Police are confronted by youth after arresting a person for graffiti during the Black Lives Matter protests in London. June 7, 2020. Photo: Ben Thornley / Shutterstock
D. Hunter’s first book Chav Solidarity was published independently in 2017 and reached a far wider audience than its author had anticipated, eventually going through multiple editions and being translated into several other languages. One reviewer rightly called it “a jump cable for your heart and mind.” The book is a collection of personal/political essays broadly along two themes: D.’s early life, reclaiming the practices of survival and mutual aid that were a staple of the various marginalized communities he grew up in; and critiques of the organizing culture of the left he participated in for a decade — particularly its everyday blindness to the experiences of class. It helped lead to the formation of The Class Work Project — a collective focused on publishing poor and working-class voices through its journal Lumpen and holding workshops on class dynamics within social movements.
Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors, D.’s second book, picks up where Chav Solidarity left off, taking a more rigorous approach incorporating further elements from auto-ethnography, queer theory, abolition and transformative justice, while threading in exchanges with others from D.’s life about their past and his writings.
Both books cut their biographical narratives into a broader social and historical canvas, showing how social patterns are reproduced on a daily basis and over generations. They present a blunt challenge to relate and organize with greater honesty and integrity around class, patriarchy and white supremacy. Likewise, they provide the kind of scope needed to appreciate how we need to think about strategy and long-term struggle. If we want to go beyond, to borrow a phrase from D., “movements with false teeth,” then both these works confront us with much of what that requires.
Introduction and interview by Liam Hough.
Liam Hough: First of all, could you talk about how you came to write your first book, Chav Solidarity?
D. Hunter: Sure. Back in 2016, a community-based political organizing project I’d been running in Nottingham for about five years had come to a fairly painful end. A lot of that had been down to the dynamics of class — specifically of who had access and power and resources within an anarchist space. It was a youth project and the kids we were working with were pretty much from the neighborhood I grew up in. Here we had an anarchist space, but these kids were getting forced out because they weren’t desirable. It was like a constant battle to use that space for those years and eventually, we just lost that struggle.
I was feeling severely burned out and frustrated with that, and at the same time, I was working nights in a psychiatric care home. Doing night shifts at a place like that, you’ve got a few hours to kill. So, I just started doing these essays which I would post up on Facebook. It was all quite stream of consciousness — but they did end up being the basis for most of the chapters in the book. The essays ranged from me venting anger at the culture and political practices within the different parts of the left I’d interacted with, to talking about the ways in which genuinely radical politics occurs on the regular within poor and working-class communities — but the left is too busy hand wringing and framing those communities as problematic in various ways to notice, never mind acting in solidarity with them.
By that point I had been involved in anarchist politics for about a decade and had built up a lot of frustrations and anger and bitterness related to where I’m from and the kind of dynamics I encountered in the movement.
Around that same time, I had a fairly severe mental health breakdown, which lasted about four months. When I came out of that, I asked what can I do with these essays that is productive? So, we tidied them up a bit, put them into a clearer format and then printed off about 50 copies with the aim to hopefully sell those and try to fund whatever we’re going to do next. I didn’t feel like I was part of the anarchist or even radical left milieu anymore. I didn’t feel like I was done with politics but was done with that scene. Those copies actually sold out quite quickly so we ended up printing more, and soon after I went on a speaking tour around the UK, to a mix of places: plenty of the usual lefty social spaces, liberal bookshops, but also churches and community centers, a few council estate pubs. Basically for a year or so I’d go wherever someone asked me to. Probably sold about 6,000 copies in the end, which is wild.
Could you talk about The Class Work Project — both in terms of publishing and workshops?
Sure. I left the project in December but was part of setting it up. For the most part, there have been four of us involved in the project and I think we all have slightly different takes on it, which has been a positive in my view. It created a lot of discussion — some tensions that were resolved, some that weren’t — that overall made for a positive creative process. The publishing side and the workshop side basically happened at the same time but separately, with different groups of people, which gradually we pulled together under the banner of The Class Work Project. The publishing and the workshops have so much in common, they inform each other’s practice.
