The History of Critical Resistance

Social Justice, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

The History of Critical Resistance


CRITICAL RESISTANCE (CR) WAS FORMED IN 1997 WHEN ACTIVISTS CHALLENGING the idea that incarceration is the panacea for all of our social ills came together to organize a conference that examined and challenged the phenomenon we have come to call the prison-industrial complex. Held in September 1998, the conference brought together over 3,500 activists, academics, former and current prisoners, labor leaders, religious organizations, feminists, gay, lesbian, and transgender activists, youth, families, and policymakers from every state in the U.S., as well as from other countries. The three-day event featured almost 200 panels and workshops and included a multitude of cultural events and a film festival.

Although the conference was a huge success, CR recognized that its work had only begun. The goal of CR was not simply a conference. The objective of CR was, and continues to be, the building of an international movement to challenge the prison-industrial complex. In pursuing that goal, the work of CR continues.

Critical Resistance Mission Statement

Prisons and incarceration have become the panacea for all of our social ills. Where once the United States looked to the welfare state to alleviate social problems, today the U.S. looks to prisons, prisons, and more prisons. Critical Resistance uses the term prison-industrial complex (PIC) to describe this phenomenon and the corresponding reality -- that capitalism flourishes from locking people in cages. CR recognizes that an integral component of the PIC is the dramatic increase in the incarceration of people of color, women, and the poor, along with the continued imprisonment of political prisoners.

CR is strongly committed to challenging the existing structure of "criminal justice," which is based on revenge, punishment, and violence. As part of the emerging international movement for penal abolition, we envision a society in which fundamental social problems are no longer "solved" through the mass warehousing (and periodic torture) of human beings, the overwhelming majority of whom are poor, people of color, and nonviolent. CR's mission is to build a national and international campaign to challenge the prison-industrial complex.

What We Do

In building a movement against the prison-industrial complex, CR employs strategies as varied and bold as suing the California Department of Corrections to stop construction of a new 5,000-plus bed prison, spearheading a grass-roots campaign to defeat California's Juvenile Crime Initiative (Proposition 21), and building unprecedented and powerful coalitions.

No New Prisons: CR has filed a cutting-edge lawsuit, Critical Resistance v. The California Department of Corrections, aimed at stopping California from building a new $335 million, 5,160-bed maximum-security prison, with half the beds slated to implement California's Juvenile Crime Initiative. The suit has generated unprecedented coverage of the irrationality and rank opportunism of prison construction, including stories in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Examiner, other local newspapers across the state, and even on German public radio. CR has effectively made California the national poster child for a disastrous "prisons as public works" policy and has generated a statewide rallying cry for schools, not jails.

Coalition Building: In conjunction with the lawsuit, CR has built an unparalleled and powerful coalition that reaches far beyond the criminal justice community. The coalition includes environmental, civil rights, and social justice organizations. It is a testament to CR's commitment to reaching beyond the converted and assembling new coalitions that place the PIC within all people's sphere of concern.

CR Film Festival/Video Series: CR continues to recognize the importance of cultural work in the fight against the PIC. CR is planning the First Annual CR Film Festival, distributes the video documentary of the conference, and has compiled a video series about the PIC, which is available through CR. …

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