Monday, July 13, 2009


Putting a Mirror on Critical Resistance:
This is a very succinct and positive statement, with some very good concrete proposals. I think it perhaps doesn't go far enough in terms of self-criticism within the "prison movement," not just CR, about the lack of effectiveness of our movement, as measured by the ongoing increase in the number of people locked down and otherwise ensnared by the custody system; by the failure to win the release of pp/pows, by the failure to even reform 3 strikes in CA, etc etc. What is the conference going to do to defeat the propositions on the Nov ballot that will make matters even worse still? Underlines the absurdity of holding a conference to mark the 10th anniversary of a conference. Hopefully people will transcend these weaknesses by implementing some of the proposals Cerna-Turoff makes.--MN

, thandisizwe chimurenga wrote:
incitebayarea] Putting a Mirror on Critical Resistance: Former
Oakland Organizer's Statement


*Former **Oakland** Organizer Reflects on the Current Problems and Future
Solutions for Critical Resistance *

I think that we are at an important crossroads in how to move forward as a
Movement. The Nonprofit Industrial Complex is extremely strong, and
organization after organization has experienced the conflict between
creating social justice in the world and sustaining a business?i.e. not
challenging systems of oppression. Critical Resistance is no exception. In
fact, as a former staff member (Organizer of the Oakland Chapter), I saw how
Critical Resistance was part of the Nonprofit Industrial Complex more than
any other organization that I have worked with. In the day to day, Critical
Resistance as an organization refused to act in ways that were abolitionist,
created a culture that was elitist and forced out people who were most
affected and formerly incarcerated, and replicated ideas of security and
safety that were oppressive towards the working-class, people of color, and
all other surveilled identities and intersections. Seeing the disconnection
between daily practice and overall vision saddened me tremendously. As a
supposed leader of the abolition movement, it is very important to hold CR
accountable to its rhetoric, and CR10 offers us a moment in which we can all
put a mirror back on both our practices as individuals/organizations and
Critical Resistance.

One of the basic principles that Critical Resistance supposedly values is
transparency and accountability. The ten year anniversary mark is an
opportune time to take stack of how Critical Resistance does and does not
meet its mission of abolition. I encourage people to go to CR10 and to push
Critical Resistance to be accountable to you and to people who are inside
and just getting out. We want to make sure that the amount of energy put
into CR10 will be followed with work that goes towards material change in
the world. Push Critical Resistance to be more than part of the Nonprofit
Industrial Complex.

*Ten Action Points:*

1) *Make sure that CR10 does not tokenize formerly incarcerated people
at the conference *

In Critical Resistance, as an organization, there are *few* formerly
incarcerated people. Staff has even said publicly that there is a retention
problem of formerly incarcerated people in the organization. Post-CR10,
make sure that Critical Resistance gives top priority to changing the face
of the organization and the culture that has created this dynamic.

2) *Centralize people who are most affected and formerly/currently

Currently, Critical Resistance runs through a supposed collective model. In
actuality, the organization is a hierarchy of staff and middle/upper-class
members. These people create an environment that is not comfortable to most
impacted or formerly/currently incarcerated people. The behavior ranges
from a staff person who called a public computer room "her domain" and
refused to allow a member to organize it to a member who publicly discounted
a currently incarcerated member as "mentally insane" (discounting our
responsibility to him). In another instance, the same staff member wanted
to start security systems to monitor/limit members from coming into the
office and at the same time, stated that she believed in bulldozing all
prison walls immediately. Members and staff who are working-class, most
impacted, and/or formerly incarcerated have stated repeatedly how Critical
Resistance is "not their space," how they have been made to feel stupid for
not knowing the same cultural/educational markers (usually based in cultural
fades associated with anarchism, punk rock, or the environmental movement),
and have not been developed but instead, forced into menial jobs like data
entry and writing thank you letters. These dynamics should shift. True
societal change comes from shifting dynamics of power; if the Prison
Industrial Complex dehumanizes people, abolitionist organizations should be
spaces that create voice for people who are facing policing in a direct way.
Critical Resistance should strive to listen to the experiences of most
impacted and formerly/currently incarcerated people as central to their
strategy for ending the Prison Industrial Complex. Critical Resistance
should not discount people who are "non-political prisoners," neither in
rhetoric or practice.

3) *Build skills and develop the leadership of people who are most
affected and formerly/currently incarcerated*

Critical Resistance's mission states that "*Critical Resistance seeks to
build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by
challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. We
believe that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom are what
really make our communities secure*." In reality, Critical Resistance
should prioritize ways to meet these basic necessities. This means
providing long-term support to communities and individuals. Critical
Resistance should commit to long-term, skill building of membership that has
been formerly incarcerated and needs job training (both political education
and concrete skills). Most impacted and formerly incarcerated members
should eventually transition into the staff positions. Fiscal priorities
should be directed towards as many direct efforts in communities as
possible, not simply filtered through other nonprofits.

