Atlanta, GA – Organizers, activists, and cultural performers gather today in the space of Degrees of Visibility, a photography installation on the politics of imprisonment by Los Angeles based artist Ashley Hunt. The installation was configured as a platform for organizing against the prison industrial complex – the interlocking systems of policing, imprisonment, and surveillance – and this week saw the installation in interplay with a cultural event and workshop to that end.
Atlanta-based and Southern regional organizations, Project South, Solutions Not Punishment Coalition, and Southerners on New Ground brought forward this series alongside Critical Resistance and WonderRoot Community Arts Center. “This project evolved thinking about how art can address the tools we need to fight the PIC — tools for understanding the system so we can critique it, but which also allow for dismantling it, for visioning beyond the present, beyond a present that includes it. What do the tools of photography and art allow us for this?” ponders artist Ashley Hunt who has long contributed work towards abolishing the prison industrial complex through arts, education, and organizing. The question was collectively grappled with by attendees within conversation and interactive exercises this weekend.
On Friday November 4 the organizations hosted a free cultural event featuring DJ, several local performers, informative speakers, and an interactive art exhibit. The following day, November 5, about 25 local activists and organizers joined a workshop on history and framing of abolition contextualized within Atlanta campaigns and Southern movement history.
Attendees to the exhibit and events learned about important campaigns to reform prisons and policing in the Atlanta area, such as the recent victory of Solutions Not Punishment Coalition in establishing a pre-arrest diversion program forcing a radical shift in Atlanta’s approach to policing. Pointing to long histories of resistance, Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal and Advocacy Director of Project South noted, “We have called for many years for the Stewart Detention Center and other immigrant prisons to be shut down in light of the systematic human rights violations at these facilities. It is time to abolish this system of incarceration and end the pain of immigrant communities.” Meanwhile Southerners On New Ground is advancing the Atlanta free from fear campaign, demanding an end to state violence against people of color and LGBTQ people in southern towns and cities, and in Atlanta working towards a change in legal fines and fees. SONG co-director Paulina Helm-Hernandez explains the importance of this campaign as “the municipal courts in Atlanta are not bringing justice to its residents, rather it is raising the city’s budget on the backs of those of us that are the poorest and most marginalized.” These local campaigns are all a part of a larger movement to abolish the prison industrial complex.
The collaboration, using arts and education highlighted such work to dismantle the violent systems of policing and imprisonment while simultaneously fostering community based resilience. Iman Person of WonderRoot explained the partnership’s importance as “paired with WonderRoot’s mission to bring social justice issues such as free thought, community organizing to Atlanta, this project has ushered in a very valuable conversation of prison abolition to the forefront of our city. The photography exhibit breathtakingly captures both the silence and alienation that many face while part of the prison industrial system.”
Atlanta continues to be a key site for abolitionist work and Critical Resistance (CR) believes in the importance of strengthening partnerships and supporting work in the South, as “the legacy of resistance and resilience in the face of ever-evolving policing, imprisonment and surveillance makes the South a key region in the fight for abolition. While we continue to fight for safety & self-determination for our communities we are excited to come together and reflect on our shared struggles and successes of the past and present in order to envision an abolitionist future.” explained Kamau Walton, an Atlanta based CR member.
For more information about the Profiles in Abolition series, visit www.criticalresistance.org/abolition.
We encourage individuals based in Atlanta to get involved with one of our partner organizations!