With Lola Olufemi (feminist who thinks sex is a construct), Scott Branson (‘transfemme anarchist writer’) and PhD student Reed Puc (thesis on Spiderman, policing and abolition). In other words, la creme de la crap …
The blurby bit
Abolition for Liberation
The call for abolition is growing, also in the UK. What are the roots of the abolition demand and what are the factors causing it to grow louder? Would abolition leave a gap or should we build ‘alternatives’, or do alternatives already exist and should we expand them, scale them up? What is to be abolished and why? How about family, gender and property for instance? What can we learn from the ‘original’ abolitionists and others who already live, relate and imagine life differently?
The Centre for Law & Social Change is excited to host this roundtable with speakers Lola Olufemi(organiser, researcher and author of Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power and Experiments in Imagining Otherwise), Scott Branson (artist, podcast host and author of Practical Anarchism: A Guide for Daily Life and co-editor of Surviving the Future: Abolitionist Queer Strategies) and Reed Puc (currently writing their PhD thesis at City on Spiderman, policing and abolition). The conversation will be chaired by Natasha Mutch-Vidal of the Centre for Institutional Equity and Inclusion.
This event is brought to you by the Centre for Law & Social Change, in collaboration with the Centre for Institutional Equity and Inclusion at City, University of London. It forms part of the Centre for Law & Social Change event series and City’s LGBTQI History Month events.From Eventbrite’s website
Major clown alert
Let’s bear in mind throughout please that this was a discussion about ‘abolition’ held in a university law school. Generally-speaking abolitionists seek the destruction of the police, prison and all forms of organised justice. Prisons and the police might well need reform but anyone who thinks they can be abolished has lost all contact with reality and is essentially agitating for anarchy or marxism. Remember abolitionists have zero to say on how they would deal with the most dangerous sadistic confirmed criminals. And ultimately if you’re not going to lock them up, we’re going to have to kill them.
Look into the darkness of your mind
The conference started proper by closing our eyes and looking into darkness of our minds to supposedly create a moment of visualisation we could return to later. This was suggested by the moderator of the event, Natasha Mutch-Vidal, a complete numbskull, who behaved throughout with unparalleled precocity. Her role at City University is as ‘Senior Equality Diversity Inclusion Officer (Race Equality)’, which is really just a way of saying she does nothing all day long and gets paid for it.
The discussion was guided by open facile questions illustrated by a powerpoint on screen behind them, the first slide being:
What does abolition feel like in the body?
Not-Mutch-Brains began with the tautology: ‘What does your body feel like when you think about abolition and what does it mean to you in a somatic sense?’
Lola Olufemi told us that it made her think of the body and landscapes (‘landscapes’ turns out to be key term) and admitted it was really communism, but sensibly avoided answering how it made her feel in her body.
Scott Branson (the male-presenting ‘trans femme’) explained how he fantasised that the pain in his hip could be overcome by a superpower: trans was the embodiment of change and a metaphor for abolition.
Abolition also alerted Reed Puc to the pain in her body and wondered what would happen if people truly listed to their body’s needs, which is ironic when Puc is clearly using anabolic steroids.
As the panellists wibbled, the moderator, Not-Mutch-Brains scribbled away furiously, and liked the phrase ‘pain in body’ (as if there might be some other place one might experience it) and the superpower simile given by Branson.
For the second time in less than fifteen minutes, she invited us to pause to think about the pain in our bodies in silence. It was only twenty seconds but felt so much longer.
We are already abolitionists.
Not-Mutch-Brains told us we were already ‘generating that vibration and that frequency that is needed to invoke abolition’. She asked the panel to talk about the last thing they abolished in their personal lives, as part of abolitionist practice, and what they would like to abolish personally.
What do we need to abolish?
Puc, whose PhD is on Spiderman, talked about landscapes, and in particular that she always had to work against the oppression of White Supremacy (looked white to me) and offered the example of a wine bar appearing in her neighbourhood.
Branson, conjuring up the image of people in cages, wanted to abolish everything. Which is a strange take from a man who sat masked throughout the event, suggesting he was quite comfortable with compliance when it suited. Branson told us that he wanted all institutions to go – the police, prisons, national government, gender and capitalism. We should refuse the roles imposed on us, including the ways we were expected to act in the street (?), the workplace and the classroom. When Branson evaluates his own students he tries not to impose hierarchy (I bet he does, creep).
Professional feminist Olufemi reflected that ‘we are already abolitionists’ but admitted that there was ‘mass consent’ for prisons to exist. She is also doing a PhD at the moment and had been committing herself more to ‘disorder’ and that ‘disorder might make sure our needs are met’. Not-Mutch-Brains liked that and thought that having ‘complete disorder’ would help keep us on our toes.
Abolish what, exactly?
