We Do This 'Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice

by Mariame Kaba

Paperback, 2021


New York Times Bestseller "Organizing is both science and art. It is thinking through a vision, a strategy, and then figuring out who your targets are, always being concerned about power, always being concerned about how you're going to actually build power in order to be able to push your issues, in order to be able to get the target to actually move in the way that you want to." What if social transformation and liberation isn't about waiting for someone else to come along and save us? What if ordinary people have the power to collectively free ourselves? In this timely collection of essays and interviews, Mariame Kaba reflects on the deep work of abolition and transformative political struggle. With a foreword by Naomi Murakawa and chapters on seeking justice beyond the punishment system, transforming how we deal with harm and accountability, and finding hope in collective struggle for abolition, Kaba's work is deeply rooted in the relentless belief that we can fundamentally change the world. As Kaba writes, "Nothing that we do that is worthwhile is done alone."… (more)



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Haymarket Books (2021), 240 pages

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LibraryThing member ASKelmore
Best for:
Those interested in learning more about an abolitionist approach to justice.

In a nutshell:
Author and organizer Mariame Kaba shares a collection of essays and interviews she has written over the years on the concept of police, prison, and surveillance abolition.

Worth quoting:
“History is
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instructive, not because it offers us a blueprint for how to act in the present, but because it can help us ask better questions for the future.”

“Prison is not feminist.”

“The problem with casting militarization as the problem is that the formulation suggests it is the excess against which we must rally.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve followed Kaba on Twitter (known as @PrisonCulture) for a few years, and was excited to read more of her writing in a longer form.

I grew up in a well-off, mostly white, suburban town. My only interaction with the criminal punishment system was the regular visit from D.A.R.E. officers during elementary school, and being pulled over a couple of times. In college, I once requested assistance from the police after a break-in of my boyfriend’s car where my bag was stolen; the officers I dealt with were sexist jerks. I studied society and justice as an undergraduate, took a course in policing, and even thought I would become an attorney one day.

I also recall the beating of Rodney King as my first awareness that maybe the police, and criminal punishment system (I haven’t referred to it as the criminal justice system once I read criminal punishment used as a term by someone I unfortunately can’t recall) possibly failing to hold police to account. And now I am someone who thinks the entire system needs to be torn down and rebuilt based on different values.

I didn’t get here overnight, I still at times have trouble articulating my thoughts on these issues, and I still have so much to learn, but books like this one help me solidify my values and my approach to things. I think a lot of white people who chose to become more involved in actions to protest and defund the police in the US after George Floyd’s murder are still not comfortable with the idea of removing the police from communities. Kaba I think hits the nail on the head in this book, where in one essay when asked about how can we imagine a world without police, she points out that this is actually the reality for so many white communities. The police don’t harass us in the ways they harass and terrorize people of color in communities where they are the majority. White people are mostly raised to think that we can call on the police when something really awful happens to us, and the police will help.

But at what cost?

Kaba spends a good amount of time in this collection talking about accountability vs punishment. A few of the essays are framed around Me Too and stories of sexual assault. She touches directly on how so many have clamored for people like R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein to be abandoned in prison for life. That this seems right and fair to us, especially to women who may have experienced such violations. But she points out that this isn’t consistent with the ideas of abolition. That we can’t just say its fine to abandon some people because we specifically feel like their crime is really bad. Because what comes from that? How does that heal the harm caused? How is prison any sort of accountability for harm caused? Is that justice, really?

Since starting to come to my view that reform is insufficient and ultimately could be harmful, and that abolition is the approach I support and the one that aligns most with my values, what I’ve struggled most with is that I want an alternative to be presented to me, fully formed. I want to be able to point to X idea and say that will definitely work, and that is exactly what we should replace our current criminal punishment system with. But Kaba’s writing has helped me to be more comfortable with the idea that it’s the community that needs to come together to decide how we want our values to come out when someone is harmed. The fact that the current system is vile is enough to make it right and good that we tear it down and try something else. The current system is ALREADY failing, so what abolitionists in communities across the US are trying out can only be better.

I am so new to this way of thinking (LOL at the people who claim we all get more conservative as we age), and I know others are too. I think this is an excellent book for anyone who is interested in police reform, defunding the police, prison abolition, to pick up. Everyone reading isn’t going to agree with everything Kaba shares, but the way she shares it, and her reasoning? It’s worth reading, taking in, and sitting with.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it and Pass to a Friend
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Come on, this would never work for the whole country. First of all, we'd have to give up capitalism and establish an idealized communism. Fat chance. Then we'd have to assume the "bad guys", you know the rapists, torturers, murderers that they want to listen to their community and express concern
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for their victims, then reform. She specifically mentions Weinstein, Nassar, and R. Kelly and says they shouldn't be in jail but instead should be involved in her kind of transformative justice. That's a lovely thought, as if any of them would be willing to transform. Police who kill and torture civilians also should not be in jail but should be involved in transformative justice. It makes no difference that she doesn't know how all this can be accomplished. It's a process that we have to be willing to work hard to develop. It's a lovely thought and might work in families or even in some communities, but this is the era in which 1/3 of the US thinks we need to destroy democracy and infect our neighbors with a pandemic in the name of freedom. Pie in the sky.
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LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
I am about as far away from the target audience for this book as it is possible to be: I am white, male and British. I therefore wish to be cautious about gainsaying the arguments made. I do understand that the US have a privately owned prison system and even more problems with ethnic and sexual
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minority groups than we have in the UK but, the logic of this book seems a little naïve.

I am in total agreement that better treatment of people on the edge of society would lead to a large fall in the number of criminals. Some of the stories used as evidence in this book are truly horrendous and change is certainly needed but, I cannot foresee a time when society in general will be improved by ALL criminals retaining their freedom.

I do not feel empowered to discuss the US police force, but certainly British police have issues upon which they should hang their heads in shame: the miners' strike showed how the police could be used as a private army to carry out some disgusting actions, both in the attacks upon miners but also in the way moles were parachuted into communities and entered relationships with the locals.

As I have already said, I am white so, I don't have direct experience of racial bias - both overt and subconscious, but I am convince that both are not only historically true, but continue to this day. We hear less of it, but there is almost certainly still a sexual bias...why wouldn't there be when it is still true in society generally?

These issues are the tip of an iceberg, many of which I am probably unaware thanks to my privileged position. It goes without saying, that we must find methods to alleviate and eventually eradicate them but the idea that a society without some form of enforceable law and order could run smoothly is one that I struggle to believe.
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LibraryThing member KallieGrace
Excellent compilation of thoughts on abolition. If you're interested in the idea of restorative justice but don't know where to start, this is a great place to begin. This isn't a coherent book though, with many of the stories and ideas being repeated verbatim throughout, making me think I messed
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up where I was reading. Still worth everyone's time.
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Brooklyn Public Library Book Prize (Longlist — Nonfiction — 2021)
Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (Finalist — 2022)


Original language



164259525X / 9781642595253
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