Event Date:July 28, 2016

As part of the Profiles in Abolition series, Critical Resistance worked on Breaking Down the Prison Industrial Complex, a video project to keep shifting common sense towards PIC abolition. The videos premiered at the International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), and have been used around the world as political education material for PIC abolition.

Featured videos in this first series include Claude Marks (former political prisoner and founder of Freedom Archives), Craig Gilmore (co-founder of California Prison Moratorium and California United for a Responsible Budget), Dylan Rodriguez (co-founder of Critical Resistance and scholar), Laura Whitehorn (former political prisoner and advocate with Release Aging People from Prison- RAPP), Marbre Stahle-Butts (Movement for Black Lives), Mariame Kaba (Survived and Punished), Ruthie Wilson Gilmore (co-founder of Critical Resistance and acclaimed scholar educator), and Soffiyah Elijah (Alliance of Families for Justice).

The video project explores the current state of the prison industrial complex (PIC) and how people are fighting back to resist and abolish it. As always, we feature abolition as a strategy to dismantle systems of harm and punishment in favor of systems that increase health, stability, and self-determination.

Goals of the Project

  • To revisit a critical, grounded understanding of how the PIC operates today and why PIC abolition is essential
  • To highlight what shifts in common sense PIC abolition requires and ways that PIC abolition is being put into practical action
  • To expand and deepen the conversation about PIC abolition by engaging new voices and audiences

Why Now?

Today the questions CR has been raising for the last 20+ years have become more mainstream. 2014 saw growing outrage against the violence of policing and an enormous wave of protests, mobilizations, and activism. Sparked by the uprisings in Ferguson in response to the police killing of Michael Brown, these protests have put questions about the violence of policing into the national spotlight. This increased attention and activity reminds us not only that we have an opportunity to engage more people than ever in this fight, but that what we fight for now will have lasting impacts on our perceptions and experiences of public safety for decades to come.

The Need: A Resource for Movement Building

In the wake of this energy and following our hard-earned campaign successes, CR has received dozens of requests to become more involved with our membership, to speak publicly about our work and analysis, and to train people on our approach. CR is an established leader in this movement, and has become a trusted resource for analysis and strategy. The recent swell of interest is exciting and we see an opportunity to strengthen this growing movement by providing an easily-sharable resource that can be used broadly.

CR has over 10,000 individual supporters and allied organizations across the country and internationally. The video series is available for free online, and we partnered with ally organizations and educators across the country to host community screenings. The format of the film—concise, coherent chapters that could stand alone if necessary but also work together as a whole—will make it adaptable to different educational, organizational, and multimedia settings, so that content will be accessible and digestible. 

We are enthusiastic to continue sustaining the growing momentum of anti-policing organizing in the US and connecting it to the fight against prisons, jails, and political repression. Given the long-standing history of CR and the strength of our current chapters, campaigns, projects, coalitions and ally relationships, we know that we can use this tool to augment the national organizing energy, galvanize our existing base, and continue to shift common sense toward abolition.

Why Critical Resistance?

As the only national PIC abolition organization in the US, CR has created campaigns, coalitions, and conferences that have popularized the term “prison industrial complex” and have changed the debate around these issues. Our work against prison and jail construction integrated environmental justice and anti-prison approaches for the first time in California, and we successfully stopped a new jail from being constructed in San Francisco during California’s recent jail building boom. We have been a key player in the anti-policing movement, popularizing the common sense that policing is a threat to community wellbeing and therefore must be abolished, not reformed. As a leader in the Oakland-based Stop the Injunctions Coalition, we contributed media, outreach, and campaign strategy to the first grassroots victory against gang injunctions in the country, and have mobilized hundreds of people to successfully resist the imposition of gang injunctions, youth curfews and anti-loitering ordinances.

The Video Team

Isaac Ontiveros is a former Media and Communications Director (2010-2014) at CR and was a member for over ten years, contributing to organizing efforts to stop the violence of militarism, policing, and imprisonment. Isaac is a life-long multimedia artist. As CR’s Media and Communications Director, he served as the primary press contact for the Stop the Injunctions Coalition, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, and Californians United for a Responsible Budget, successfully amplifying grassroots organizing campaigns. His leadership in media and communication strategy led to writing or co-authoring thousands of articles in a wide variety of media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, Huffington Post, VICE, The Guardian (UK), Al Jazeera English, and “Democracy Now!”

Isaac’s art, sound, and design work includes La Lucha Continua mural project (Freedom Archives, 2006) and Ungrateful Daughter (sound, light, and multimedia design for a play by Lisa Marie Rollins, 2011). As a videographer and editor, his film credits include Attica is All of Us (Freedom Archives 2005), Oakland TryUMF (Workday Media 2005), Legacy of Torture (Freedom Archives 2007), CR10: Strategy and Struggle to Abolish the Prison Industrial Complex (Critical Resistance 2007), Adopted & Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora (AFAAD 2009), COINTELPRO 101 (Freedom Archives 2010), Chowchilla Freedom Rally (Critical Resistance, Freedom Archives, National Radio Project, 2013). Isaac currently works as a labor union researcher.

For over two decades, Rachel Herzing has worked to combat the PIC and its attendant ills. Rachel is a CR co-founder and helped the organization establish a national presence. Rachel also coordinated CR10, CR’s historic ten-year anniversary conference, which brought together thousands of organizers and activists from all over the country to celebrate the organization’s achievements and chart the future course of abolitionist work. In addition to her work with CR, Rachel has been a grant maker, an educator, and a researcher and organizer implementing community-based interventions to violence. Her writing has been featured in anthologies, academic journals, and magazines, and she is a frequent speaker and resource to advocates nationally and internationally on issues related to the PIC, community responses to interpersonal harm, and the impact of policing on communities of color. Currently, she is a 2015-16 Soros Justice Fellow and is conducting a grassroots project to reduce the demand for police emergency responses in Oakland, CA, by increasing residents’ capacity to resolve conflict without having to call the police.

Rachel has also served as the director of research and organizing for Creative Interventions, a community resource center established to create and promote community-based responses to interpersonal violence. She is also co-director of the StoryTelling & Organizing Project (STOP), which was birthed out of Creative Interventions as a means of sharing stories of everyday people ending violence through collective, community-based alternatives.