Branson: Start with abolishing prisons and the police. We live in a carceral world and it allows carceral logic to rule. If you get rid of the police, you also destroy the state. Family is like a mini state. And also:
I look at things like abolishing the family and alongside that the hierarchy between adults and children, which is one of the places we very often assume that there is a right of adults to have control over children. That would be one of the places which would totally upend our world if we had some kind of youth ?co-operation [inaudible].Scott Branson, around 27 minutes
Puc commented that the idea of the child was created to protect the ‘suburban colonial project’ and that people saw children as a ‘form of property’. Puc wanted to abolish ‘healthcare institutions’, particularly as she was ‘a trans person, a disabled person and a mentally ill person’. Puc felt that prison abolition was the key to the collapse of the state. When she lived in America, she wasn’t able to even drive to a gender identity clinic, let alone pay for it, while now she was in the UK it was a question of whether ‘the State will give it me’ which was a whole different ‘realm of violence’.
(Someone posted a link to the DIY HRT Directory in the Zoom chat, whose purpose is ‘to teach transgender people how to safely perform DIY Hormone Replacement Therapy’ but that you shouldn’t share the site to ‘transphobes’, or your mum.)
Olufemi again talked at length without really saying anything. Prisons were a place of violence and we should think about the location of freedom and that freedom could actually be physically built.
Another audience task. The point of the task was to ‘set the tone’ for the next discussion and to answer the question:
What alternative existences have you imagined in your head when you have come across a system or a service that didn’t serve you?
Funny thing is I’m always imaging things in my head, so I found this bit really easy. And I’m always noting that things don’t actually serve me. Like, for instance, my local bus doesn’t actually go from my house. I have to walk five minutes down the road and go to a thing called a bus stop and have to wait until the bus comes and then when the bus goes, it doesn’t go directly to my destination, I have to wait while other annoying people get on and get off the bus before I finally get to my stop.
In the same vein, one woman wanted to share that she explored through science fiction the possibility of the destruction of gender and this had enabled her to think differently and thought it could have a change in society at a real level if enough people read the books that she did.
One of City University’s lecturers wanted to the abolish universities and hierarchy. The lecturer acknowledged that she was a permanent academic, having gotten the holy grail of tenure, however despite that privilege she was now wracked with guilt about the violence the system did to students and staff. The struggle is such that she goes home at night to cry about it. She acknowledged that such a move might well remove education as a system altogether, hence a desire wholly devoid of any logic. This lecturer is currently supervising PhD students. Can I suggest a career break and an intensive deprogramming session instead?
Another audience member worked in healthcare and her contribution to the abolitionist movement was to ‘show up’ and use her imagination. Examples included ‘making sure a referral goes into the right hands’, in other words, she had to do exactly what a non-abolitionist would do in her position; her job. Registration of patients, however, was ‘violence’, rather calling into question her ability to carry out simple administrative tasks. She felt ‘imprisoned’ by the power which had been bestowed upon her. Oh dear.
Then a woman who identified as a they/them told us in a squeaky Minnie Mouse voice that people were always interpreting her a woman. This was giving her lots of opportunities to educate others but it was fun.
What alternative existences have you imagined through your writing, your sharing, with peers, with other abolitionists? Was that a clear question? Brilliant.
Said Not-Mutch-Brains. Olufemi’s writing practice sits somewhere in between the ‘vulgar materialist’ and the ‘utopians’ who wanted to build a new world. The arts could open the world up to different ways of thinking. She believes that institutions, like universities, the NHS and the police all had ‘huge financial capital’ and that money flowed through them. Abolition was all about following the money so that ‘more money was produced’ (I did wonder if she was advocating for inflation but on reflection it was probably just a case of words falling out of her mouth). Like all the cool kids, Olufemi only likes art before it becomes commercially successful.
Puc talked about superheroes and gender and her PhD thesis and how to ‘imagine otherwise’. One of her ‘weird passions’ was going to museums which were formally sites of incarceration, to spend time salivating over all the trauma and violence those locations had contained. This made Olufemi nominally reflect on Holloway Prison, once the largest women’s prison in Europe. (Interestingly Holloway is being redeveloped into residential housing, the profits will go to modernising other prison estates.)
Not-Mutch-Brains’s artistic discipline was improvisation, which she likes because it feels really ‘decolonial’. It’s around this point that my eyelids started to repeatedly and spontaneously squeeze shut.
Question and Answer session
I checked the numbers logged in and the session was losing its audience. Originally about 38 had been logged in but now just 23 remained. Not-Mutch-Brains wanted another break in proceedings so that people could make contact with themselves again. Mine included pinching myself to make sure I was still alive. Little did I know there was still another turgid half hour to go.
How can you create spaces for self reflection in the middle of abolition or can abolition be used to create these spaces?
