Making Abolition Geography in California’s Central Valley

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This conversation with Ruth Wilson Gilmore was recorded on November 30, 2018. Starting from the concept of abolition geography, we later examine its application through the experience she and five comrades had organizing against the construction of a new megaprison in Delano, California in the early 2000s.

Article published in The Funambulist 21 (January-February 2019) Space & Activism. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: I would like to talk with you about the experience you had almost 20 years ago, organizing against the construction of yet another embodiment of racial capitalism: a new state prison in California’s central valley; making what you call “an abolition geography.” Can we start with this concept of abolition geography?

RUTH WILSON GILMORE: I would like to say three things as a preamble. First: abolition requires that we change one thing, which is everything. Contemporary prison abolitionists have made this argument for more than two decades. Abolition is not absence, it is presence. What the world will become already exists in fragments and pieces, experiments and possibilities. So those who feel in their gut deep anxiety that abolition means knock it all down, scorch the earth and start something new, let that go. Abolition is building the future from the present, in all of the ways we can.

Second: racial capitalism is all capitalism. There was not one minute in the entire story of capitalism that it was not racial. Cedric Robinson teaches us that if, indeed, the capitalism we experience today had its origins and early development in rural England, then the relationship between and among the people in that rising system, all of whose descendants might have become white, was already racial.

Third: the state is a contradictory object and subject of struggle. We should be wary of fetishizing the state. Fascists fetishize the state for a whole set of purposes; and anti-fascists tend to fetishize the state as well. The state does not think and do. People in various configurations of power (including from below) enliven states to think and do.