models of “community supervision” (Mauer 81). In divorcing the prisons from police, Mauer undermines his entire argument. The police act as street level enforcers of the State, which posits that the prison is a panacea for those “unassimilable” to society. There exists a need for massive policing and surveillance of certain communities, as “black men function today as the main human raw material for the prison-industrial complex” (Davis Convict Lease System to Super-Max 72). Thus, police act as the State’s mules, transporting racialized bodies from one marginalized arena of society to another isolated area. Abolishing prisons while expanding the number of police would only result in a sharp rise in State sanctioned public violence. Although there are no longer made a spectacle, torture and brutality within the prison still exist. Once the prison walls are torn down, State violence moves back into a public arena. Proposing alternative solutions such as restorative justice projects are important, but in my mind, under this government, there is no place for small scale alternatives. The State creates an unbreakable link between justice and punishment. Therefore any alternatives “criminal justice” models under the current system are doomed to replicate the original in some form or another.

Juanita Diaz-Cotto and Julia Sudbury, two academics, led a workshop at the Critical Resistance East conference entitled “Race, Gender and the Prison-Industrial Complex”. In her analysis, Sudbury contextualizes the PIC within a larger global framework. She drew a cycle with several intermediary points, tying all individual parts back to the State. Thus, the PIC is ultimately linked to the State, and is consequently influencing and influenced by other manifestations of the apparatus. Some important points on this cycle are the feminization of poverty, relocation of multinational corporations (MNCs), structural adjustment programs (SAPs), and the racial fear of crime. In her breakdown, Sudbury necessarily links every phenomenon back to the State, thereby differentiating her from other authors and individuals isolating the PIC or some of its excesses as historical or current aberrations. Rebuking the abolitionist argument, Sudbury believes that if the PIC is eradicated, the State will prop something else up in its place.

With this argument in mind, slavery, the convict-lease system, and the current prison industrial complex are all different sites of warehousing those that the State needs for to compose a racialized underclass. Sudbury’s critique was by no means exhaustive, but rare in its calling for a radical transformation of society. Whereas most people at the conference generally agreed that prisons were “bad”, that “we should tear down the walls”, and that there is something fundamentally “wrong” with a country that incarcerates over two million people, most workshops did not give such a detailed and critical assessment of the State. Rather, most people seemed to be comfortable spewing propaganda as a unifying tool without actually conceptualizing what would exist in the place of a prison, or more radically, what an entirely new society would look like? Sudbury too should be critiqued as an academic in her privileged position and access to research channels, legitimate status, etc. Also, as a professor at a private university, how many people are able to access her impressive analyses?

Luana Ross’ text Inventing the Savage could be construed as revolutionary. Ross holds the State accountable for genocidal practices and colonial domination of indigenous peoples. She offers alternative models of life and justice outside of the State, as well as calls for individual acts of resistance against the repressive apparatus. However, Ross’ arguments become problematized in her elitism, discrediting collective acts of insurgency as well as specific groups that espoused insurrectionist principles, eg. AIM (American Indian Movement). She refers to their leaders as “kitschymen of tribal manners” (Ross 63). In criticizing their efforts as nothing more than performative, Ross also discredits AIM’s agency in its actions. In removing her “competition” from the activist landscape, Ross presents her form of resistance as the alternative option, rather than one of many. One could argue that she is complicit with the State’s anti-AIM rhetoric in her overall misrepresentation and to a certain extent negation of their attempts at forging a revolutionary pan-Indian movement.

Much of the book, although it critiques the State for historical colonization, points to the importance of improving programs within women’s prisons: “In general, then, the WCC parenting program is ineffective. Staff demonstrate minimal efforts to adapt the program in ways that could truly strengthen the relationships between imprisoned mothers and their children” (Ross 232). Considering her understanding of the State, statements like these seem almost surprising. Does she expect that women receive humane treatment within the prison ? Obviously, it is essential to educate the public about the brutalities that occur within the prison. In working to lessen the brutality targeted at Native women, does Ross legitimize the State? Instead of linking the current prison system to larger histories of conquest, Ross seems to narrowly tailor her argument to the confines of the prison. Working under this system, Ross reverts back to reformist politics.

BLU magazine puts forth the histories and voices of many self-proclaimed revolutionaries. Whether or not this makes BLU itself a revolutionary form of media is to be questioned. One argument would be to say that anything formally packaged and commodified for mass consumption necessarily coopts the messages of its content and therefore cannot exist as a revolutionary art form. Connected to that is the fact each issue costs $5 which is a hefty sum, that perhaps many a “progressive” middle-class (white) student could pay, but for many working folks, this doesn’t enter the priority list of expenses. This then begs questions asking whom the intended audience is, as well as how the readership is supposed to respond to the content of the articles. Does this magazine display revolutionaries as mere spectacles, thus perpetuating a culture of voyeurism? Are critiques of revolutionaries given, or are their lives (especially those that have since passed) held frozen in time, mythologized as flawless martyrs? How is a younger generation able to learn from the mistakes of its elders if they are not presented in their histories? Is presenting only a positive side disrespecting and doing a larger disservice to these revolutionaries’ ideals? Or do these articles exist to refute/counter the negative propaganda and publicity that surrounds most if not all of these revolutionaries put forth mostly by dominant forms of State funded media?

In arguing that reformist and abolitionist politics recreate the State in ideology and practice, can any activist work under the guise of the State be construed as counterproductive? That is, if one has the larger goal of destroying the State constantly in focus, can working towards smaller targets help galvanize others in the struggle? Or does it necessarily legitimize and reinforce the State’s power and therefore is not conducive to a revolutionary struggle?

Also, after critiquing different revolutionary activists/texts/etc., can “true” revolution be put into practice? Does critiquing get to a point where it reproduces itself as its own ideology and thus completely detach from people and only embrace a theory? Is a revolutionary purist an elitist disconnected from the community? What does it mean to be isolated from the very populations whose lives one is trying to fight for? Can spewing rhetoric without any space for connected action be equated to and just as fatalistic as action without theory or a knowledge base?

All rhetoric…everybody’s talking about we gonna do this we gonna do that… The problem is now. And it’s gonna continue. And the people here understand this. They are killing us and something has got to be done about it. If you care at all, do something about the situation at hand” (Attica track, Freedom Archives)


Attica track. Freedom Archives.

Black August, Issue #9, BLU Magazine.

Davis, Angela Y. ‘From the Convict Lease System to the Super-Max Prison’ States of Confinement ed. Joy James. New York: St. Martin’s Press 2000.

Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. “Prisons in Rural America: Overview for Social Change Activists”. Critical Resistance East Conference. Columbia University. March 9-11, 2001.

Jackson, George. Track 5: Resistance and Revolution. Freedom Archives.

Mancini, Matthew. One Dies Get Another. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press 1996.

Martel, Esparanza. “Release 2001: Working to Free Political Prisoners” Critical Resistance East Conference. Columbia University. March 9-11, 2001.

Mauer, Marc. Race to Incarcerate. New York : The New Press 1999.

Meeropol, Robert. “Testimony”. States of Confinement ed. Joy James. New York: St. Martin’s Press 2000.

Ross, Luana. Inventing the Savage. Austin: University of Texas Press 1998.


Sudbury, Julia. “Race, Gender, and the Prison Industrial Complex”. Critical Resistance East Conference. Columbia University. March 9-11, 2001.