Study for Struggle: All Our Trials

The work of INCITE! and Critical Resistance has crucially propelled the development of anti-racist feminist and prison abolitionist politics over the last two decades. But as most experienced activists know, these politics have much longer lineages, which are well worth exploring and learning from. Emily Thuma’s book All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence, just published by University of Illinois Press, is an enormous contribution to this process of exploration. Thuma introduces us to anticarceral feminist efforts of the 1970s and early 1980s, which challenged the mainstream feminist movement’s turn towards cops and courts as a way to deal with interpersonal violence. Carefully drawing on archives and interviews, she looks at participatory defense campaigns, organizations that supported incarcerated women, long-running collectively-produced women’s prison newsletters, and community-based coalitional efforts that attempted to tackle gender, racial, and economic violence. Thuma packs tremendous detail and insight into this short, well-written book. I recommend it!

Here’s one gem from Thuma’s book:

Across the United States, in and outside of prisons, grassroots women activists participated in collective actions that illuminated the interconnections between interpersonal violence against women and the racial and gender violence of policing and imprisonment. These mobilizations were spearheaded by radical women of color and antiracist white women, many of them lesbian-identified. They cultivated a distinctive left antiviolence politics that was defined by a critique of state violence; an understanding of race, gender, class, and sexuality as mutually constructed systems of power and meaning; and a practice of coalition-based organizing. […] Anticarceral feminist politics grew in the cracks of prison walls and at the interfaces between numerous social movements, including those for racial and economic justice, prisoners’ and psychiatric patients’ rights, and gender and sexual liberation. Through the process of building coalitions that transected these social justice struggles, the activists at the center of this study produced a broad and layered understanding of ‘violence against women’ that encompassed the structural violence of social inequalities, the violence of state institutions and agents, and interpersonal forms of violence, including rape, battering, and sexual coercion. This expansive analysis directly clashed with the ‘tough-on-crime’ ethos of the 1970s and the mainstream women’s movement’s increasing embrace of criminalization as a frontline solution to interpersonal violence.