4) *Create structures that address the needs of most impacted and
formerly/currently incarcerated people*

* *

Structurally, Critical Resistance does not take into account the needs of
people who are most impacted and formerly/currently incarcerated. Most of
these problems in structure are based on privilege. For instance, Critical
Resistance has three and four hour meetings almost every night; how would
someone working multiple jobs or with children be able to attend? Concretely,
in one instance, two people on parole never even made a first meeting
because of curfew laws and not having access to rides. For Oakland, other
problems included having meetings in San Francisco when the cost of
transportation, transportation time, danger for some people to walk through
different turfs, and the culture of the Bay made it impossible for
potential, new members or most impacted members to attend. These are
concrete, logistical problems that Critical Resistance must address in order
to centralize most impacted and formerly/currently incarcerated people.

5) *Create practices that are effective in the empowerment of most
impacted and formerly/currently incarcerated people *

Critical Resistance grounds itself in broad theory. Partially, this means
that individuals do not see how their politics are harmful. For instance,
it is one thing to say that one is anti-capitalist, but in a capitalist
world, it is another thing to judge people for needing to survive. This
conflict, in actuality, is in contradiction with Critical Resistance's
mission?discusses the need for providing food, shelter, and other tools of
survival to people. Therefore, when developing organizing strategies, one
must account for stipends, transportation costs, and provide livable wage
for employees. In addition, most impacted people have extreme *and* current
trauma. Critical Resistance should know the difference between needing to
miss meetings for personal survival and "a lack of commitment." One must
also build strategies that work. If the goal is to end the Prison
Industrial Complex, organizing should be pointed and based on
winning. Because
the Prison Industrial Complex changes in different locations, it is
extremely important to build a local grassroots movement. It also means
that one must get to know the likes, patterns, and culture of a community
and/or allow individuals from that community to shape the organizing
strategies. In Critical Resistance Oakland, one of many issues was that
people did not respect the importance of local work and the empowerment of
people from Oakland as important. In fact, most people responded to this
empowerment as a challenge to their own position within the organization. I
think there is an inherent problem when people who are not most impacted,
formerly incarcerated, and/or from a local site take the lead over and feel
threatened by people who are experience the brunt of the things that we are
fighting against.

6) *Stop with elite, academic language*

* *

One of the large problems in Critical Resistance is that people use language
that is not accessible and do not explain it. It assumes that people do not
already have the language and abolitionist analysis and sets Critical
Resistance up as the "savior" or "model." True non-hierarchy sees that all
organizing and thought came from most affected communities to begin with,
and the movement has simply put labels on the peoples' power. It is also
classist, because the people who use this language have higher education;
those in the organization who have not had access to higher education feel
uncomfortable and marginalized.

7) *Break the culture of guilt *

What does it mean when people are frightened of being challenged? It
indicates insecurity in themselves, their power, or the validity of their
work. A healthy organizing structure relies on the ability to debate and to
not internalize problems in the organization as personal "failures." This
is a fundamental principle of actual democracy; it is never static. Critical
Resistance relies on a "white guilt" model of criticism. When the
organization is challenged, individuals respond through either saying it is
"their fault" or becoming defensive and attempting to claim the identities
that make them "down." Push people to not centralize themselves and to step
up/step back.

8) *Follow through and move forward*

Critical Resistance has a problem with follow through. When making these
changes, everyone must make a long-term commitment to prioritize this work.
It is extremely detrimental to building trust in communities that are often
let down to make promises and to not follow through. It is also bad to be
paralyzed with fear and to not move forward. Often people in Critical
Resistance discount ideas saying "we tried that, and it didn't work." It is
very different to try something with a constituency of all white, non-local
and/or impacted people and to do the same thing with people who have a base
in the community.

9) *Change punitive culture and do not replicate cycles of harm*

* *

Within Critical Resistance, no systems exist to address harm. As an
organization that discusses the need for alternatives to policing, the
organization should also internally create these models to address
situations. The current culture is passive aggressive, and direct conflict
is avoided at all cost. The vast majority of Critical Resistance membership
and staff respond in very defensive ways or talk about people behind their
backs. This kind of behavior is both childish and dangerous towards
creating abolition. Many people also avoid responsibility by universalizing
harm, i.e. "we are all harmed." This mentality does not take into account
realities of who is most affected within situations and does not allow for
dialogue. The first step in making amends is to come at situations with an
open heart and ability to admit one's own mistakes. The second would be to
ask directly the needs of the person harmed.

