This Fight Is Global: Abolitionists From the US and France Join in Conversation

A part of the Collection

The Highway to Abolition

In the summertime of 2020, on the onset of a lethal pandemic, George Floyd’s homicide propelled unprecedented numbers of individuals across the globe to take to the streets. From Australia to India, from Johannesburg to Saskatoon, calls for reverberated to defund police and spend money on safer communities.

Whereas folks flooded the streets in anger and grief, these crowds additionally represented the success of a long time of political schooling, supported by grassroots Black and Indigenous-led abolitionist campaigns and networks. The crowds additionally telegraphed a transparent message: Communities are stronger and safer without police and prisons.

Regardless of the predictable backlash — a sign of the profound influence of those huge avenue protests — calls for to defund police have persist. #StopCopCity, the motion to defeat the most important proposed police and military training facility in Atlanta, continues. In Winnipeg, Vancouver and Montreal, Canada, college students proceed to arrange to take away police from public colleges. Chicago’s Remedy Not Trauma marketing campaign resoundingly gained a referendum (non-binding) to spend money on police-free psychological well being and trauma companies.

Whereas the abolitionist motion is worldwide, many within the U.S. battle to be taught from the ways and evaluation outdoors of our borders. In the summertime of 2022, midway via a yr with the very best recorded variety of police-perpetrated killings within the U.S., we (Erica, Shirley and Melanie) talked with two organizers from the French abolitionist organizing group Collectif Matsuda (Chris and Klara) and traveled to the U.S. to analysis our actions. We talked in Chicago and Oakland with Chris and Klara, who requested to be recognized right here by pseudonyms as a consequence of issues about surveillance each at residence and within the U.S., to be taught extra about abolition, race and transformative justice in France. We spoke in English — not their first language. Beneath are excerpts from our conversations.

Melanie Brazzell: Discuss concerning the modern abolitionist motion in France.

Chris: In France there’s a custom of contestation. Individuals wish to struggle the state. House is completely different in France; the wealthy folks reside in cities and the poor folks — usually folks of colour with ties to nations colonized by France — reside within the banlieue [the suburbs of a city]. In my family tree, the primary main confrontation with police within the twenty first century in France is 2005: The banlieues revolted following the loss of life of two younger folks. However the rebellion didn’t stay solely within the banlieues. A nighttime curfew was applied in some cities.

“Everyone hates the police” turned extra common in 2016 when college students and staff fought against a reform of labor laws that will lower employee protections. It was principally college students — [including many] younger white individuals who “found” police violence at this second and skilled a lot of repression.

The “Yellow Vest” motion in 2018 began when the white working class, who had to make use of their automobiles to commute to work from suburban areas, fought in opposition to a proposed tax enhance on fuel. This attracted loads of older individuals who actually struggled in on a regular basis life, working with no possibilities for achievement. [Racism and antisemitism erupted during “Yellow Vest” actions, and this movement did not center racial or gender justice.]

These actions have been actually, actually, actually repressed by police. Individuals taking part in avenue actions misplaced eyes and fingers, and went to jail, and because it was usually their first time protesting, they usually didn’t make a security plan. By way of participation in social actions, a brand new a part of the inhabitants found police violence and now hate the police endlessly.

Klara: However why are folks not abolitionists? For a similar motive that individuals hate work, however they then turned staff. Many battle to essentially know the best way to reside with out the police. Additionally, the state is quite a bit stronger in France than within the U.S. We nonetheless have a welfare state, regardless that it’s crumbling. This welfare state provides the police some legitimacy, regardless that rising numbers of individuals hate them. Police additionally signify the state that individuals know they depend upon.

A crucial distinction is that France has one nationwide police power. Our police throughout the nation function beneath the identical legislation, with the identical price range, and the identical weapons. We now have some municipal police, however the nationwide police are the primary ones within the cities. Within the U.S., with 18,000 police departments, it’s attainable to say in a single metropolis, “Okay, I need to abolish the police,” even when it gained’t abolish all the opposite departments. Our centralized system makes complete change tougher to think about and to generate in France.

MB: Actions during the last half century in France for decolonization, in opposition to racist police brutality, and for labor protections and financial justice have slowly sharpened the knives of antagonism between the police and the folks. Speak about how white supremacy and colonialism form carcerality in France, and likewise your individual work, as white folks in abolitionist organizing in France.

