About This Book
Gathering together Ruth Wilson Gilmore's work from over three decades, Abolition Geography presents her singular contribution to the politics of abolition as theorist, researcher, and organizer, offering scholars and activists ways of seeing and doing to help navigate our turbulent present. Abolition Geography moves us away from explanations of mass incarceration and racist violence focused on uninterrupted histories of prejudice or the dull compulsion of neoliberal economics. Instead, Gilmore offers a geographical grasp of how contemporary racial capitalism operates through an "anti-state state" that answers crises with the organized abandonment of people and environments deemed surplus to requirement. Gilmore escapes one-dimensional conceptions of what liberation demands, who demands liberation, or what indeed is to be abolished. Drawing on the lessons of grassroots organizing and internationalist imaginaries, Abolition Geography undoes the identification of abolition with mere decarceration, and reminds us that freedom is not a mere principle but a place.Edited with an introduction by Brenna Bhandar and Alberto Toscano.
The woman seated in the middle in the front row, J, worked for many years as a housekeeper, as a domestic. She worked as a seamstress. She worked to make people’s lives more comfortable so that she and her husband could make the lives of their children more comfortable. Imagine her one day waiting at the stop for the trolley that will take her and her basket of freshly ironed laundry out to her “white lady’s” house. The basket was really heavy, and one of her church friends, S, was already in the trolley. S came to the steps and helped her lift the basket into the trolley.J always envied S. S worked for a white lady who was all alone, Miss M. J worked for a white lady who was not alone, and she spent a lot of time dodging the white men in the white lady’s house. She envied S. She envied S a job that she imagined might be easier to do. But as she thought about it that day in the trolley, she thought, “Well, maybe that job isn’t easier to do. Maybe that job is actually a difficult job to do.” For example, what if Miss M wasn’t somebody who just left S alone? After all, S’s daughter, E, who, when she graduated from normal school, could not teach in the public schools because the city would not hire Black teachers, went South to teach in a school for Black girls in Florida, and she, E, discovered in Florida that there were girls who loved girls. And E thought that was a wonderful thing that those girls loved girls, and when she came back, she told her sisters, and her sisters told J’s daughter and J’s daughter told her mother and said, “Mom, is this something new?”J told her daughter that that was nothing new. In fact, she had heard the men of her family talking among themselves about P, P the musician, who—the men were worried about P and their sons. They had sons. J and her husband had sons, four sons, and the men wanted to know what P’s intentions were toward their boys. J could not understand why these men were so frightened, why these men wouldn’t just go ask. So she did. She put on her coat one day and took her handbag and she walked down the street to a place where P was practicing the piano and she said, “P, what is your intention toward my boys,” and he said with an arpeggio flourish, “J: I don’t like boys. I love men.”E came back from the South, and she worked in New Haven. She worked for her mother to keep her mother in her house, because her father had died. He had died of a botched operation. Her father was dead and she was the oldest child, so she worked, she worked, she worked. She couldn’t be a teacher. She could be a secretary. She was also quite a lively person who spent a lot of time in Harlem. It was the Renaissance. E met a man, an immigrant, an immigrant named D, from India. D had come to the United States to go to school, and he fell in love with E. Oh, he loved her, he loved her so! He wanted her to go with him, to go to India, to live with him in a place that was not yet free of colonial rule, but he swore to her that he would protect her and love her and cherish her, and her mama would be OK, even though she was so far from home. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t leave. He went back to India and she stayed in New Haven.But other immigrants had come to New Haven. Many immigrants had come. They had come from throughout the world, including all over the British colonies. Many had come from the Lesser Antilles in the first decade of the twentieth century. The Negroes of New Haven who were already in New Haven raised their eyebrows when those women and men came from the West Indies, and they asked, “What do they want here? What do they plan to do?”What the Negroes from the West Indies did was the same thing that the Negroes of New Haven did: they worked. They worked and they worked and they worked. H, the man whom E married, worked at Yale, working for a fraternity, as did J’s husband C, who stands behind her in that picture. C worked seven days a week. The janitors at Yale in those days worked seven days a week. They never could have a day off. Indeed, the comptroller, when asked why they couldn’t have a day off, said, “Why, those boys would just get in trouble if we give them a day off.”The men conscripted their sons. They could never do all the work that they had to do at Yale University in those days, so those who had sons, like C, who