10) * Build a movement not based on the idea that we are all the same*

A) Critical Resistance like many other nonprofits universalizes people. It
uses a colorblind or postmodern framework of organizing where "we are all
affected by the Prison Industrial Complex" or "all oppressed." While it is
true that policing and militarism affect all of us, this rhetoric does not
account for our differences. Instead, it allows for people who are
upper-class, disconnected from communities and their own identities, and not
most impacted/formerly incarcerated to place themselves in leadership of the
Movement. People are frightened to admit that they have privilege and
scared that they will not have a place in organizing if they do not pretend
to be at the center of oppression. We reach a stand still when people
cannot be honest with themselves. They spend so much time pretending to fit
identity labels that the people who are actually, right now facing violence,
hunger, and trauma are ignored. We all carry trauma, and it is one of the
hardest lessons to look at one's self with honesty and open with others
through vulnerability. Part of creating abolition is working on the walls
we create internally as well. Self-healing must happen along with doing
social justice work, otherwise we all fail. Part of honesty means admitting
how privileges change with place and time. Sometimes certain individuals
are centered in organizing, and other times we must step back and push
different groups into leadership. It is perfectly fine to not fit the
labels of oppression as long as we create strategies that are
empowering. Critical Resistance's members need to begin to practice
the personal as political;
they must also begin to develop strategy that does not universalize

B) Overall, in the current context, Native Americans have the highest rates
of incarceration, poverty, and substance abuse within the United States,
Black men and women have some of the highest rates and the fastest growing
rates of incarceration respectively, and in the current war on terror,
Muslim and Middle Eastern/Arab peoples face extreme danger of hate crimes
and other targeting. Because these identities are targeted, we too must not
universalize our organizing strategies and prioritize these people *as
groups*. In order to achieve this organizing goal, we must look at
specificities of the current time. For instance, if a multi-racial
organization like Critical Resistance was to take on the issue of
immigration, it should first specify which group was most affected in the
current context. In Oakland, Asian American immigrants and especially
Vietnamese Americans are being deported, but the majority of deportations
overall are of Mexican immigrants. A good organizing strategy for a
multi-racial organization would be to determine the most impacted target
(i.e. Mexicans immigrants) and to create short-term strategies that
temporarily address the needs of the group in danger and to create
longer-term dynamics that are not detrimental/benefit Vietnamese Americans
and others. Specificities depend on place and time, and we must all be
humble and allow others to be highlighted in their oppression at various
times. For this reason, it is extremely important to know the local context
in which one is organizing. Urge Critical Resistance to create specificity
in their organizing in order to be affective.

C) Lastly, we must pay attention to intersections. Intersections of class,
color, race, disability, and other identities create bodies that cannot be
easily categorized. Members of Critical Resistance tend to claim one
identity category (race, immigration status, class, etc) as enough to make
them "most impacted." Rather, it is these identities connected with
concrete *experience** *that make one most impacted. For members and staff
of Critical Resistance, individuals must be honest with where they came
from, and the educational and class privileges that they now possess. Money
and education do breed more access. We must acknowledge who we are in this
current moment in order to not put ourselves in the spotlight over people
who have not had access to privilege. Urge Critical Resistance staff and
members to prioritize people who are experiencing outright violence
currently and to not over focus on themselves.

As my mother always says, criticism is the highest form of compliment. It
means someone actually cares and dreams for a better world or person. It
means you see the chance to improve through certain steps. While I cannot
be in the position to push Critical Resistance internally, I hope that this
letter pushes CR and the overall Movement to hold Critical Resistance
accountable to its rhetoric. With a budget of hundreds of thousands of
dollars for the conference alone, one should ask Critical Resistance how
CR10 is going to benefit Oakland as its host city directly. I urge people
to come to CR10, to ask Critical Resistance to address these questions, to
make sure that CR10 gives back to the Oakland community and is a safe space
for most impacted/formerly incarcerated people, and to follow through in the
next ten years.

Thank you,

Ilanito Cerna-Turoff

Former Oakland Organizer, Critical Resistance

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence is a national activist organization
of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against
women of color and their communities through direct action, critical
dialogue and grassroots organizing.

1 comment:

Ahma Daeus said...

Even if one does not ask or pretends not to see the rope and the flashing red flag draped around the philosophical question standing solemnly at attention in the middle of the room, it remains apparent that the mere presence of a private “for profit” driven prison business in our country undermines the U.S Constitution and subsequently the credibility of the American criminal justice system. In fact, until all private prisons in America have been abolished and outlawed, “the promise” of fairness and justice at every level of this country’s judicial system will remain unattainable. We must restore the principles and the vacant promise of our judicial system. Our government cannot continue to "job-out" its obligation and neglect its duty to the individuals confined in the correctional and rehabilitation facilities throughout this nation, nor can it ignore the will of the people that it was designed to serve and protect. There is urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of indifference, apathy, cynicism, fear, and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
My hope is that you will support the National Public Service Council to Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) with a show of solidarity by signing "The Single Voice Petition"

Please visit our website for further information:

–Ahma Daeus
"Practicing Humanity Without A License"…