Puc responded that urgency and time were important, as were the skills of ‘moving at the speed of love and justice’, Puc was currently working on ‘not moving at the speed of panic’.
Are there are any groups or networks you could suggest to meet any abolitionists?
Olufemi recommended Abolitionist Futures (closely associated with the odious Morgan M. Page) which questioned the idea that the prison had always existed and would always exist. The grassroots organisation CopWatch had also emerged. She also recommended a sex worker union ‘if you’re a sex worker’ and an anti-racist union. Someone in the chat recommended Sisters Uncut.
Does abolition mean anarchy?
Branson had written a book about anarchy so was happy to answer this question. For Branson anarchy was something to be desired. No surprises there. He also wasn’t worried about the lack of safety, rather acknowledging that violence and conflict would still very much exist. Great.
How do we fight to abolish the carceral element of healthcare systems?
Puc wanted to support striking nurses and doctors yet remain critical of the infrastructure. Puc had recently been able to advise a fellow American on how to access healthcare in the NHS (one suspects this is the ‘gender affirming’ type of healthcare, rather than actual healthcare).
During the pandemic, Olufemi claims, the government made it easier to section people, and this was racist because black men were more likely to be sectioned. Abolition of the NHS would allow redistribution of resources.
Branson wanted everyone to have their basic needs met but was cautious about destroying healthcare systems because he relied on medicines to keep him healthy and reflected that trans people had been very good at getting want they wanted from that system.
What do you think of abolishing cars and other traffic?
Landscapes again. If we had abolition we wouldn’t need to move around so much, according to Puc. (Which is probably right, as our roads would likely resemble Max Mad but with a miserable rainy aesthetic and abandoned Little Chefs.)
Puc’s answer marked the end of the posted video which is publicly available. The online viewing figure was down to eighteen and it was obvious that people were walking out of the room for real too, as we heard the banging of doors and some sauntered past the camera.
Against the binary of violence and love
The conversation did get a lot more esoteric from there, and none of it is worth repeating save for Puc’s final revelation. Starting with offering sympathy to those who ended up incarcerated as a result of trying to defend themselves against domestic violence, Puc told us she was ‘hesitant’ to put any binaries between violence and care, since sometimes when things looked like violence they actually weren’t. They were more like ‘catharsis and care and release’ making it sound like she was talking about BDSM.
Now, why would an abolitionist want to reproduce the master and slave dynamic?
Abolitionists literally have no arguments and prefer to navel gaze instead about ‘feelings inside the body’ as an alternate way of policing behaviour. Difficult questions about serious criminality, like murder, rape and other violent crimes, must be scrupulously avoided at all times. However, given the event was held by a law school you would think someone might mention a law at some point. In fact, the panel discussion was held the week that the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill was challenged by the UK Government. Yet they didn’t mention it, either to celebrate it or denigrate the UK Government’s move to stop it, preferring to close their eyes to find inner vibrations instead.
The falsification of sex serves the abolitionist agenda
And it does this on two counts:
One, falsification of sex in law is a major step towards anarchy, especially given that female prisoners across the world now share prison cells with men, despite these spaces supposedly being protected in law. Similarly female prison officers have been given convicts they have no realistic chance of controlling; another dent in the state’s authority. There has already been at least one case where the judge, faced with putting a violent man in a women’s prison, has chosen to let the man go free. There are also several cases (see this article by Ripx4Nutmeg and this one) where the criminal received a lighter or no sentence because he said he was a woman, but without the jail issue being specified as a reason why. (Thanks to RIPx4Nutmeg for supplying the information.)
The Women are Human website has also documented this phenomenon – see https://www.womenarehuman.com/too-good-for-prison-9-times-judges-decided-being-transgender-is-punishment-enough/
Two, it is part of the abolitionist agenda to remove punishment from the justice system. Putting rapists in women’s prisons is the quintessential example of this, since clearly this would be regarded as a reward by a rapist and no doubt an objective for some. As for the women receiving a double punishment, well, who cares? Certainly not the abolitionists.
In terms of the UK, the abolitionist agenda is supported by groups like Bent Bars and the previously mentioned Abolitionist Futures, but mostly I suspect most the support comes from academia. Here is an article written by Phillipa Greer, Legal Officer for the United Nations, hosted by the LSE’s Gender Studies department, arguing for prison abolition. Interestingly the Centre of Crime and Justice Studies indulged the notion of prison abolition in the past but seems to have run cold on it since joining the discussion about the preservation of single sex spaces. A case of dangerous clowns, I’m afraid.
The video of the law school’s event was uploaded shortly after, it was part of LGBTQ+ history month at the City University.
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You deserve a medal for sitting through this. Jolly useful course for those law students intending to compete against 500 other candidates for a bog-standard job in a high-street solicitors. Ai ai ai….
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