This Is an Illogical Statement: Dangerous Trends in Anti-Prison Activism [1]

Article excerpt

R RECENTLY, A MOVEMENT CALLED "SCHOOLS NOT JAILS" HAS DOMINATED MUCH OF the popular discourse surrounding the alarming rise of incarcerated peoples in America. I would like to discuss, in general terms, some of the problems that this movement poses to radical anti-prison work. I am speaking generally in the hope that my critique can find some currency with others who are dealing with the problematic of the embedded liberal ideological apparatus, which holds that the very violence that constitutes social institutions is merely a curable excess.

Introduction

Institutions are created and maintained by hegemony

Hegemony is created and maintained by violence

Hegemony is violence

Institutions are violence

School is an institution

Institutions are created and maintained by hegemony

Hegemony is created and maintained by violence

Hegemony is violence

School is violence

Time is an institution

Institutions are created and maintained by hegemony

Hegemony is created and maintained by violence

Hegemony is violence

Time is violence

Jail is an institution

Institutions are created and maintained by hegemony

Hegemony is created and maintained by violence

Hegemony is violence

Jail is violence

School uses time

Jail uses time

Institutions use institutions

Institutions are created and maintained by hegemony

Hegemony is created and maintained by violence

Hegemony is violence

Violence uses violence

Schools not jails

Institutions not institutions

This is an illogical statement.

In the mid-1990s, "Schools Not Jails" (SNJ) (and other variations thereof, such as "Jobs Not Jails") was circulating in California as a popular rallying cry for anti-prison movements, but more recently it has grown into its own movement. As a bridge between emerging youth activism and anti-prison advocacy, this ideology seeks in part to draw crucial links between the underfunding of schools and the ever-burgeoning prison-industrial complex. It is not at this political location that I seek to critique this movement. As one of the students who was politicized in the era of Proposition 209, [2] I soon found that there was no space for my radical critique of government institutions when "Schools Not Jails" ballooned into a movement. Meetings were closed and businesslike, and the focus shifted from progressive political education to effective campaign management. This movement did not explicitly tie itself to a history of social justice movements in the United States; rather, it seemed for this movement that time began with Proposition 187 and would go on as long as there were propositions to oppose. [3] Most recently, the "Schools Not Jails" slogan was used in the failed campaign against California's Proposition 21. With stipulations such as the legalization of wiretapping on those the police deem "gang members" and increasing penalties for "gang-affiliated" crimes, Proposition 21 set into law the practices that the legal system (in conjunction with the FBI and other federal agencies) has used against activists for years. One would think that with seasoned activists at the head of the organizing, the level of political education around this issue would have been superb. However, this was not the case. Taking the lead from the "youth" organizers, a new naivete permeated the organizing. SNJ grew in popularity because of its simplicity and straightforwardness -- it is clear, catchy, and it fits neatly on a bumper sticker or a tee shirt. For this reason, SNJ is also dangerous. This and other such slogans indicate a revol t against what science fiction author and literary critic, Samuel Delany, has referred to as the "problem of 'complex rhetoric.'" [4] This revolt, in the name of popularizing a limited leftist agenda, is waged at the expense of the margins. …