had four sons, conscripted the sons as boys to come and work for them. And it was there that one of the sons, my father, as a young teenager, heard communists debating New Deal Democrats about what was to be done. He stood in the back of the room wearing a white coat, serving food to the debaters, thinking, “This makes sense, what the communists say. This makes sense.”The military conscripted the sons and shipped them off to all the theaters of World War II. While the sons were off at war, they heard what the men back home were doing. They heard that the men, like C and others, were organizing with the CIO, the CIO that had so much leadership from the Communist Party. They organized the union at Yale, Local 35, the blue-collar union, the union for the housekeepers and janitors at Yale.The women organized, too. His sister-in-law M was working in the wartime industries in Columbus, Ohio. She worked all night in the factories, making machines to kill other people’s children, and by day she went to Ohio State University, learning to be a teacher to teach the children who did not get killed. When she got a call from her mother that her elderly father in Virginia was very, very sick she took a bus all the way to Virginia, and when she got to Virginia, when she got to Danville, she took a bus to the edge of town, and then she had to get out and walk to the Colored hospital that was far beyond the end of the bus line.Having called on her father and seen to his well-being, she walked back to the bus and got in the bus. This was 1942. She got in the bus and she sat in the front and she refused to move to the back. When they arrested her, when they arrested her and so many other people who wouldn’t move in those days, long before Rosa Parks finally made her refusal to move symbolize a movement, because people had organized, organized, organized, M went to court, and the judge said, “M, what have they done to you up there in the North? They have driven you out of your mind!” And her family agreed. They drove her to the longdistance bus and said, “Go back to the North and never come back.” Editors and pundits discussed this refusal up and down the southeastern seaboard, confused by patience’s militant face.When the men came back, when they came back from the military, they were ready to fight. They knew how to shoot. They knew how to work. They fought into jobs. They fought into jobs they had never had before, but they fought into jobs that were jobs making weapons to kill other people’s children. They went to work, for example, for Winchester, one of the major firms of the military-industrial complex. They went to work for Winchester and the military-industrial complex, where the machinists were not organized, although they had, for decades and decades and decades and decades, made weapons to commit the genocide against indigenous people in the United States. They made weapons that were used to grab the Philippines and Hawai’i and Puerto Rico and Cuba. They made these weapons, and in that place where they made the weapons, they made a union.My father, a machinist, a journeyman machinist, led the organizing. He helped to form the union. But he lost his job because of his union work. He went from job to job, working as a wonderfully skilled tool and die maker, and he eventually wound up working at, of all places, Yale, in the physics department. He worked in the physics department helping the physicists make their machines for observation, their machines for seeing the things that cannot be seen. And while they were doing that, he could see all around him at Yale the things that should not be seen because they should not happen. My father decided that something had to be done. When Lady Bird Johnson came to town in 1967, on her Beautify America campaign, the campaign in which she said, “Plant a shrub or a bush or a tree,” my father went and picketed at the president of Yale’s house. He wrote a sign that said, “Mrs. LBJ, Prez Kingman Brewster works the Dick Lee’s white power to keep the blacks suppressed,” and the other side of the placard said, “Yale supports apartheid employment policies.”When I applied to Yale, I came to realize much later, there wasn’t any question that I would be accepted. It was a different kind of power grouping that I found myself in, quite different from the one, the kind one, the collegial one, that got me to that first Modern Language Association conference in 1989. My father, indeed, kindly offered to burn the place down if they didn’t take his number-one daughter, his only daughter. But not being a fool, not one to waste infrastructure that can be turned to other purposes, his talent was to force Yale to burn money and time rather than the physical plant to achieve what he wanted for the communities where he organized: jobs, housing, daycare, health clinics. In other words, his talent was to organize, promote ideas, and obstruct and obstruct, obstruct in the political and legal arenas. When I asked him to go to the bursar’s office with me the first day of school in case there were any remaining charges not covered by the university employees’ tuition remission, he said, “Why? They owe us.” He wouldn’t fill out financial aid forms. He refused to ask. He knew that nobody had invited us here.“I was sent,” Lorna Goodison wrote. “Tell that to history.”And as Stuart Hall taught me, it is history that gives us a sense of ourselves as a single political constituency, which is why we keep rewriting it.