On the publishing side, I was gaining some money and some social capital of sorts for Chav Solidarity and the idea came to try to put something else out with more than just my perspective. There’s that kind of thing where the dominant class or the middle class — whatever you want to perceive or label them as — are very good at taking tokens from the working class and going, “Oh, here’s one, we like this one,” then parade this person around as a kind of spokesperson, or the acceptable one, or the one they like to give kudos to. But obviously that doesn’t change anything structurally, either within the left or wider society. On the book tour, I was meeting lots of folks who would share some of their story, their insights. Some I disagreed with, but generally they had experienced the same kind of silencing or dismissal or marginalization I had. The idea came to collectively put together something with other people’s writings. It was going to be a one-off, we did some crowdfunding and the result of that was the first edition of Lumpen. That really took on a life of its own and is now on its ninth issue, and there have been several books too, besides my own. I guess it’s a little bit in opposition to the publishing and academic milieus — challenging who gets to create knowledge, who gets to have their ideas out there.
Around the same time that this was all taking shape, I was asked to attend a gathering in Scotland to co-run a workshop on class with a couple of other folks. The differences in experiences and access to resources was intense and for a lot of folks, particularly those from poor and working-class backgrounds, it was the first time they’d been able to articulate the impact class was having on their existence in the gatherings and wider movements they were a part of. We got good feedback, so afterwards we established a clearer process for them and were invited to do more around the UK.
The format we devised used a bunch of popular education techniques to create more collective dialogue and conversations about the ways class impacts our everyday lives, also our organizing lives and how we relate to each other politically. All the workshops drew up a dynamic of some folks who’d been in and out of poverty and all the things that come with that, and another bunch who had access to six or seven-figure sums and had benefited in a variety of other ways from their class position. Obviously, it’s one thing just to talk about the difference in class background and the experiences that come with it, but what are we actually going to do about it?
Abolishing the capitalist class system was out of the immediate reach of the workshops, but we could push those with access to significant resources to redistribute those resources within the political movements they’re a part of. That could mean supporting individuals who are economically struggling or by putting it in the hands of solid grassroots organizations, which was basically the outcome of a lot of the workshops.
Obviously, this type of redistribution isn’t the be all and end all by any stretch of the imagination, but it does help dislocate individuals from the idea that their economic wealth is deserved in any way, and that our class positions are somehow natural and just. It’s one way to at least start deconstructing the hyper-individualized way we have of engaging with resources — which whether you’re anti-capitalist or not permeates our lives and far too often the social movements we are involved in.
What kind of effect would you say you were hoping to see? In terms of the left, how have you found the actual response?
I can say that the responses from the left have been generally supportive. Sure, since Chav Solidarity came out I’ve had a steady stream of angry emails or messages via social media criticizing me and my work for one reason or another, but they’re dwarfed by the amount of supportive messages from those with parallel experiences and those from middle and upper-class positionalities. Whether those supportive messages are coupled with practically addressing issues around class within political organizing spaces is not something I can speak to. Any changes I might have noted within those spaces could have been facilitated by other factors.
I will say, when we started publicizing Lumpen and doing social media, we would get comments like, “does this use class analysis?” And it’s like, which fucking class analysis? There’s a strong thing within the radical left of holding on to one framework for discussing class. It often boils down to, “there’s the owners, and there’s the rest of us.” There’s a refusal to engage with the fact that, with “the rest of us,” there’s a broad spectrum of experience and of relations to power and resources that just is not discussed.
