Four members of the Critical Resistance (CR) conference organizing committee reflect on the conference and its aftermath.
CR: When you initially became involved with the CR organizing committee, what were you envisioning for the three-day event?
Andrea Smith (AS): I thought this event could be very successful in assisting the building of a mass movement against the prison system. This vision was very compelling to me because I believe that the repressiveness of the state is growing tremendously under the guise of protecting "law and order." Even political progressives sometimes do not question the need to "stop crime" and therefore support measures that strengthen the criminal justice system. In particular, I felt this conference could help to challenge the anti-violence against women movement's reliance on the criminal justice system as the primary avenue for addressing sexual/domestic violence. That is, the anti-sexual/domestic violence movement has become increasingly depoliticized and professionalized. It emphasizes providing social services and legal advocacy to survivors instead of developing a grass-roots political movement against violence. Domestic/sexual violence service agencies now depend primarily on the state for their primary funding s ources. Consequently, they emphasize cooperation with the state rather than mobilization against state violence. I thought Critical Resistance could provide a starting point for injecting a critical analysis regarding state violence into the sexual/domestic violence movement. At the same time, I believe prison activists have neglected to seriously address the safety concerns of survivors of domestic/sexual violence in their work and hoped that this conference could provide a point of dialogue between these two movements.
In addition, Native communities are often in the vanguard of developing alternatives to the incarceration system, and I thought this conference might bring greater visibility of these models to non-Indian communities. Restorative justice models are largely inspired by indigenous models of justice (although non-Native proponents of restorative justice largely forget this fact). Indigenous forms of justice are often evoked by non-Natives in the restorative justice movement in the absence of Native peoples. I was hoping Critical Resistance could bring greater visibility to the Native peoples who are actually doing this work.
Julia Sudhury (JS): I was invited to join the committee at a time when I was fairly new in the area and in the country. I did not know a great deal about prison issues in the U.S. and thought that this would be a way for me to learn more and incorporate that new knowledge into my research and activism. I did not have a clear idea of what the conference would be like, but felt it was a lot of money for a onetime event. In my previous work in community development, the funds being proposed would have funded a small advocacy group for a few years! I therefore hoped that the conference would lead to ongoing networking and activism greater than the event itself.
Terry Kupers (TK): I saw the conference as an opportunity to give a voice, as well as a collective audience, to activists and ex-prisoners who had been silenced for far too long. As the gap between rich and poor widens, and the people at the bottom of the economic ladder are deemed dispensable and "disappearale," the prisons become warehouses for a growing number of forgotten people. Cruelty inside grows in proportion to society's forgetting. A lack of media coverage for their efforts, gag rules for prisoners, very restricted visitation, and increasing repression against those who care about prisoners begin to wear down prison activists until they begin to feel disappeared themselves, alone in their courageous organizing efforts. I saw the conference as an opportunity to bring activists and ex-prisoners together to share our ideas and experiences and recognize the strength of our collective movement. …