As a national grassroots organization working to build a global movement to abolish the prison industrial complex (PIC), Critical Resistance has a unique membership and structure. Many features of CR’s structure might even seem contradictory– CR is both national & grassroots, CR’s structure rests upon concepts of both accountability & autonomy, and CR is a member-based organization with staff infrastructure.
With a national reach, CR’s members span across the US and some in other countries, yet CR is structured through local (grassroots) chapters that are connected under a shared mission, set of organizing principles and agreed commitments. While our chapter and non-chapter (or “national,” “at-large”) members are all accountable to the mission and principles of the organization, chapters also are empowered to act autonomously by developing campaigns and projects based on the issues chapter members ( who are “grassroots experts”) find most compelling where they live and use strategies that reflect local understandings. CR then shares strategies and resources across chapters, and struggle together to make all work as coherent as possible. Critical Resistance, as a whole– often referred to as “CR National”–, truly is and always has been the sum of our past and present members.
CR’s unique structure is rooted in pre-figurative politics, as the founders of the organization aimed to design a member-led structure for the organization that would model the kind of abolitionist relationships we are trying to build in a future without the prison industrial complex (PIC).
One feature of these pre-figurative politics is horizontalism, a political leadership structure that emerged from Indigenous and anti-colonial land struggles in Argentina, Peru and Mexico in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. As a horizontal organization historically, power, leadership, and decision-making is distributed across all members, paid and volunteer.
The entire organization then also makes decisions through a modified consensus process. All campaigns and projects are developed through chapter and national workgroups.
CR’s membership is also unique in that CR founders originally decided that in order for CR to successfully build an international movement to abolish the PIC, all communities have a vested interest in abolition. Therefore, CR is a “multi-multi-multi” organization – instead of focusing on one base of membership, CR’s membership is multi-racial, multi-generational, multi-georgraphical. Including multiple identities and multiple political tendencies, CR is non-sectarian. With this, and a commitment to dismantling oppressive and inequitable power relationships and institutions, CR also works to embody & grow leadership by communities and movement leaders who are historically and currently most impacted by the PIC – communities of color, especially Black and Indigenous communities, queer and transgender communities, poor/working-class communities, and particularly people who have direct experience surviving the violence of the PIC (i.e. have been locked up in prison, jails or detention centers, have family that are locked up, or have survived police violence and state repression).
Types of Membership:
There are six different ways to be a part of Critical Resistance (CR): a Chapter member, a national or “At-Large” member, a “Core” member, a Paid member or Staffer, a Community Advisor, or a Volunteer. Anyone interested in and committed to PIC abolition can join CR through our new member process.
Chapter Members: Members who have joined local chapters, attend regular chapter meetings, and build the organization by developing and carrying grassroots campaigns and projects concerning local priorities for abolition. CR currently has chapters in Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, and Portland. Campaigns and projects in chapters are structured through workgroups. See more information on our chapters here.
National or “At-Large” Members: Members who do not belong to a chapter either because they do not live in a location with an existing chapter, or they focus more on national efforts and internal work for CR as a national organization. At-Large members have played essential roles in organizing CR’s conferences, hosting fundraising and education events throughout the year, networking and connecting chapters to resources, and developing the internal processes for strengthening the organization. CR members across the country also collaborate through national workgroups and projects such as the Abolitionist Educators Workgroups, the National Campaigns & Leadership Development Workgroup, and The Abolitionist newspaper.
Core Members: Members who are active in both the chapter and national levels of the organization, working to anchor chapter-based workgroups, projects and campaigns along with national workgroups. Core members are in the unique position of tending to and assessing both the organization’s local and national organizing strategies and rapidly shifting landscapes.
Paid Members / Staff: CR staff are individuals that have been hired by a member-based hiring committee within CR (made up of CR chapter and at-large members) for a specific area of work. Some staff members have “director” positions, focused on shaping the national scope of CR’s work and offering high-level consistent leadership for the organization, and a few staff have coordinator, project-specific or chapter-based roles with slightly more narrow focus or set of responsibilities. Receiving a salary or hourly wage depending on the position, CR staff members are the infrastructural backbone of the organization – providing chapters and members consistency, collective self-discipline, and longevity. Historically, CR intentionally was “infra-structurally light,” minimizing staff positions to at times only one or two staffers. In recent years due to a shifting economic landscape, CR staff has expanded to include more paid, part-time, temporary, stipend, and contractor positions. Each staff is held accountable through collective Staff Evaluations from members, support from our non-paid member-run Personnel Committee, and regular staff meetings, trainings, and professional development. Staff are considered members of CR, and are expected to uphold all membership responsibilities.
- Check for job openings we are currently trying to fulfill here.
Community Advisors: 2015 ushered in the second year of CR’s Community Advisory Board, who committed to a two-year term with CR. We are honored to work with a group of people, both inside and outside of prison walls, that represents such a breadth and depth of movement experience and knowledge. Our Community Advisors are different than a traditional “board” as they do not have decision-making power over the organization nor are responsible for our finances. They are a movement-building and membership-development resource for our organization that work hand-in-hand with all membership. In 2022, CR is meeting with select Community Advisors monthly for “Brown Bag” Lunch meetings to discuss campaign efforts and consult with our advisors on strategic direction. This allows us to (re)nurture multi-generational movement relationships and mentorship.
- Learn more about our Community Advisory Board here.
Volunteering: While CR membership includes both paid and non-paid membership, we also coordinate networks of volunteers for our chapters as well as nationally, organizing CR supporters to help out with specific mobilizations, events or efforts related to our campaigns or projects. While not official members of the organization, volunteers play important roles helping chapters carry campaigns forward, copy editing articles for our newspaper The Abolitionist, translating CR resources into multiple languages, answering phone calls from imprisoned comrades through CR’s remote phone lines, and more.
- To volunteer with a chapter of Critical Resistance, attend a Volunteer orientation or contact your local chapter.