There are so many stories along the lines of, “Oh, yeah, I was squatting with these people for like, five, six years, we’re all really tight,” then it turns out they all have mansions and holiday homes to go back to. That’s just the stereotypical story, but it’s a very common one. Or you end up sharing spaces with people who expect you to be hyper-conscious of your energy consumption or waste levels — stuff I can be a bit more laissez-faire about — and they’ve already enjoyed 20 years of excessive resources pumped into the reproduction of their whole social existence — their housing, education, holidays etc. It’s not about me needing to use all those resources just to make us even, but the use of those resources can create the stability, security and comfort which support us in a whole host of things, not in the least offer me the energy to be involved in political organizing and the space to process my historical trauma. So, in particular with the latter, when some middle or owning-class lefty gives me a lecture on the amount of resources I’m using, what I’m hearing is that my life and my mental health — heck the lives and mental health of poor and working class folk in general — aren’t as important as recycling or minimizing kettle usage.
In Chav Solidarity I talk about going for long periods of not eating properly, not being able to afford to eat, not having access to health care or shelter and stuff like that — not having access to things that are completely taken for granted by many others.
Essentially if we’re just ignoring all that stuff — basically where we’re from, and the impact of that both materially and psychologically — then we’re relating to each other dishonestly. And if we’re relating to each other dishonestly in that regard, then how is that going to affect the way we organize together?
Is there any specific lineage or tradition you see The Class Work Project within on the left, say in terms of precedents or similar projects in the UK or elsewhere?
My short answer would be that there is a long history of working-class education and publishing: we feel kinship with the vast majority of it in some way or another. I don’t think it’s necessarily about the specific leftist politics or the sectarian message or politics each group might fit into. It’s more about knowledge creation and the self-representation of our experiences, of our ideas, and having control of the material that comes from that.
Working-class self-education has existed as long as the working class itself. Although it was slowly decimated deliberately through state interference, some examples still exist, mainly with deeper ties within union struggle, like the WEA (Workers Education Alliance.)
I guess Class Work is a little bit removed from that, simply because of coming from a more anarchist or broader social movement setting — a little bit less traditional lefty. But we find kinship with groups from that general working-class self-education trajectory in many ways. Just from more recent history, we definitely have kinship with a lot of movements and organizations that have emphasized non-hierarchical self-organization over the past 20 or 30 years – even if that tendency has maybe gone a bit quiet now. I am thinking of groups like Class War or of the Anti-Poll Tax or road protest stuff of the ‘80s, through to the Global Justice Movement. At the same time, we are probably informed by lots of the — I’m not going to use the word identity politics — self-determination struggles that have emerged and pushed forward quite a bit in the last 10 years. I’m thinking in terms of creating a space for those who have direct experience of particular marginalizations. That informs the practice and the thinking we’ve got.
I know you have said elsewhere you don’t have any grand theory of class, but could you talk about how you generally understand and use the term?
In general, I dip in and out of different theories and I find their use varies according to context and who I’m talking to. In one sense, I have sympathy for the argument of an owning class, a working class and maybe a management class in between — whether you want to call it the middle class or whatever — and that those relationships are defined by a relationship to the means of production. But when people just focus on economic production and employment, it misses out on the entire social reproductive side. I mean the everyday processes and practices that shape the conditions we live in; the family units we live in, education, the ways in which we make possible the next thing we’re going to do.
I think one reason why some folks get so worked up about holding onto the kind of classical Marxist definition of owners and workers is that they don’t want to see class as a concept severed from the capitalist process, and I totally share that concern and can be conflicted on it. But at the same time, reducing everything to economics limits our understanding of what’s actually happening. It obscures a whole bunch of processes — most notably issues pertaining to race and gender.
Now anyone from and living in working class communities can give you a bit of insight into how race and gender function in exclusion and marginalization, but, as a white working class man, what really got my head swiveling in relation to how capitalism functions both economically and socially was reading the likes of Cedric Robinson, Ruth Gilmore, Maria Miles and Silvia Federici — who talk about the ways in which white supremacy and patriarchy are built into capitalism from the outset and have adapted at every step as capital reconstitutes itself. We want class analysis to continue to speak to capitalism, and that means that when we speak of class, we must speak to race and gender as well.