Klara: Race is just not structured in France the identical as it’s within the U.S. We’re a colonial state, however France is just not occupied land, and chattel slavery in France didn’t final so long as within the U.S. Confrontations in opposition to racism largely unfolded within the colonies, just like the Caribbean [for example, the Haitian Revolution]. France’s carceral state is just not the identical because the U.S.

There are proportionally and numerically much less folks in jail and fewer police murders in France than within the U.S. However it’s the identical racial construction as within the U.S. Individuals of colour are those locked up and killed by the police. However we don’t have any official statistics on race. It’s not authorized in France to gather racial information.

Chris: France is just not constructed on the identical racial basis because the U.S., regardless that race is central to social antagonism in France. Individuals with Collectif Matsuda come from primarily white anarchist or autonomous teams. These organizing networks in France are ignorant about race, as are many white dominant left organizations round us. Learning the abolitionist motion within the U.S. is one good approach to make race turn into an actual difficulty for white activists in France.

Shirley Leslie: Through the pandemic shutdowns and uprisings of 2020, collective research and group motion in opposition to the violence of policing gained recognition and new tasks emerged, globally, to struggle the prison-industrial complicated (PIC). Though there is no such thing as a one mannequin to PIC abolitionist organizing, Collectif Matsuda translated policing abolitionist supplies obtainable within the U.S. and produced a brief guide, Abolir la police: Échos des États-Unis to construct shared evaluation throughout organizers and to work towards tasks that now not legitimize or increase policing in France. Describe how this specific challenge come about?

Klara: Earlier than COVID-19, we talked about abolition with our mates and political networks. Through the begin of the pandemic there was a tough lockdown whereas principally folks of colour nonetheless labored and skilled the next charge of loss of life from COVID-19. The police have been very current within the banlieues or outer suburbs the place there are principally folks of colour. Police killings have been rising, nevertheless it felt like we weren’t in a position to politically reply to what the federal government was doing.

The rebellion within the U.S. — the response to George Floyd’s homicide — was surprising. We [hadn’t dared to] hope that this rebellion would occur in our time on the earth of capitalism. We have been translating some texts and realized, “we now have sufficient texts, we now have to make one thing.” We determined to widen the challenge’s focus to incorporate the legacy of Black struggles in abolitionist organizing. We additionally added a chapter on feminism and abolition as a result of in each the U.S. and France, carceral feminism performs a giant half in criminalizing folks of colour and deepening racist state practices.

We made this guide throughout the fall of 2020 and we printed it in Might 2021: an intense six months. Our collective is usually activists and non-professional translators — we’re not writers, and we’re not connected to any college. Our identify, Matsuda, is a little bit of an inside joke about our group being imposters — not consultants at translation or modifying. (Matsuda references a martial artist in Japan who excelled however was by no means formally taught.) Somebody within the collective made the graphics for the guide. Collectivity all through the method was actually vital.

Through the guide tour all through France and Belgium, we got here to essentially admire the political schooling workshops which might be carried out within the U.S., which we don’t have a lot of in France. We acknowledge the significance of making areas to dialogue about policing and to make abolition much less taboo. Operating workshops was essentially the most nice factor to do throughout the tour.

Principally activists went to our occasions. Individuals have been glad to do workshops as a result of created openings for folks to consider making materials modifications, past the world of concepts. We’d have preferred to get out of the activist world and go to different locations for younger folks.

We got here to essentially admire the political schooling workshops which might be carried out within the U.S., which we don’t have a lot of in France.

SL: Is there any suggestions from the carceral feminist networks in France? Within the U.S., specifically during the last 5 years, some mainstream anti-violence organizations are interested by abolition, whereas there may be additionally a complete retrenchment and backlash, particularly round challenges to policing.

Chris: I’d say it’s fairly the identical in France…. Transformative justice is opening up locations on the left, however [some] radical feminists nonetheless mistrust individuals who need to maintain somebody who brought about hurt accountable outdoors of jails. Feminist areas are simply starting to speak about abolition in addition to transformative justice — a transfer led by small networks corresponding to Mwasi-Collectif Afroféministe, a Black feminist abolitionist collective. One other small collective of queer folks in Paris really does transformative justice sexual assault processes for queer folks solely, Collectif Fracas. Each Fracas and Mwasi have carried out an ideal job creating sources and alternatives for political schooling. [Collectif Cases Rebelles is another majority people of color network producing strong abolitionist political education materials in France.]

