“Abolition is Feminism, Feminism is Abolition” Conference Sparks Conversation About the Movement’s Future

Ellen Hu ’24, Kendall Lowery ’22, and Aanji Sin ’24

Despite the weekend’s sweltering heat, organizers, students, and community members gathered on Scripps’ Alumna Field from April 8 to April 10 for a conference centered around exchanging ideas, clarifying policy goals, and building solidarity. The conference, titled “Abolition is Feminism, Feminism is Abolition” was organized by Andrea Ritchie, visiting professor at Scripps and commencement speaker for the class of 2022.

Various panels, roundtables, and events took place over the three days. Speakers ranged from organizers with decades of experience under their belt to current students from Scripps and Pitzer who are currently working on abolitionist projects. The conference was available to the public with an option to participate over Zoom for those who were unable to join in person.

The event commenced with a keynote conversation between Mariame Kaba and Ritchie, renowned abolitionist and anti-violence organizers. As previous collaborators who are deeply familiar with one another’s work, Kaba and Ritchie animatedly discussed an array of topics including Black feminism, the carceral state, abolition, and ultimately, how advocating for each of these issues is essential for supporting the feminist movement as a whole.

“I think overwhelmingly folks in their hearts of hearts, even the reactionaries, or maybe, especially their reactionaries, know that things are not okay,” said Kaba. “That the current structures that we live under don’t suffice, and in many cases are actually actively harmful. That the current systems that we’ve lived under for many generations, such as capitalism and you know, forms of democracy… are not serving people — particularly, they’re not serving people who are at the margins of society.”

This conversation provided insight into their upcoming book, No More Police: A Case for Abolition. The work explores the argument for abolishing the police and how violence at every social level has been perpetuated by the carceral state. It will be released on Aug. 30, and attendees were given the opportunity to pre-purchase the work during the event.

Following the keynote conversation, a student panel took place that featured Janet Asante ’22, Lily Kraft PZ ’22, Lily Lucas ’22, Uma Nagarajan-Swenson ’22, Callie Radecki PZ ’22, and Kathryn Wangthamkua PZ ’22. In conversation, these seven students provided insight into their own abolitionist work.

The students cited a variety of individual reasons for being inspired to pursue abolitionist projects, including their organizing work over the pandemic, the impact of policing on sexual harm, the environmental impacts of the carceral state, and the construction of religious communities.

Asante, Nagarajan-Swenson, and Kraft explicitly noted that they grappled with complex emotions throughout the completion of their projects, and the rest of the panel appeared to resonate with this acknowledgment. “My journey to being an abolitionist has been full of anger,” Asante said. “So you know, ultimately, that’s what fueled my thesis — just anger at the status quo and having an imagination of how things could be different.”

Additionally, the panelists expressed their struggle with balancing the core tenets that define abolition and academia. “It was really a challenge for me to try to write something that would both be accepted in academic circles and something that was genuinely abolitionist that could be used for something more than academia,” Nagarajan-Swenson said. “I honestly don’t know if I struck that balance, but I guess the work isn’t ever really final, it’s never really done.”

The panelists remained dedicated to expanding upon their work post-grad but agreed that major changes needed to be made to ensure that it was usable outside of an academic environment.

“It’s challenging to know where you as a college senior fit into the working relationships with [abolitionist groups],” said Radecki. “You don’t want to be a burden, you want to be able to work together, but how do you know where to start? I think that’s the hardest thing sometimes.”

In the following days, the focus of the conference shifted towards enacting abolition feminism through organizing and policy. Events on April 9 centered on current campaigns against the carceral state, while conversations on April 10 created space to reflect on how to effectively pursue and defend an abolitionist policy agenda.

Addressing mental health was a central topic of conversation in the “Domestic Violence and Mental Health Crisis Response, Prevention, Intervention, and Healing” panel. Panelists brought attention to their work and things they believed were important to maintain awareness of while working on policy changes.

While discussing a new proposed suicide prevention hotline system, Ritchie revealed that it would still involve police intervention. “It’s one example of the state responding, coopting, absorbing, and serving us back carcerality under a new number — literally,” Ritchie said. “An area to pay attention to when making these policy changes.”

In a panel titled “Abolitionist Policy-Making Principles,” panelists joined the conversation both in-person and virtually over Zoom. The conversation spanned past policy mistakes, navigating negotiations with the state, and defending past wins.

Towards the end of the conversation, the longevity of the movement took center stage. Marbre Stahly-Butts, Executive Director of Law For Black Lives, emphasized the importance of truth-telling within the movement.

She elaborated on the fact that compromises are inevitable, and “we need to acknowledge compromises that are problematic,” she said. This, combined with deep individual and community reflection were all aspects Stahly-Butts identified as important moving forward.

“There’s always this sprint, but we need to take moments to reflect and think about the lessons that we’ve learned,” said Stahly-Butts. “Part of experimenting is messing up so that we can make it right.”

Image Source: Jacqueline Legazcue