Another important aspect of class that often gets forgotten is around symbolic violence; the ways in which we, as working-class people, internalize the shitty things about us, how these are materialized and often used against us — or we end up using them against other working-class people. That’s something that was incredibly important in the ‘80s when we were getting our asses kicked so badly.
It seems the challenge is to understand the various different processes that have been instigated in defense of capital that maintain our marginality — maintain some people’s marginality or subjugation and some people’s domination. Class is this broad term to cover a whole bunch of other terms and different processes. And I think some of those smaller terms are a bit more applicable at different periods of history than others.
Thinking of them under this umbrella term of class is useful, because what we’re essentially highlighting and describing is firstly, that we are existing within the capitalist system, which is about extracting as much from the planet and each other as possible to the betterment of very few. But also, there are various forms of interclass violence that occur. This emphasizes its hierarchical nature and the fact that it is not just one group on top and one below; it’s really like that classic IWW “Pyramid of Capitalist System” illustration. Each level of that pyramid is shitting on the level below in the assumption that doing that shitting downwards means you can crawl upwards. Folks scrambling for resources, moral legitimacy, recognition. Some theorists argue that class is too vague a term to address these struggles in a meaningful way. I’d argue that these struggles are what class is about. Far more than nailing down who is in which class and who is another, the struggles, skirmishes, wars over resources, moral legitimacy and recognition are class in action.
I would also add that we need to think more about embodiment. The kinds of everyday struggles I’ve mentioned above leave marks on us, and we end up carrying them around in one way or another. So, we actually carry our experiences, our everyday experiences, our class with us. This is something that has been missed out in conversations within the radical left, and has been one of the strengths of Lumpen, where folks would describe their experiences of this often quite beautifully.
And I guess that is basically what Chav Solidarity is about. I went through that first 25 years of my life experiencing various things purely because of the economic conditions I and everyone around me was born into. Because of that, I had these experiences which were internalized, which shaped my character, but also shaped my body and shaped the way I entered into and moved within the world. Everyone experiences that in some way. One of the most literal examples is the impact of classed experiences on your health — whether it’s through various traumatic events that only occurred because of your class position, or because of low quality food or your housing situation and so on. They change your physiology, your chemical makeup, increase likelihood of illness even if you’ve long moved out of poverty. For myself, my early 40s has been a never-ending series of health scares which are all rare for someone my age and common for someone in their 70s — trauma and poverty have aged me.
But the embodiment of class can also be in how you might carry yourself into certain spaces, speak to folks in positions of power or those who are politically, socially and economically excluded or marginalized. If you’ve been brutalized by state institutions, you’re likely to be from a poor or working-class position, and how you interact with those institutions later in life will be impacted by those classed interactions.
All of these dynamics, especially for those of us who believe in revolution — or say, long-term social justice work — need to be taken into account. We know that we can’t achieve the things we want or build the world we want on our own but in order to work together, we have to be able to relate to each other. And that happens based on all the things we’ve learned from, how we’ve been raised and often the context we’re now in, which shifts. And that’s a complicated, messy thing.
Could you talk more specifically about the idea of class treachery? Depending on people’s positionality, it’s something you say some should be working against or towards, which relates to the work you’ve been pushing in terms of economic redistribution on the left.
When I was writing about class treachery and class traitors, it was me thinking out loud and trying to work out how useful this term could be. I’m still undecided. Obviously, the term has been used before; it was used to describe working-class folk who would do what was needed to support the managerial class or the owning class — with cops being the prime example of that. But in particular here I’m talking more to people within the left and within social movements who spout specific politics and say social justice is important.