Erica Meiners: What’s the subsequent work for Matsuda?

Chris: Step one was to translate and to put in writing the guide after which we wished to come back and to see the work with our personal eyes.

EM: Plenty of issues right here. [all laugh] Additionally, there may be pleasure and issues are messy.

Klara: We wished to know what does a collective appear to be and…

Chris: What’s the fact of the motion.

Klara: Yeah, what’s the fact of the propaganda. We need to see how folks manage, have they got bodily locations and the way do they really feel? This is step one. The second step is that it’s two years after the rebellion which introduced enormous hope to lots of people and moved abolition to the entrance seat. Two years later, the place is the motion and this hope?

Chris: Everyone’s in despair or what?

Klara: We’re going to at the very least 4 completely different cities to attempt to meet folks and ask all of them sorts of questions and likewise to simply go searching at organizations and organizing. If there are sufficient supplies, perhaps we’ll translate and create a booklet or one thing.

Chris: Actually we’ll stay alert and preserve feeding the abolitionist community in France. We’ll preserve being in contact and be capable to translate supplies when it’s vital. Some folks in France do discover it simpler to give attention to the U.S. as a result of it’s elsewhere. It’s not our nation and it’s not our historical past. We glance from the surface, so it’s simpler. We’re saying, “This isn’t the French historical past. We aren’t simply going to repeat what persons are doing within the U.S.” Relatively we carry these abolitionist supplies to France to assist us assume however not simply to “copy and paste.”

EM: Whether or not we’re paid “officially” to do organizing work or not, many people battle to combine abolitionist ideas and practices into our day by day lives. Are you able to simply speak a bit bit about your day-to-day lives? Does it hook up with this abolitionist work?

Klara: Good query. I’ve received two primary issues in my on a regular basis life. I’m a midwife, and likewise, we now have a spot with my political mates with whom I manage. It’s within the heart of the town. It’s fairly a giant place. We simply purchased it final yr. No person’s a paid employee right here, however we promote sizzling/chilly meals, drinks and stuff like that to earn cash, each to have the place and to have the ability to earn cash for the struggles of various collectives…. We now have public occasions like guide talks and discussions, stuff like that — the place folks have interaction struggles.

Chris: It’s a spot of group organizing.

Klara: Yeah, it’s a spot of group organizing — I ought to name it that. We don’t name it that in France.

It can be crucial for us to have an on a regular basis place the place folks we’re related with can meet to eat collectively, to have a drink, to share one thing, as a result of if not, our lives are too separate and too particular person. Within the again room, we now have a lending library.

That is considered one of my primary actions. The second is midwifery. I’ve been a midwife for 2 years — I’m simply beginning. This work is essential to me. I help girls to offer start as they need, usually a house start, which is tough in France. I’m part of a small group of midwives. We aren’t in the identical metropolis, however we’re not very far aside. We attempt to meet twice, 3 times a yr and to change concepts about our follow. It can be crucial to not be alone in a follow. For me, it’s not politically directed or linked to the remainder of my work, however these are additionally my mates and my political connections, so it’s a sort of group work.

Chris: For my day job, I’m a social employee with asylum seekers, however this not my space of experience — I didn’t research to be this. As my primary exercise, for the previous few years I’ve been concerned in a collective, a non-professional political schooling group, a free faculty of philosophy. Really, prior to now three or 4 years, a number of different autonomous colleges have began from our political community. We met collectively throughout our research and determined we wished to maintain training collectively, however not within the college. Commonly all year long we now have common courses, but in addition tons and plenty of dialogue, in small teams. One weekend per 30 days we collect collectively — 50 or 60 of us.

We’ve mentioned located knowledges. We’ve carried out casual chats about feminism partially due to sexual assaults in our communities and we now have additionally studied some very, very summary stuff, like modern political principle. I need it to maintain going.

This yr we’re doing a little background eager about establishments, and the best way to make issues final. And that’s additionally why we’re interested by organizational constructions within the abolitionist motion. How can we defeat establishments just like the justice system, or colleges, and nonetheless be able to providing one thing else and never simply destruction? Combating the state or large establishments with small and community-based establishments is difficult. We mirror about it in an summary method, however our day-to-day practices hyperlink to this query.

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