Book Review

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba

Publisher: Haymarket Books
Genre: Political Science, Essays
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Educator, organizer, and curator Mariame Kaba collects seven years of essays and conversations on Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) abolition into one volume.

Kaba has been a foundational organizer in multiple prison abolition projects, including Survived and Punished (which helps free “survivors of domestic and sexual violence and other forms of gender violence who are imprisoned for survival actions”) and Project NIA (which aims “to dramatically reduce the reliance on arrest, detention, and incarceration for addressing youth violence”).

For those who were first introduced to PIC abolitionism last summer through #DefundThePolice, Kaba presents a holistic vision of the movement’s history, present, and future.

Thoughts

The modern theory and practice of PIC abolitionism grew out of the civil rights movement half a century ago. The movement’s roots, as the name implies, can be traced back to the slavery abolition movement that presaged the American Civil War. However, PIC abolition has been almost entirely excluded from mainstream conversations about the American justice system, until its ideas became central to the Ferguson uprising of 2014 and the George Floyd uprising of 2020. But as “Defund the Police”—the first demand of #8toAbolition—became a policy demand of a plurality of local Black Lives Matter organizations, the national news media were forced to suddenly contend with the work and vision of PIC abolitionists.

By the summer of 2020, Mariame Kaba had been writing about PIC abolition for a decade on her blog Prison Culture. I was introduced to PIC abolition through Kaba’s work, as were many other young abolitionists. She is a gateway for a new generation into the ongoing struggle for emancipation.

Kaba’s greatest strength, in my opinion, is the combination of her writing’s accessibility and her scrupulous care to cite the sources of her ideas. I often have trouble understanding works of political theory, but Kaba stubbornly refuses to deal in the abstract; every idea she presents is grounded in examples drawn from her work as an organizer. Likewise, each idea is attributed to the activists, organizers, and writers who provided her with its germ. ‘Til We Free Us thus functions as not only an introductory text, but an index of foundational PIC abolitionist writers (almost entirely Black women).

If you would like a taste of what this book offers, I’d recommend starting with Kaba’s June 2020 opinion piece for the New York Times, “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police,” which is also included in this anthology.