So, thinking of when we organize with folks from different class positions, many have been trained specifically for this role to reproduce capitalist logic in public spaces, like teachers and social workers, for example. When I speak of teachers, I mean them as an example of this — of ensuring that the capitalist mode of living, the capitalist social ethic is maintained. (Capitalist social ethics seems like an oxymoron but I feel like there is one.)
So, I’m saying that middle-class people should be class traitors. Essentially, they need to be treacherous to the ways in which they embody class. Because of course, it’s not just working-class people who embody their class; middle-class and upper-class people do as well. It’s what they’ve been taught to do, how they’ve been taught to enter into the world, and how they’ve been taught to orchestrate what is around them. They need to betray that.
And one of the ways — which then speaks to economic redistribution — is to start to think of the resources that they are given as a reward for reproducing capitalist behaviors and capitalist logics, which are largely monetary. For them to be loyal to their class in that regard, is to go “Thank you very much for this money, I am now going to hoard it and save it and put it into other spaces, which will then bring me more of it.”
I guess what I’m saying around class treachery and redistribution is, instead of doing that, give it to people to live their lives, or get rid of it. That monetary reward is a bribe. It’s a bribe for our compliance in maintaining the system of individualized and unequal resource distribution. I should make clear that I ain’t arguing that no one should use their money to generate safety and security for themselves. We’re not closing in on global system transformation or revolution, so I’m not going to throw shade on someone who decides that they’re in a position to buy a house to live in that’ll provide some basic needs for themselves and whoever else, rather than renting from some landlord scumbag.
Again, I am specifically referring to those within the left and within social movements who vouch for a specific politics of social equality and justice. Well, one way to perform that in your everyday life is to ensure that you are not reproducing capitalist logic in your personal economic life. You hand over the money and hand over the power to decide what direction that money goes in. I stress this decision-making aspect because you also have a lot of well-meaning benefactors, who will pick and choose what they think is the best way to spend that. It is working class communities that should be the ones to make that decision. All you need to do is find someone or an organization that is willing to make those decisions and build a relationship with them — not for you to make those decisions yourself. So, I guess that’s what we’re speaking of when we speak of class treachery and redistribution.
The workshops with Class Work definitely seem to push for that. Are there any other tangible examples you think might serve as a base for more of that to happen?
Sure, well one example would be the UK Mutual Aid Network, or Facebook page, which is made up of about 2,000 people and is specifically focused on Black, POC and trans folk. There, they can directly put up a post saying, “I need this, I need that,” and anyone with the resources can just give what they can. It encourages a culture of people saying plainly, “this is needed,” but not having to go into much detail around the specifics of why they need it and having to sell their story in an emotive way. And for people who can afford to, to just get used to handing over what they can without too many questions or any kind of “problem-solving” approach where they try to suggest other ways of “solving” that person’s issue, in a way that infantilizes the individual. So, this project tries to break with that culture a little bit.
Another example is one I know through a friend who does a lot of community organizing work. At some point, someone reached out to them saying something to the effect of, “I’ve inherited a considerable amount of money, like hundreds of thousands of pounds. I’d like to not have to decide where this goes. Could you suggest three places to send it to?” These are organizational changing amounts of money — amounts that can massively expand what a group could do. So, my friend gave the three suggestions and about four months later, called around these same organizations asking if they had recently received a large anonymous donation, which they all confirmed they had. Now, the person who had been given this amount of money, I don’t know them, I have no context for them. They operated in a way I’d want every middle-class person who is betraying their class to act.
All these examples encourage a process in which people recognize, “I am not the person to make this decision because I don’t have a lived experience of precarity or poverty. In light of that fact, how would I know how to make use of that money in a way that is actually efficient and effective?” There are plenty of folks with that lived experience, who also have an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist praxis, who are far more suited to making those decisions.
Another framework that runs through a lot of your book Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors is around carceral logic. So, could you give a short definition of that concept and talk about how it informed your writing or other work you’re involved in?
