Abolition, Infinity, and Beyond

Photo of Malkia Okech

Abolition found me when I was looking for answers. I sought a vision of freedom with historical context, that wrapped thought and action together, and Abolition did that seamlessly. I watched videos of police captured on cameras and phones ruthlessly brutalize and murder Black folks, and I watched them brutalize those who dared to respond. I learned that the police were derived from slave-catching patrols and slave overseers. I read about the countless atrocities committed by police in Philadelphia, from stop-and-frisk to bombing communities. I realized there was no way to negotiate with state-funded terrorists whose job is to protect capital and whiteness.

Seal of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, 1800

The way I define Abolition or Abolitionism is thought, practice, and actions that seek to create freedom. It was previously understood as the fight to end slavery. Abolition seeks freedom from the oppressive structures that entangle Black folks yesterday and today. Its most literal goal today is to abolish the prison industrial complex (PIC), or prisons and police as we know it. The inner workings of Abolition include a value set and way of life that is an anti-carceral, or contrary to the existence of a police and prison state.

Mariame Kaba sets this tone:

[P]eople like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food, and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to ​embrace a different vision of safety and justice.

In June 2020, Abolition went from a historical vocabulary word and aspirational identifier within activist circles to a widespread call-to-action in a way many people, including myself, could not imagine would happen in their lifetime. Abolition has been long misunderstood as an impossible and intangible belief, but widespread on-the-ground efforts have proven otherwise. Between community mutual aid efforts to give people food, clothing, and housing, the explosion of bail funds nationally, and growing curiosity around alternatives to our current system, a world without police is a vision we cannot shy away from anymore. The George Floyd uprisings that occurred across all fifty states in June shows us that.

Skyrocketing in Google searches, social media posts, and hashtags, the philosophy of Abolition is breathing a new life into our freedom dreams.

'Abolition' Google Search Trend Data, 2020
‘Abolition’ Google Search Trend Data, 2020

There is a hunger for something new, and what better to foster those imaginings than the belief that our oppressors are mere fabrications out of white supremacy and capitalism that do not need to exist?

For the next two years, I will be learning and gathering information on Philadelphia’s Abolitionist history and freedom traditions. To make a case for Abolition in our current day and age, we need to establish its knowledge base and ground ourselves in this tradition. This requires the movement to root itself in (documented, in the case of archives) history. This exists for Philadelphia in a tremendously rich way, and my goal is to explore those origins and how it has threaded itself in our radical tradition up until now.

My archival focus includes three buckets: 19th-century radical Abolitionism, 20th-century Black liberation movements with goals and ideals equivalent to Abolitionism, and the present day including anti-repression work, political prisoner efforts, Black anarchist work, and Black liberation organizations that are equivalent to or identify with Abolition.

What can I link between these three eras? What liberatory methods and strategies have been passed on or have emerged over time? What figures in history can we point to, whose thoughts, beliefs, and models for effective Abolitionist practice can we adopt? What are the images and symbols that represent Abolition? What words, lines, quotes, and ideals? What events took place, can we bring them back and re-establish traditions that advance Abolitionist goals? And very important to note: how can we gather, store, and exchange this information in a safe and secure way?

This work will lay the foundation for an Abolitionist community archive. A space for information, understanding, reckoning, creating, building, and ultimately freeing. Creating a sustainable home for this information that I hope will grow past the formal end of my fellowship, I will share ownership with on-the-ground organizers and actors. I look forward to sharing my process and insights with you over the next two years.

Abolition is tomorrow.
Abolition is the future.
Abolition is here and there.
Abolition is freedom.
Abolition is hope.
Abolition is love.
Abolition is a way of being, believing, and acting.

Copyright 2021 by Malkia Okech. All rights reserved.

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Malkia Okech (she/her) is an abolitionist activist, futurist, and community archaeologist. She seeks to learn from history, act in the present, and imagine a future towards true safety and justice, free of capitalism and white supremacy. Okech is the Associate Producer for Black Spatial Relics, a Curator in the Philadelphia Black arts collective Bad Apple Commune, a Research Associate for Monument Lab, and a Digital Producer at the local creative agency Mighty Engine. For Okech, understanding layers of oppression and resistance in Philadelphia through memory and artifacts is key and can be composited into a guide for liberation.