I feel like the carceral of logic of this society has been one of the most significant impacts on my life and one that I probably could have explained at a very early age, even if I was unfamiliar with the specific terminology. Because it feels to me like one that is the most visceral in the day-to-day lives of poor and working-class folk — particularly racialized folks. Also, like I mention in both of the books, I come from a Traveller family; we don’t want to get into a long discussion on what racialization means for Travellers, but they are seldom accepted into the hegemonic ideas of whiteness. Although to be clear, in entering into and being able to navigate more and more middle-class and elitist spaces as an individual I’ve been essentially deracialized. My whiteness has gradually been deemed legitimate and now I couldn’t possibly benefit more from my whiteness.
I think when I was first coming to understand politics or use the language of politics — which was like, in my mid-20s — that was one framework where I was like, “whoah, yeah.” Today I’d sum it up as the use of processes and practices which restrain and control our autonomy, our liberty. It’s the processes and practices that maintain the status quo — the capitalist way of being — through both physical and psychological coercion.
This kind of constant control by the state and constant state impingement on different aspects of my life has been clear and visceral from a very early age. From the social workers who were involved in our lives, the ways in which me and my cousins engaged with school, to even earlier examples from age three onwards of getting prepared for our interactions with police or prepared to be arrested. We were getting prepared a little bit by the adults around us, but also just getting used to that tension with any official people. So, when you get arrested, you already know that dynamic and you know they have all this power and these resources to control — control your body essentially. And they will try to control your mind. Then obviously, throughout my teens and early 20s, going in and out of youth offender centers or prison, being constantly aware of that.
But also — and this is equally important — the carceral logic filters outside of state interactions into the ways in which middle-class culture operates. Just to add, the reason I keep blaming the middle class is because I’ve never really had much interaction with the owning class. It’s all quite abstract. But you have daily interactions with middle-class folks. And one of their roles is to promote this kind of self-surveillance mentality, in which there is a way to be a good, healthy, normal UK citizen, someone who is receptive to the dominant cultural values.
And the carceral logic and self-surveillance is to train us to follow all of that, all the social reproduction stuff that maintains capitalism. That is why carceral logic is relevant and how it has informed my life. Then, of course, there are the more overt aspects around the prison industrial complex, and social movement work around prisons and working with prisoners.
Yeah, that brings us neatly to abolition and transformative justice. Could you talk about work you’re involved in on that front?
Abolition is an incredibly useful framework and it’s important to acknowledge where it comes from. It’s a theoretical and practical framework developed by Black radical thought. It is a tradition from various places within Black radical thought — a lot in the US, but also from Northern Africa and from the UK. Speaking as someone who benefits from whiteness, it is very important to highlight that. At base, it states that we cannot reform our way out of the situation we are in. The various institutions and social practices and structures that we exist within are so historically rooted in white European thought that they cannot be made into something that is beneficial and positive — cannot give humanity as a whole the things that it needs. It cannot be improved, it cannot be developed. What it needs is to be completely ripped apart and destroyed. But at the same time — and this is key and something that gets lost particularly within most anarchist thinking — it is about the building of something.
Abolitionist thought is as much about the production of new ways of being and new ways of existing, new ways of treating one another. One of the most inspiring projects is the GenerationFIVE project, based in Northern California. They have done amazing work addressing the root causes of transsexual abuse, understanding that you won’t eradicate it by just targeting the symptoms — you’ve got to understand and attack the causes, the underlying structures. That means addressing white supremacy and patriarchal and heteronormative practices.
What we need is to address where such abuse comes from, but also to prioritize the needs of the major survivors. And when we do that, not to reinforce patriarchal modes of behavior, which so often occur when you’re dealing with, for example, child abuse: it’s like, “Well, let’s just dominate whoever did it, let’s just fucking rip them apart.” You can’t decontextualize these things.
I guess that leads into the transformative justice part. So, people — being people and existing in this world — will occasionally do horrendous and horrific things to one another. And if we’re going to speak of ending the current system, we have to come up with new ways of doing things, of handling incredibly painful, difficult situations and abusive behaviors. We can’t just go, “It’s about the system,” and that’s that and wander off. We still have to do that work. Part of that means reaching an understanding. You know that saying, “It takes a village to raise a child?” For me, it’s also, “It takes a village to raise a rapist; it takes a village to raise a domestic violence perpetrator.” We are all connected to these actions that individuals might commit. So, there is a level of individual and collective responsibility we have to the perpetrators and obviously, the survivors of abuse.
So, what I’ve been involved in recently is working with people who perpetrated severe harm, often within marginalized communities and where the community has made the decision not to go to the police and decide for themselves how they are going to hold them to account.My role has generally involved meeting up with these guys —and it is always guys, make of that what you will — and asking them about how they are doing, what they maybe need to explore more or what other kinds of support they might need, possibly from others in a similar situation. It’s about making those links. Essentially, it’s about supporting the community to hold these individuals to account without bringing in police. Each project has its own processes and varying degrees of success and my involvement in them all is quite different too.
In a lot of these places, because they are very marginalized — lack of resources, lack of time — the people who are active in their communities are doing like 50 different things. They’re running the childcare, running the food bank, they can’t do everything. They try to increase participation. So, often the focus is on how to get three or four men from that community to meet up with this guy, and to support him and get him back to a place where he can exist within the community and everyone feels safe. It’s a lot of facilitation work.
The whole thing is a constant learning curve for all of us. We have not been trained to think of things outside of the carceral system. We assume someone does something wrong, and we’ve decided, they get punished. And then they come out and fall off again — or they just stay in prison. We need to think of things beyond that. It’s all about experimentation.
Terms like abolition and transformative justice became a lot more popularized after the uprisings in the US following the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Do you see any risks of an appropriation or watering down of those concepts or projects?
Fundamentally, I see the fact that abolition has had a growth in popularity and in usage as an incredibly positive thing. Okay, it’s a hashtag now. Well, one part of it is a hashtag. And with that will come people saying they only want it to mean certain things and narrowing it down to a politics that is more palatable to them. That is going to occur, but it’s also going to bring more people in contact with more radical ways of thinking. It’s a term — and a strategy and practice — that is quite hard to completely recuperate and I think it will fundamentally maintain its critical position.
The biggest area of concern, for me, is around the question of non-reformist reforms. One of the tenets of abolition is that whilst we’re seeking fundamental change within the political and economic and social system — seeking to replace these entities and institutions with these ones we’re creating — we can demand small changes, we can demand reform. But these reforms do not legitimize the political practices or the institutions themselves. They are a means to chip away.
Now, I think there’s a lot of nuance and sophisticated thinking involved in understanding which of these reforms do that and which don’t. That is probably one area where poor decisions might be made. I haven’t got concrete examples. But I can picture a more liberal approach saying we can call ourselves abolitionists and take that and then just demand reform after reform after reform. For instance, make good community policing rather than ending policing as a whole. But then, that’s not abolition.
I mean, this happens with lots of political terms. People just use them and do something else. There is a risk of that. But that doesn’t fundamentally mean that abolition, as a strategy, as a principle is flawed. It just means that we live in a world where people are so used to just taking the line they want and making it mean what they want to meet their own ends.
But overall, I see the growth in activity as a positive thing. Most of the best abolition organizing occurring in the UK had been occurring long before it became a hashtag. I’m thinking of groups like Cradle or Healing Justice London, to give two examples. This work will go on. That’s the core.
That’s the thing, with any type of organizing under whatever banner it is, the important bit is the longevity in which you pursue it and pursue it to its end — rather than whatever name you decide to throw at it for a period of time. There will be some flash-in-the-pan abolitionist organizing. That’s just a byproduct of this shit. Any social movement is going to have that problem.
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